Generally the topics featured in the Memory Lane columns harken back many decades to more than a century ago. The more recent past also deserves to be the highlighted column features from time to time. This is the case for today’s column and its glimpse back to 1977, in the month of April.
Before delving into local stories from 1977, there are some interesting historical tidbits that originated from beyond Napa County that year. California experienced its worse drought in history in 1977. A Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed on Sept. 21 by 15 countries including America and the USSR. In January, President Carter pardoned all Vietnam era draft evaders and permitted those living abroad to return without prosecution, but deserters were excluded. The first Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner was tested on July 2 by Brooklyn, NY medical researcher Raymond V. Damadian, 39. Celebrities Charlie Chaplin, 88, died Dec. 25; Bing Crosby, 73, died Oct. 14; and Elvis Presley, 42, died Aug. 16, 1977. The TV mini-series “Roots” aired Jan. 27-30 on ABC. Films of 1977 included “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Star Wars” and “Saturday Night Fever.”
Locally in 1977, Cathy Rigby, an American Olympic gymnast, appeared in Napa as part of a benefit performance for Justin High School. Also, Domaine Chandon opened to the public on April 23 in Yountville.
One of the top local springtime stories was the abrupt closure of the local Rough Rider apparel manufacturing plants. According to the April 18 Register, there had been no advance warning of these closures. On that Monday morning, its 200-250 employees found both the Oak Street and Soscol Avenue plants padlocked without any posted explanation. There were two emergency meetings scheduled for that morning. The first meeting was for the Rough Rider’s management. An hour later, at 11 a.m., they meet with the labor union representatives.
The page 1 article reported, “Employees said there had been no hint from the Rough Rider management Friday that operations would be shut down, but there were rumors that some employees had not been paid and that others had had paychecks delayed.”
Two days later the Register printed an update. The first paragraph of the front page article summarized the latest news. “Union officials today began advising workers from Napa’s two Rough Rider plants to file for unemployment because of the likelihood that the financially troubled clothing manufacturing firm would not reopen.”
The following day, April 21, the Register provided greater details. “Rough Rider, Inc., the well-known clothing manufacturing firm founded 58 years ago by (Nathan Rothman), was closed today — apparently for good — as attorneys filed liquidation bankruptcy proceedings.” By April 27, 1977 Rough Rider, Inc., was exploring the possibility of selling its two Napa facilities. As a side note, eventually those plants were sold to the Koret Company, another apparel manufacturer.
While the Rough Rider story unfolded, a unique yet quintessential Napa Valley item appeared on the April 25, 1977 Register front page. “Dominoes was the big game in town here (Oakville) Saturday. Expert players, including three past world champions, gathered here at Robert Mondavi Winery for some heavy competition and wine sipping in a beautiful setting among the vineyards.”
It continued, “Most of the 80 domino enthusiasts who participated in the Napa Valley Symphony League benefit are from the Bay Area; about 15 were from the Napa Valley. Dominoes, that game played with little wooden chips with dots, is a game everyone can and does play. Right? A nice, easy family game. Well, these players treat it more like a game of bridge, teaming with one another and taking winning seriously.”
One domino player admitted the Napa Valley tournament offered the participants some special enticements. “We especially like this one. It’s a nice chance to enjoy the quiet vineyard setting and get in some dominoes.”