Like any newspaper editor, I get a lot of anonymous mail. Some of it is angry and negative, attacking the newspaper, its reporters and staff. Some of it is crazy, warning us of sinister plots or impending doom. Some is mocking, cutting out items from the paper with annotations to point out errors or omissions.
Mostly I take anonymous correspondence for what it’s worth (Not a lot, in my estimation). But one unsigned letter arrived a few weeks ago and it has been sitting on my desk. It’s begun to fascinate me.
The letter, on a small piece of paper, says only, “Yesterday – who to give these pictures. Thanks.”
In the envelope were a number of old black-and-white photographs, an old postcard of Calistoga showing a photo taken in 1913, and a brochure from the long-defunct Lokoya Mountain Lodge off Mt. Veeder Road.
I left them on my desk mostly because I couldn’t figure out what to do with them. I don’t know who would take them but the historian in me couldn’t stand to stick them in some dark corner, or worse yet, discard them.
After a while the pictures began to speak to me.
The postcard of Calistoga shows a photo probably taken from one of the small hills on the east side of town, grandly named Mount Lincoln, showing a field dotted with the little cottages built by Sam Brannan at the founding of the town in the mid-19th century. Today only a handful of cottages remain in the city and the site shown in the photo is occupied by the Indian Springs resort and the abandoned Gliderport airport.
Even more interesting were the photos and the brochure for Lokoya Mountain Lodge. One picture shows the main lodge building, which burned down in the late 1950s, and two others show broad sweeping vistas of the valley, very possibly taken from the resort property. The valley floor is still heavily wooded but large swaths are already divided up for agriculture, though there is no obvious sign of grapes in the fields, so the photos clearly predate the wine boom starting in the 1960s.
The brochure shows a lovely, rustic resort, with a crowded swimming pool, charming cottages and a grand dining room with a sweeping view across the valley. It describes the resort as “Secluded and Exclusive.”
“Located 55 miles north of San Francisco in the Redwood Empire of Napa County, nestled among the Redwoods and Firs in a clear dry atmosphere, elevated about 2000 feet in the Coast Range Mountains,” the brochure reads. “This elevation commands an ever-changing panorama of the beautiful Napa Valley. Five mountain ranges can be seen from our Dining Room.”
The Pine Room cocktail bar promises “quality liquors combined with the knowledge of an experienced mixologist,” but makes no mention of wine, an unimaginable omission for any resort in the Valley today.
The drive from San Francisco is described as “not too long or tiresome for a delightful week and visit.” The resort offered free rides “for the 12 mile drive up the mountain from Napa bus depot, for those who arrange their schedule to arrive in the morning.”
What, I wondered, happened to such an inviting resort? A little research, including in the archives of the Napa Valley Register, tells a sad story.
Fire broke out in the main lodge on Dec. 29, 1959, putting an end to the resort business, but leaving about 50 cabins scattered on the 90-acre property. The owner, the late Robert Jones, converted the cabins to affordable housing units and gradually added camping trailers and mobile homes.
Various accounts say the resort became a haven for the counter-culture during the 1960s, including playing host to Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie on their tours through the region. By the late 1990s, however, it had fallen into disrepair and neighbors and county officials were pressing the owner to close it down. The residents, as best I can tell, were evicted in 2001 after years of legal battles with the county and little remains of the old resort.
The more I learned, the more poignant the brochure and pictures became. They point to a charming chapter in Napa County’s history, so similar and yet so different. Clearly, the county was the playground of the well off in San Francisco and beyond over the last century. Tourism was well established even in the early years of white settlement, and yet just half a century ago, Napa County was far from becoming what it is today.
So thanks to whoever sent me those items. It is a link to a past that is now largely lost.
Like my anonymous correspondent, I wonder “who to give these pictures?”
Editor's Note: The Napa County Historical Society called on Jan. 4 and requested the photos and brochure I mentioned in this column, so the material is now in good hands.