Napa County Landmarks (NCL) has identified Ten Threatened Treasures of Napa County for 2020. NCL has for many years gathered an annual compilation of local historic structures that are in danger of being lost. Our built heritage may be imperiled by “demolition by neglect,” earthquake damage, or an owner’s plans to demolish and redevelop a property. Since May has been designated National Preservation Month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this is the time of year we traditionally release and publicize our Ten Threatened Treasures.
There are several examples of historical buildings and structures that once were on the previous Ten Most Threatened Treasures lists and have been restored by owners to their former glory. Some examples of these include: The Old Adobe on Soscol Avenue; The Borreo Building (Stone Brewery); the once neglected small Italianate house that was moved to Clay Street and restored; and the Francis House, aka Calistoga’s “Old Hospital.” Our hope is that by publicizing this list, many of these currently threatened treasures will soon be celebrated as rehabilitated gems. Unfortunately, most of this year’s list have been carried over from 2019 – but we’re optimistic that many restorations will be underway by May 2121!
Here are the 2020 Napa County Ten + 1 Most Threatened Treasures:
1. Health & Human Services (HHS) campus Old Sonoma Rd., Napa – This highly visible County owned property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places historic district (its listing was initiated and funded by NCL). It has three hospital/dormitory buildings constructed in 1912 and 1934 for the County Hospital, which in early Napa was the institution of last result for the elderly and indigent. Sadly, these historically and architecturally significant buildings were neglected by the County and suffered more damage in the 2014 earthquake. They were designed by William Corlett, an influential and versatile early Napa architect. The Mission-style buildings are the first known local examples of reinforced concrete construction technology. The “crescent” driveway, present on the site since the 1870s, is historically significant in its own right and retains its original design. This site has been discussed as an ideal location for badly needed work force and affordable housing. NCL and neighborhood residents objected to the Board of Supervisor’s initial plan to raze the site for apartments, urging the County to explore reuse of the historic buildings. Last summer, we were excited to see a step toward reuse when the County sold the property to affordable housing developer Caritas, LLC, which signaled an interest in retaining the historic buildings. However, the deal fell apart in escrow, reportedly because the company could not operate within the tight timeline the County set forth for due diligence. NCL hopes this year will bring a new project that restores the historic buildings and brings the vacant property into use.
2. Two Luther Turton homes at the Napa State Hospital – Luther Turton (1862-1925) was a very important architect in early Napa history. Among his many notable works, were two large (approx. 10,000 sq. ft.) homes that sit just off on the main driveway leading into the hospital grounds. For years they served as residences for hospital psychiatrists and their families. In more recent years they have been used as offices for hospital staff, however, like the HHS property, suffered significant damage in the 2014 earthquake. They were deemed unstable and unsafe at that time. There have been no visible attempts to stabilize them or repair them. It is unknown if the owner of these homes (the State of California) will ever allocate the required funds to rehabilitate and reuse these homes.
3. 2232 Oak St., Napa – This is an 1895 sq. ft. residence built in 1880 as the Daniel J. Thomas residence, when the neighborhood was rural and had only about a dozen houses. Thomas was apparently a stone mason. Listed as a “1” on Napa’s Historic Resource Inventory, Page & Turnbull’s 2010 survey confirmed that it is National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) – eligible. The grand Stick Eastlake style house is suffering from neglect and deferred maintenance. It is also becoming overgrown with vegetation that threatens to engulf it and eventually obscure it from the street.
4. The Center Building, 810 – 814 Brown St., Napa – This is a nineteenth-century office building (originally the F. Martin Building) is directly across the street from the historic Napa County Courthouse. Owned by local attorney and real estate mogul Brian Silver, it suffered serious damage after the 2014 earthquake. The damage was much worse than it should have been because of Silver’s defiance of the city mandate to retrofit unreinforced masonry structures. The Napa Valley Register has reported over the years that he intended to rehabilitate this building in conjunction with building a new office building on the cleared lot immediately adjacent to the north. NCL board members have been told Mr. Silver has an architect for a planned rehabilitation, but no apparent progress has been made recently.
