Hidden in plain sight at several locations in downtown Napa are four large historically significant wall murals. A fifth mural was lost due to demolition of the building on which it was painted.
During the 1990s, I was the executive director of the Napa Chamber of Commerce. In 1993, the successful Leadership Napa Valley program, with close ties to the chamber, was in its seventh year. To satisfy graduation requirements from LNV, the economy project group of Class VII conceived and completed a project establishing a wall mural downtown. Their purpose was to add to the efforts to revitalize downtown, and they hoped their mural would be the first of many.
The group’s mission statement says, “The murals will be on or about the Napa community and will depict daily life. They will be historical, authentic and factual. The murals will be a source of information about Napa’s history and culture. They will lend prestige to the location. They are not intended to be solely decorative or to pursue a special interest.”
Members of the LNV group were Scott Mathes, Paul Asmuth, Patricia O’Neill, Cynthia Shuman, Ana Hatten and Robert Green. They graduated from LNV in June 1994.
Their mural is at the corner of Main and First Streets. Taken from actual photos, circa 1900, it depicts a view of the Napa River looking south from the Third Street bridge. It features two prominent schooners that plied the Napa River at the turn of the century.
The artists were Steve Della Maggiora of Napa and Susan Clifford of St. Helena. When finished, in the summer of 1994, the mural measured 47 by 14 feet.
After graduation, members of the LNV group approached me and asked that the Chamber of Commerce adopt the mural program. The chamber’s board of directors approved the adoption and the Napa Mural Society was formed. The first priority of the society was to develop a concept for another mural.
Napa artist Mikulas (Miki) Kravjansky, a world-class artist, heard about the project and volunteered to paint a mural. His generous offer was accepted.
Using the 1908 Napa City and County Portfolio and Directory, published by H. A. Darms of Napa, Kravjansky developed a collage of persons and scenes of early Napa.
He painted the mural in his studio on very heavy plywood. When completed, it was installed on Franklin at the corner of First Street. It measures 75 by 12 feet and was dedicated on March 1, 1996.
The Mural Society then set about finding a site and a theme for a third mural. Mayor Ed Solomon and I, acting as the theme selection committee, decided to base the mural on the Independence Day Parade in Napa on July 4, 1908.
Using a photo from the aforementioned Darms Directory as a guide, David Huddleston of Napa, the artist, portrayed Miss Mazie Behrens, a member of a pioneer Napa Family, as “Miss Liberty”. Miss Liberty is shown riding in a horseless carriage “runabout” invented by Napan Lyman Chapman.
Huddleston initially painted the mural on panels. About the time he completed the painting, the owners of the original mural site changed their minds and the society had a beautiful, very large, unassembled mural and no place to put it. Finally, a site on the east wall of a building owned by Pacific Bell on Clay Street, across from the Napa Town Center, was procured.
Huddleston’s mural was dedicated on July 4, 1997, exactly 89 years after the actual event it depicts. Napa Mayor Ed Solomon was able to see the mural dedicated and, shortly thereafter, met an accidental death.
The Mural Society then decided that the next project should be devoted to what Napa Valley was noted for — agriculture.
Finding the artist for the fourth mural was easy because Napa muralist Cor Grieve, a member of the Mural Society, volunteered to paint a tribute to Napa Valley’s wine industry. In his submitted sketch, Grieve featured a collage of early vintners of the Napa Valley. The society agreed with his theme and gave him the go-ahead.
Grieve painted the mural directly on the east wall of the former Penney’s building at the corner of First and Franklin. It was dedicated May 29, 1998.
Sadly, the mural was lost when the building was demolished to make room for the new Avia Hotel.
Having moved on from the Chamber, I had no involvement in the fifth and last mural, a project of the Chamber’s Arts and Cultural Committee and the local Hispanic community.
Cor Grieve and Jose Charles were the artists for the fifth mural, which features historical personages George Yount, Diego Rivera, Cesar Chavez and Frida Kahlo as well as contemporary personages Tala DeWynter, Rafael Rodriguez, Roberto Rojas, Hope Lugo and Aurelio Hurtado..
The mural, measuring 32 by 15 feet, is prominently displayed on the Napa County Building on First Street. It was dedicated on March 30, 2002.