Earthquake recovery

In battered downtown, Napa natives and visitors seek normalcy

2014-08-31T16:38:00Z 2014-09-02T14:42:12Z In battered downtown, Napa natives and visitors seek normalcyHOWARD YUNE Napa Valley Register
August 31, 2014 4:38 pm  • 

Gaping holes still mark the outer walls of the old Napa County courthouse. Chain-link fences keep people away from the usually bustling Fagiani’s and Napkins restaurants along Main Street. And the most vivid signs of the Aug. 24 earthquake’s wrath – the post office’s zigzag fissures, or the smashed car featured in numerous online news photos – have become tourist attractions in themselves, with passers-by constantly stopping to take pictures.

Yet on Sunday, barely one week after the magnitude-6.0 temblor that wreaked damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars, residents and tourists alike flocked to many parts of downtown Napa that remained open.

A week after the Bay Area’s strongest quake in a quarter century, the city’s heart was a mix of the dormant and the still-vibrant, often side by side or face to face. A few minutes’ walk from the Andaz Hotel’s locked doors and the listing tower of the Alexandria Square, customers perused Cupid-style lamps at Antiques on Second or tasted gourmet olive oils in the heart of the Labor Day weekend.

The wait for a brunch-hour seat at Grace’s Table stretched to half an hour for Jess Nisenbaum, who arrived at the Second Street restaurant with her husband, Adam Nisenbaum, and her mother, Tege Montmorency. An hour and a half after opening, the restaurant already had all of its 16 tables packed with customers unhurriedly partaking of quiche and salad and mimosas.

Such brisk business at the eateries and shops able to do business was a heartening sight for the couple.

“We’re walking into stores and we see the same people we usually see, behind the same counters,” said Adam.

“I think a lot of the people of Napa; I love to visit,” said Jess, an Alta Heights native who lives in Oakland with her husband. “When you have something of this magnitude happen – no pun intended – people tend to come together.”

Among the pedestrians strolling Second Street toward the cracked and fenced-off old courthouse were Marsha and Bob Makemson, who went ahead with their planned Napa vacation last week – to the horror of some of their friends.

“We’re from Stuart, Florida, and people said to us, ‘What, are you crazy?’” Marsha said. “We went to one bed and breakfast here, but the damage was so bad, there would’ve been no way to stay there and still enjoy the town. Fortunately for us, we got to go to the Inn on Randolph instead, and they were phenomenal to us.”

Bob Makemson, a state circuit judge in Florida, already had planned to see the Napa courthouse because of his custom of visiting historic court sites on vacations. The couple arrived to find a dozen others also peeking through the fence to see the shaken edifice, some snapping photos on their cellphones.

Meanwhile, outside the Jax White Mule Diner on First Street, Larry Maxson and his family waited outside for a table. His home in north Napa suffered some smashed belongings but no structural damage, yet the shock of the temblor’s effects had not entirely washed away.

“This is our first trip downtown (since the earthquake) and I’ll tell you, the damage seems more significant than it looked like on the news,” he said. “Just about every building around here seems affected one way or the other.”

Still, Maxson’s misgivings were not enough to stop him from spending his afternoon downtown, especially to help merchants lucky enough to open their doors.

“To bring out business downtown, I think this is a good time to do it,” he said. We were at the Oxbow Market (Saturday) and that was busy too, which is good to see.”

A few doors west, the quake had left Lucero Olive Oil’s floor a huge slick of oil, balsamic vinegar and overturned bottles. Seven days on, little evidence of that chaos remained as visitors quietly tasted samples in tiny paper cups.

More than 80 percent of Lucero’s in-store product was lost to the quake, but strong business on Saturday showed promise for a quick recovery, said Bob Clark, an assistant manager.

While some people in downtown lunched or perused the shops, a group of eight men and women passed the afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park relaxing almost with determination, chatting, lying down with their skateboards for pillows, or forming a circle for an impromptu Hacky Sack game with the shuttered Napkins Bar and Grill in the background.

For one of the players, the cordoned-off buildings along Main Street were less an inconvenience than a source of quick cash. David Cooney had made a few hundred dollars two days earlier working guard duty to keep the curious away from red-tagged storefronts, he said.

“My 4-year-old, she woke up and said she felt like she was on a roller coaster,” said Cooney, whose south Napa home emerged unmarked. “She was like, ‘Can we go on it again?’ And I said, ‘That wasn’t a ride; that was an earthquake.’”

Even home sales went on as scheduled in Napa, particularly in east-side neighborhoods far less affected by the temblor. In a subdivision near the Silverado Resort and Spa, Jacqui and Ryan Pio Roda, recent San Francisco transplants, drove up to the open house for a million-dollar Spanish Mission-style house – having added that residence to their want list following a visit to another house closer to the epicenter.

“It puts things in perspective,” Jacqui Pio Roda said afterward. “We’d looked at another part of the city – Browns Valley – but after the quake, we expanded our search to places that were less affected.”

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(4) Comments

  1. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - August 31, 2014 8:28 pm
    I chuckle at the seismic psychology in writing about the signs of the "earthquake's wrath." Perhaps the earthquake was only frustrated after so many years of unreleased tension and it's expression seemed wrathful. But then again, as noted by others, if the earthquake happened during the daytime the results could have been a lot worse. So maybe the earthquake was compassionate, or at least lenient. All I know is that it's tough enough to identify my own emotions or those of my family. Ascribing human emotions to natural events can be an even trickier business, if not a bit anthropomorphic. But still, a nice article.
    Eric Vaughan
  2. Napan since 1965
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    Napan since 1965 - September 01, 2014 9:35 am
    My sympathy is with everyone who suffered severe damages to their homes and belongings, and very thankful that my losses were only things that were tossed around in both my kitchen and "home office." The kitchen being a disaster area with broken glass mixed in with liquid contents from same, plus all the papers, etc. that were on counter tops and it was a challenge to clean that up!!! My "home office" had two Epson printers dumped on the floor but suffered NO damages. So far I haven't had either the time or energy to clean up the "home office" which has piles of paper scattered all over...except tor space I cleared so I could sit at the computer keyboard to type stuff like this, plus enough room for my Jack Russell Terrier to curl up near my feet...she is there as I am typing this!!
  3. MichelleVannette
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    MichelleVannette - September 01, 2014 9:08 pm
    I'm so sad for everyone suffering because of this. Hopefully they can return to complete "normalcy" sooner rather than later.
  4. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - September 01, 2014 10:17 pm
    Yesterday a flow of tourist traffic was backed up down South 29 toward St. Helena.

    From the looks of it, the earthquake must have been some sort of wake up call for tourists; a rumble to remind them that a piece of Mediterranean in California still exists.

    It's true we live in earthquake country but we must keep in mind that an earthquake created the beauty of Napa Valley Wine Country;.

    Sadly there are those who will not benefit whatsoever from tourist traffic or its beauty right now. Their losses are overwhelming and I wish there was something we could collectively do to ease their pain.
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