The dilapidated but storied former Carneros social hall has a new owner. Local vintner and grapegrower Justin Laird and his wife, Gina, have purchased the rundown structure, located on Sonoma Highway near the entrance of the Carneros Inn, according to county recorder documents.
The Lairds paid $145,000 for the 13,381-square-foot parcel, the documents said. The social hall was first listed for sale a year ago for $190,000.
The Laird family is well known in the wine industry, having grown premium wine grapes in the Napa Valley since 1970. Family businesses include Laird Family Estate, Laird Custom Crush and Bayview Vineyards.
“We got our start in Carneros and have affection for the area,” wrote Justin Laird in an email. “We have watched the hall deteriorate over the years, and … we decided to try and save it ourselves.”
Laird was not available to elaborate on the plans for the parcel.
The nearly 100-year-old hall was a social hub for the farm and dairy families that populated the Carneros region south of Napa in the early 20th century.
In the late 1970s, the hall, at 4320 Sonoma Highway, became home to a small private school. Since the late 1980s, it has sat empty, its prospects for the future seemingly dimming with every passing year.
The seller was the di Rosa organization, operator of the nearby di Rosa art museum. “We can’t care for it the way it needs to be cared for,” Executive Director Kathryn Reasoner said last year. “We’re hoping someone will come along and want to save it.”
The plain one-story building was built about 1913, according to the Napa County Historical Society.
The building has serious structural issues and lacks water or sewer service, according to listing Realtor Cathy D’Angelo Holmes. The property is zoned for agricultural use but could be utilized as a meeting hall or events space.
When the property was first listed, Francis Mahoney, a longtime Carneros grower, said he hoped to drum up support for some kind of agriculture-themed museum at the site. After meeting with various stakeholders, those plans did not materialize, he said Tuesday.
“I’m really thankful the Lairds stepped up. They are good people (and) have been in Carneros for many, many years. That’s really what we were looking for,” Mahoney said.
“It’s a win-win” for the hall and the area, said Mahoney. He hasn’t heard what the Laird family plans for the small parcel, only that the World War I memorial marker at the site would remain. The memorial names Carneros men who died in that war.
He’s hoping the building can be revived as the community gathering place it once was. “I wish them well,” Mahoney said.
Reasoner said that she was pleased with the sale price and new owner.
“We really wanted somebody local and somebody we knew was vested in this community” and would be a good neighbor, she said.
The new owners think retention of the historic marker is “very important,” Reasoner said. “We had offered to have it moved and preserved and they said no, ‘we want to preserve it and keep it where it was.’”
“There is a big job ahead of us,” Justin Laird said in an email. “We are working with the county and plan to put it back together.”
No permits have been issued for work at the site, said a representative from the county planning department.