Mickey Cooke was 12 when her father, pioneering Bay Area sportscaster Ernie Smith, bought 100 acres on Sonoma Mountain from Charmian London, the widow of writer and raconteur Jack London.
For years, the former London guest ranch up a narrow road above the little Valley of the Moon village of Glen Ellen provided a country retreat solely for the Smiths. The family finally moved up permanently from Sausalito in the late 1950s.
“We were typical early Marin people who had a second home here. It cost all of $22,000 for 100 acres, two houses and two barns,” Cooke remembered. “Dad didn’t have enough money to swing it, so he cashed in our war bonds for the down payment.” Cooke chuckles at the 21st century absurdity of scoring that much property for less than what some people are now forking over to stay in a nearby “villa” for a couple of weeks.
For decades she has been a fierce protector of the mountain she has explored for decades on foot and horseback, pushing back at anything that would threaten to despoil it or harm the wildlife.
Now, at 83, the wiry white-haired defender has been blindsided by a new breed of weekender. Rather than coming up to their own cabins in the country, they rent a nicely appointed house with all the amenities.
“On a busy weekend 47 people can be living here who don’t really live here. They wander up and down the street with their paper cups of coffee from down below, talking loud and with their dogs,” Cooke sighs, turning her gaze downhill in the direction of some half-dozen full-time vacation rental homes that once were the primary residences of people she knew by name, like the late Sonoma County District Attorney Gene Tunney.
Of the 40 parcels on her road, six are vacation rentals, with another on a side road being readied for market. The heir of yet another house has indicated interest in converting it to a vacation rental, Cooke said.
There is one particularly noisy rental 200 yards from her house, across a creek, the site of frequent large parties, including a wedding. Several times she’s called the owner, who then calls the renters to quiet down. Once she called directly into the house, threatening to call the sheriff.
“Boom, it was quiet in a minute. But to have to do that, it just makes you angry. I don’t want to get nasty with people,” she lamented.
She worries that the weekenders don’t have the respect for the mountain that locals do, such as concern for the watershed and awareness of fire danger.
“I wouldn’t care how many of these establishments there are as long as there is an on-site owner,” she said. “An owner who would pay taxes here and vote here and be involved in the community here. All these other owners? They don’t give a damn. It’s just a cash cow for them.”