Bill and Nancy Sonnemaker
Local Couple Talks About the Musical History of Their Bass Lake Home
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
When Bill and Nancy Sonnemaker met in Chicago in 1954, there was no doubt that the couple was interested in each other. Fast forward 65 years, and they are still together, living happily in their Bass Lake home. With so much rich history in the area, it is unsurprising that their home has quite the history of its own.
Built in the late 19th century, the Sonnemakers’ home started out as a popular hotel. The Center View Hotel attracted visitors to the area from all over the country. It quickly became the favorite of famous musician Leo Friedman. Friedman is known for a variety of songs, but some of his more famous ones are “Meet Me To-Nite in Dreamland,” “When I Dream of Old Erin,” and “If I Should.” By far, though, his most famous song was “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” The waltz is popular to this day, and it was penned in the Sonnemakers’ home.
On one visit to the lake in 1910, Friedman wrote the popular tune in order to woo a young woman. The owners’ daughter apparently caught Friedman’s eye, and so to catch her attention back, he wrote her the sentimental song. It was recorded by The Peerless Quartet later that year, and it went on to gain massive popularity. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” was a lasting song. It is still popular today at weddings for the traditional father-daughter dance. Part of its prominence can be attributed to some of the big-name stars that have sung covers of it throughout the years: Bing Crosby, Bette Midler and Barry White have all covered Friedman’s song.
“I learned about [the history of the hotel] through my grandparents,” Nancy says. “[Friedman] was smitten by the owners’ daughter, and he wrote the song for her.”
Beyond the musical history of the home, the hotel also contains a link to the famous book by L. Frank Baum in 1900: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” While rumors have swirled before that Baum wrote part of the book there, Bill and Nancy say this was not true.
“Frank Baum Jr. bought this and had it in 1960 to 1965 and renamed it the Oz Castle, and he ran it as a bed and breakfast at that time,” Bill says. “The Wizard of Oz was not written here. It was Frank Baum’s son who owned it, and he was just cashing in on his father’s name.”
Besides the artistic history behind their home, Bill and Nancy have personal history in the area, too. Nancy’s family has lived around Bass Lake since 1919, and so when the couple was looking to retire in 1997, it just made sense to move to the area. Not only did they have family in the area, but Nancy had actually grown up nearby.
When they were living in California, Nancy would bring their children out to visit the lake. It was quite a far move from their home in the San Francisco Bay area back to Bass Lake but it was certainly nothing too drastic for them. The change of pace was welcome, providing respite from the busy, bustling world in a developing Silicon Valley.
“There was a migration of people to the West Coast. We were married in October of 1958 and in January of 1959 we moved out to California, and we spent 40 years in the San Francisco Bay area, which is now Silicon Valley,” Bill says. “California, when we moved out there, we were living in the apricot orchards, and it was a beautiful area. Today, there is a mass of people, and that’s why we decided to retire back here. Over the years, we slowly fixed it up to make it livable, and we moved here permanently in 1997 when I retired.”
Even though their house is known for Leo Friedman’s famous tune, the song does not get much playing time in the Sonnemakers’ home.
“[We don’t listen to the song], not really,” Nancy says, laughing. “We had several music boxes that people have given to us over the years, but we do not listen to the song that often. We don’t have a favorite version. It’s from before our time.”