Locals have celebrated weddings, birthdays, quinceañeras and other important events at the Rutherford Hall for decades.
Come Nov. 6, the hall will be the center of its own celebration – its 100th birthday.
To mark that milestone, supporters are knee-deep in a renovation project, with the ultimate goal of preserving the hall so it can be used by locals for another century.
In June 1914, Frank L. Hunt and a small group of family farmers came together in Yount Township to start a new “Subordinate Grange” to be called Rutherford Grange #371. Within two years, membership had grown to 165 members and a new Grange hall on Highway 29 in Rutherford had been built.
Originally, the Rutherford Grange Hall was a shingle-style Arts & Crafts structure, similar to many residences still found in the Napa Valley. But by the 1990s, the hall had fallen on hard times, and both the local organization and the building were suffering.
Sometime in the 1960s, according to Rutherford Hall board member Peg Cann, the exterior of the hall was covered in stucco in an attempt to hold the building together.
Today, due to a dispute between the California and national Grange organizations over ownership of Grange properties, the facility is currently referred to as the Rutherford Hall.
Current membership totals 78. Annual dues are $40 for an individual, or $80 for a family of up to four.
So far, a small but dedicated group of supporters has managed to raise some $60,000 for the remodeling that included modernized heating, plumbing and electrical systems. The roof has been repaired and a non-historic stucco exterior is being replaced with a period-appropriate layer of brown shingles.
Board member Cann said that the board and membership needs to raise a total of $200,000 to finish the exterior reshingling, remodel the stage and refinish the floors.
In addition, the board hopes to secure a grant to upgrade and certify the kitchen, which is estimated to cost $100,000.
It’s important to restore the hall, Cann said, because located at the heart of the valley, it’s been the social center of the valley for generations.
Lillian Bommarito Stretch grew up near Rutherford and attended a two-room schoolhouse across the highway as a child. She has fond memories of school productions hosted at the hall. Parents and students made a stage, costumes and dressing room areas.
“That was a big deal – getting to rehearse at the Grange Hall,” Stretch recalled.
Although she now lives in San Francisco, Stretch said she visits the Napa Valley often and has noticed the improvements underway.
“They have done a miraculous job,” she said. “We’re very excited about what has been accomplished.” She is planning to attend the centennial dinner on Nov. 6.
The building should be preserved, she said. “I think it’s something to pass down” as both a historical building and an affordable place for locals to gather.
Davie Piña, Rutherford Hall executive committee member, also recalled visiting the hall as a kid – especially for regular Sunday morning pancake breakfasts. “With four sons, dad would take us just because we ate a lot of food,” he joked.
These days, many people meet at restaurants or cafés instead of halls, but those facilities are money-making ventures, he said.
The Rutherford community is more than just tourism-serving businesses, said Piña, who believes the hall is worth saving. “It can be a center of Rutherford again.”
Sitting on prime land next to Highway 29, there have been opportunities to sell the property, but “we do not want to do that,” said Cann. “We feel that having a social gathering place in the heart of the valley is more important.”
Grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer is another member of the Rutherford Hall board. “We have gotten so glitzy and fancy in the wine business,” he said. The Rutherford Hall “ties us to the past, and that is extremely important.”
“We care about our past. This defines what Rutherford is.” If you had to build a new community center, “it wouldn’t be the same,” he said.
Yet, preserving the hall is “tough,” Beckstoffer said. “There are not that many people in the small Rutherford community who can afford to give us substantial monies.”
But now that the façade is almost done, he said people will be inspired to chip in. “People want to maintain that history,” he said. “We keep on working on it.”
The hall is also one of the more affordable places for locals, primarily Hispanics, to host events, Cann said. The hall also accommodates 4-H, FFA and group meetings like those of the Rutherford Dust Society.
“This is a building with a heritage,” and preserving that rural, agricultural heritage is essential, said Cann.
It’s also important to preserve a hall that can be rented economically; many other facilities are geared toward visitors or charge higher rates, she said. The hall rents for approximately $350 to $1,000 a night, depending on the size of group and activity. The hall is about 5,500 square feet and can hold about 200 people.
Lisa Hamilton lives next door to the hall and works part-time scheduling parties and events in the building. “It’s booked every weekend,” she said.
Some 7,500 people use the hall each year, 90 to 95 percent of whom are from the Hispanic community, she said.
“There are family members that have events there every year,” sometimes twice or three times a year, Hamilton. Rentals include baptism celebrations, quinceañeras and wedding receptions.
“They’re what has kept the hall alive,” said Hamilton.
Locals know what a valuable resource it is, she said. “It’s affordable, and we want to keep it that way.”
It would be fantastic if a “white knight” saved the hall in one fell swoop, Cann said, “but what I think would be great would be for a groundswell of more ordinary folks like those that rent the place” to come to its aid.
If the Hall’s users helped save it, “they’d have a stake in what goes on” and perhaps feel more ownership over the hall, Cann said.
“This isn’t somebody else’s place that we rent; this is OUR place,” she said.