Migliavacca Mansion gets new owner

2008-02-19T00:00:00Z Migliavacca Mansion gets new ownerBy JENNIFER HUFFMAN, Register Business Writer Napa Valley Register

In a deal he says took only 10 minutes to make, Napa attorney Robert Johanson bought the historic Migliavacca Mansion in downtown Napa for $1.325 million.

The property at 1475 Fourth Street had been owned by Ed Keith. After Keith passed away, the home was listed by his estate in 2007 for $1.75 million.

Johanson, who has lived in Napa since 1987, long admired the mansion, which has housed law offices and other professional tenants. He plans to maintain it as office space.

“I just always liked the building better than any other in Napa,” Johanson said. Approaching the listing agent at Green Valley Associates, he said his offer was written up quickly and subsequently accepted.

His son Blair Johanson, also an attorney and one of the mansion’s new tenants, said his father “kept calling it a piece of art.”

Opening the grand wooden doors for a tour of the three-story home Monday, the elder Johanson said, “It’s a lot nicer outside than it is inside.”

While much of the redwood and oak paneling and features like pocket doors inside have been preserved, the rest of the home has not fared as well. Walls have been added, doors moved and vinyl flooring installed. Doorways and windows show wear from years as use of a commercial office building, most recently occupied by attorneys and others.

According to a city Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board evaluation, the Migliavacca house typifies Queen Anne architecture, and was built between 1890 and 1893. The exterior features redwood siding, Italian slate shingles, a cupola and curved glass windows.

The first floor plan included a front parlor and reception hall with a “coachman’s corner,” where the hired help awaited their employers. The corner with wood benches and detailing is still there today. Upstairs are a number of smaller rooms, once bedrooms, while the third floor features a turret and was designed as a ballroom.

The mansion gets its name from Giacomo Migliavacca, an Italian immigrant who settled in the area in 1866. The family helped develop the Bank of Italy, which later became Bank of America.

Local architect W. H. Corlett, also known for numerous other downtown homes and the Franklin station post office, designed the mansion.

From 1893 to the 1970s, the home was located where the Napa City-County Library sits today.

The county owned the building at that point, and plans were drawn up to demolish it. Local outcry saved the structure, which was purchased by Ed Keith in 1975 and moved to Fourth and Even streets. When the home was relocated, the kitchen addition was left behind. Today the building has no kitchen.

But because of code requirements on the books at the time of the move, the Migliavacca Mansion does have relatively modern plumbing, wiring, heating and cooling. Johanson said he will renovate the interior, remove all carpeting and refinish the original oak floors.

He said he will do other updates, including adding an elevator at the rear of the 4,000-square-foot house. Pointing out a first-floor fireplace, Johanson suspects the second floor has one hidden away, as well.

How much does he expect to spend on the renovation?

“I don’t use a budget,” said Johanson. Because the home is designated a landmark, he will rely on architect Juliana Inman for her input.

“I expect to spend a few months getting it in shape,” he said.

The purchase wasn’t financially motivated, he said. It’s unlikely that tenants would pay enough to cover the monthly expenses, he noted. “But that’s OK.”

“I’ll have it forever,” he said.

Johanson drives a yellow Corvette, and his son Blair a yellow SUV. So you can guess what color he may paint the mansion. Old depictions of the home indicate it used to be yellow. “It should be as it was,” he said.

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