Written by John Sensenbaugh, NCL Board Member
Napa County Landmarks (NCL) identifies Ten Threatened Treasures (TTT) of Napa County every year. 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. This is the time of year we traditionally collect suggestions from you, the general public, and compile recommendations for 2022.
There are several examples of historical buildings and structures that once were on the previous TTT 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. Send us your thoughts!
Here is our list for 2022:
1. Aetna Springs Resort, Pope Valley – The former spa and retreat located in a bucolic setting in rural Pope Valley keeps slipping into further decay. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places back in 1987, but sadly has found its way on the Napa County Landmarks list as threatened treasures more than twenty times over the years. It originally was developed as a destination spa back in 1887 and at that time it was an eight-hour journey by horse drawn carriages for guests from San Francisco to arrive.
The grounds were developed over the years with three distinct architectural styles. The first was noted for Victorian construction and this period ran from 1877 to around 1900. Then came the “rustic” period and ran from1900 to 1923.
These buildings were inspired by works of famed S.F. architect Bernard Maybeck, though none of the buildings at Aetna Springs were designed by him. Finally, the architectural team of Farr & Ward were responsible for the third phase of development and their work commenced in 1923 and ran through 1944. They featured massive stone chimneys and incorporated more modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing.
Although there have been attempts to revive the unique acreage at Aetna Springs as a modern destination resort, thus far no viable efforts have moved forward. Fortunately, it was spared complete destruction during the devastation wildfires that swept through that area in 2017.
2. 1938-1940 Brown St. – This structure appears to be from the 1920’s (or earlier) and appears to be a four plex apartment house. It very likely would be one of the first apartment buildings constructed within the City of Napa limits. Howard Yune of the Register did a story on this building on 8-30-2017. He reported that there was a fire on a rear structure on 3-19-2015 that totally destroyed that building and partially damaged the remaining building in the front. At that time Yune reported that Napa Code Enforcement cited the property for trash and weeds, and the abatement order was ignored. He also stated that a permit was issued in January 2017, to do fire repair work.
From street side observation, no repair work has ever been started and the building appears abandoned. Neighbors I spoke with have complained of transients occupying the building as well as a rodent infestation problem. One neighbor told me that she knew “for sure” the owner was given an offer by a local developer for the property however refused the offer alleging it wasn’t for a price that was acceptable. Tax records indicate that the owner is listed as Andre Chenoweth, with no address listed for him.
3. Thomas Earl House, 1221 Seminary St. – This is a 2,948 square foot home that was built in 1894. The CHC gave approval in December 2020 to allow the owner, Mark Porat, to do a “panelization” of the house. This is a process where the house is cut into large wall panels and stored on “A” frame racks to be then reassembled on a new foundation in a slightly different location from its original position.
Mr. Porat’s team decided it would be too risky to move the house intact to a new foundation due to the earthquake damage the house suffered in the 2014 quake. A Howard Yune Register article on December 11, 2020, quoted Mr. Porat saying, “The end product will be identical – the public will never know how or where (it was) rehabilitated.” Mr. Porat was also quoted as saying that his ultimate goal was to create a ten-room corporate retreat center.
Since the time when the house was sawed into various wall panels, no further work or new foundation forming has occurred. The various walls are now covered with large tarps and at least partially protected from the weather, which was not the case earlier during the winter rainy season.
4. 2232 Oak St. – This is a 1,895 square foot home built in 1925, and has been on the TTT list in prior years. It is known as the Daniel J. Thomas residence and is of the Stick Eastlake construction style. It has one street facing window that is completely devoid of glass and is thus open to the elements. Shrubbery and vegetation threaten to engulf the place.
5. Center Building, 810-814 Brown St. – Another structure that has been on the TTT many times and remains in a dilapidated state since the 2014 quake. The owner, Brian Silver, told me in an interview I conducted with him a couple of years ago his vision to create a magnificent structure similar in scope and breath of a grand structure he saw in Austria, and this vision became an inspiration to do something as wonderful in downtown Napa. It would be complete with a large clock tower and of impeccable grand architectural design.
Unfortunately, this dream requires his neighbors immediately to the east and to the southeast of him to sell him their properties, and that doesn’t appear to be anything that is going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, the building sits as an empty downtown eyesore and a danger sited directly across the street from Napa’s original and historic courthouse.
6. Rutherford Train Depot – Another perennial TTT place owned by the Napa Valley Wine Train. Recently, I did an inquiry recently with the Napa County planning department, and learned it is in agriculture designated zoning area. There are limited commercial usages allowed without a permit in the AG zone. Any new commercial usage not allowable in AG zone requires a zoning change, and that can only be accomplished by a vote of the people as required by the initiative that was passed several years ago known as Measure J. This could present a challenge for any proposed new usage, but NCL is confident that this treasure could be restored by a motivated new owner.
7. Franklin Post Office – The owner of this severely earthquake damaged post office, Jim Keller, has reportedly been trying to find an investor/partner to develop this depression era building into a downtown hotel. There has been work done to stabilize the structure, however it remains vulnerable to another to another earthquake.
8. Luther Turton houses at the Napa State Hospital – These homes were also severely damaged after the 2014 earthquake and are owned by the State of California. It is unknown at this time when or if the state will invest the required money to make them usable. They remain locked and off limits for any usage.
9. 1615 Nursery Street – This home is directly behind Drapinski T.V. store, which is on Vallejo St., and is in fact owned by the Ron & Sherry Drapinski family. It is obviously in very dilapidated condition, though it appears to be that someone may be currently occupying it. I was told by a family member last year that they wouldn’t care if it did fall into the ground, as they were informed by city staff that they would not be allowed to legally demolish the structure. Napa County tax records show that this home was built in 1897 which would make it one of the oldest homes still standing in this neighborhood. It appears that at some point an addition was built onto the rear.
10. 376 Franklin St. – This is a 2,948 square foot home that was built in 1894. There are several gigantic bamboo plants growing in front of the home that are nearly obstructing anyone from visualizing the home’s exterior. It is obvious from both the front and rear that the house has been neglected for a long time and needs much attention.
A neighbor told me that it is owned by an absentee person living in Marin County, and, in her words, is a “hoarder.” Tax records show the owner to be a Mr. Darold Sims, though I could not verify his address. The location of this home is in the midst of the iconic redwood lined section of Franklin St. that is home to numerous beautifully restored Victorians and other homes 100 to 150 years old. The majority of these homes have been lovingly restored and currently all worth substantially over $1,000,000 each.
Plus One 1332 B St. – This is an 842 square foot home built in 1936. This home is eligible to be listed as a contributor on the City of Napa’s Historic Resource Inventory. It too seems to need considerable maintenance and appears to be currently uninhabited. Tax records indicate this home is owned by Vincent Hangman of Camino, CA.
Finally, Napa County Landmarks wants to remain vigilant of the many stone bridges that were constructed over one hundred years ago and are still to be found dotted throughout the county. They are often in the cross hairs of Cal Trans who view them as impediments to modern highway design. Sometimes they become subject to damage by motorists who crash into them or vandalized by people who carve out the monument year-built stone that typically grace the center of a bridge’s span. Unfortunately, this has occurred on at least two of the remaining stone bridges along Stanley Lane in south Napa County.
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