5. Aetna Springs, Pope Valley – At one time this was the summer “playground” for relaxation in the thermal springs, golfing, and socializing. Said to be designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck, construction began in the 1870s. Active use by visitors waned during the 1960’s. In 1987 Aetna Springs was listed on the NRHP for its architectural and historical significance. There are approximately thirty-two buildings on over one hundred acres. Recent decades have not been kind to them, as disuse has led to neglect and decay. Over the last few years the property has changed hands and several owners have announced ambitious proposals for rehabilitation and revival of the resort; however, to date nothing along these lines has occurred.
6. Jacob Meily Winery, Pope St., St. Helena — Owned by the city of St. Helena, this historic building is decaying and unused. Several cars have crashed into it over the years. Previous proposals for re-use of the structure fizzled due to probable neighborhood opposition and high costs of restoration.
7. 1870’s Pellet Winery, Vallejo St., St. Helena – This structure was built in the 1870’s by Swiss immigrant, Henry Pellet (1828-1912), who settled in the Napa Valley in 1858 and became St. Helena’s first mayor in 1876. At one time this winery was producing 80,000 gallons of wine annually. Mr. Pellet was unquestionably a very important figure in the early history of St. Helena. The winery structure is deteriorating badly, and reportedly the family does not agree on what to do next with this historic winery building.
8. Franco-Swiss Winery, Conn Valley Rd., St. Helena – This historic, crumbling stone winery is being offered for sale, reportedly in part, because the current owners were unable to bring to fruition a restoration plan. Historical records indicate as early as 1876 “20,000 gallons of red and white wine” was being produced at the Franco-Swiss Winery. To add to this structure’s deteriorating woes, the roof partially caved in a recent winter.
9. Three Silos at the old cement plant, American Canyon – These silos are the centerpiece of the city’s plans to establish a “town center” for American Canyon in a proposed agreement with a developer and the so called “Watson Ranch” development plan for homes, retail, and other services in this locale. However, these silos (like several other sites on this year’s list) suffered damage in the 2014 earthquake. As a result the developer has wavered at times in his commitment to stabilize and reuse the silos in the overall development plan.
10. Stone Bridges of St. Helena – Caltrans intends to remove and replace the stone parapets of the York Creek Bridge (south of Beringer Vineyards) and the Sulphur Creek Bridge (near Gott’s Roadside) in St. Helena. Napa was once known as the “County of Stone Bridges,” but these iconic local structures are increasingly rare because they get in the way of road widening and flood control projects. Ironically, stone masonry arches are among the most durable historic building types and can survive for a thousand years. Both of these bridges have served the community well for over a century and can continue if Caltrans leaves them in place. There are irreplaceable parts of the unique cultural heritage of both St Helena and Napa County. We urge Caltrans and St. Helena’s civic leaders to listen to the community and leave these historic bridges and their parapets in place.
And Plus One, the Rutherford Depot, Rutherford. This structure was not on the original list of the Ten Most Threatened Treasures, however, subsequent to the compilation of the original list, compelling arguments were presented to add it to this year’s list and make it the Eleven Threatened Treasures of Napa County. The Rutherford Depot had been on the NCL Ten Threatened Treasures list in several prior years and has fallen into further worsening condition over this past winter. The current owners of the Rutherford Depot are also the owners of the Napa Valley Wine Train, which is under a larger business development enterprise called “Brook Street”. They have, in their words, “submitted a use permit application and are working with the County to gain approval for a reuse of the building but (we) have a long way to go. The process is not an easy path and will take some time and is a discretionary action”. In other words, there lies ahead an arduous process to perhaps turn the Rutherford Depot to its former glory with the uncertain approvals of the County approval and permitting process looming. If Brook Street is not successful in all the required steps to gain the ability to re-purpose this old rail station, the building’s future is tenuous at best.
It was for this reason that the NCL Board thought it important and imperative to add the Rutherford Depot to the 2019 list.