Repairs to Scout Hall were discussed earlier this year and will be discussed again at an upcoming city council meeting. It is time to examine the interesting history of this building on Railroad Avenue, home to St. Helena’s Boy and Girl Scouts.
David B. Martinelli came to America in 1874 from Italy. He worked hard and bought a home on Hudson. He built a two-story barn in 1898 and began an olive oil factory. The newspaper noted that he is an expert at the trade, having learned the business in Lucca, Italy. “His long practical experience makes him thoroughly competent to turn out a fine article.” Having found a ready market for his oil, Martinelli began to advertise in the St. Helena Star: “For pure Martinelli Olive Oil call on Smith & Metzner, druggists.”
Martinelli left Hudson in November 1906 to expand his operation, outfitting a shed on his new Railroad Avenue property for his California Olive Oil Factory. Operations began in January 1907. “The building is 33 X 42 feet and has an attractive front on which will soon be placed a large sign. He has recently completed the rebuilding of his factory so that he has an attractive, commodious and convenient plant. The large crusher is propelled by a gasoline engine. He is shipping all over the country and demand is steadily growing,” wrote the Star. Olives were purchased from Sacramento and Placer counties. He won a contract to supply Napa State Hospital with olive oil.
Sadly this was not to last. Only five years later when Martinelli was 62 years old he began to have health problems. He wanted to return to his old home in Lucca with wife Albina. In September 1912 he sold the factory to William Henry Harrison Smith, founder of Smith’s Pharmacy.
Smith had sold the pharmacy to his son-in-law Walter Metzner and retired in 1912. Though Smith was the owner, the olive oil was actually made by an employee; later it was Orlando Della Maggiora.
Meanwhile an effort was begun in 1917 by L.J. Snow to form a Boy Scout troop in St. Helena. Twelve boys expressed interest. Snow applied to be scoutmaster, but in 1919 he went off to war and the troop disbanded. In 1920 the Star announced the Boy Scout troop would be revived under the leadership of the Rev. Irving Baxter, rector at Grace Episcopal Church. This is when St. Helena Troop 1 received their charter.
Olive oil factory to Boy Scouts
A few years after Smith’s death, his widow Nellie G. Smith donated the olive oil factory to the City of St. Helena for the use of the Boy Scouts:
“By the acceptance of this deed that this conveyance is made by the grantor…upon the express condition that the real property herein described shall be used for and dedicated to the exclusive purpose of providing a meeting place for the members of the Boy Scouts of America…and to house any Boy Scout activities in the District of St. Helena, subject to such rules and regulations as may be promulgated by the City Council ... for the use and occupancy of said premises by the Boy Scouts of America, provided that in the event that Boy Scouts of America should cease to exist ... the said property may be used for such other boys’ activities as the said City Council ... shall deem in its sole discretion and judgement for the public good and general welfare of the Town of St. Helena.” The text of the deed becomes important later in our story.
The building was described as of frame construction with a concrete floor. It needed repairs, including a new roof. McKinnon-McNair Lumber Yard (where Safeway is today) donated the shingles for the roof. St. Helena Rotary donated the labor. Renovations of the hall went on for months with the help of public-spirited St. Helenans. Troop 1 held their first meeting in the new hall in early January 1936. The Scoutmaster was Albert Carpy. The building still needed to be painted and contributions to the building fund were still needed.
Dedication Day was set for Feb. 11, 1936. Visitors to the new hall described it as neat and clean.
“The cream walls were decorated with trophies, some dating back to 1925. Track cups and pennants were displayed. A board displaying various types of knots, samples of twigs from various trees, and a first aid chart occupy other places. In one corner is a table with signal flags and ropes with the American and Scout banners. Each patrol had its own meeting space separated from others by screens: five of them, plus one for the Cub Scouts. A kitchen occupies a smaller room in the rear. There is ample space in the loft above should additional room be required for any purpose.”
Many businesses, organizations and community groups contributed money, materials and labor, but a large dedication program at the St. Helena Elementary School auditorium had to be canceled because of influenza.
In 1942 Scout Hall began use as a polling place. Many residents voted there. In 1943 the Rotary Club assumed the entire sponsorship responsibility for the troop.
By 1949 the hall needed repairs again. The M-shaped roof leaked, heating was almost non-existent and there were holes in the walls. The city provided the materials and locals volunteered their labor. A storm damaged the odd M-shaped roof in 1964. The city’s insurance and a service club paid to repair it. The rear wall of the hall need to be stuccoed or sheathed in wood.
Scout Hall repairs were done in 1974 by Scout volunteers and parents. “Heavy rains caused roof leaks, which caused internal damage and new ceiling had to be installed. A rear roof section had to be replaced and the electrical system checked. Toilet fixtures were old and were replaced. Scoutmaster Hank Wertin got materials from the city, but was short of volunteers. The exterior of the hall was repainted not too long ago,” the Star wrote.
1979: Dry rot discovered
By 1979 an inspection revealed that much of the wood in Scout Hall had dry rot. Contractor Doug Smith listed numerous structural defects that needed repair soon. Greg Hunter, a member of the Troop 1 steering committee, began a fundraising campaign for a complete renovation of the hall. St. Helena Star publisher Starr Baldwin agreed to be honorary chairman. Valley Architects donated the plans, which were approved by the city planners.
In November 1981 the city had received “Federal Revenue Sharing” monies that nonprofits could request. Clinic Ole and the Scout Hall Renovation Fund applied. The Fund received $16,000 and matched it with an equal amount of donations.
Renovation work began in June 1982 using volunteer labor by the California Conservation Corps based in Yountville. Contractor Mark Peterson oversaw the project pro bono. The building was in such bad condition from termites and dry rot that all but the front façade was replaced. Benchmark Woodworking donated the front doors. The siding and windows were all new. The roof shingles were installed by Art Carr for free. Les Brown donated plumbing work. Dozens of local residents, groups and businesses supported the project.
At the June 9, 1982 city council meeting a contingent of residents, including Girl Scout volunteers, objected to the use of Federal Revenue Sharing money for the repair of a building not open to all. (The Girl Scouts had been meeting at the Carnegie Library Building.) They said that using public money for the hall and then reserving it for Cub and Boy Scouts was illegal under federal law.
Here is where the text of the deed donating the property to the city comes in. Hunter stated that allowing groups other than Boy Scouts to use the building could cause everyone to lose use of the hall due to the deed restriction. Donors gave to renovate Boy Scout Hall, and changing the use might cause them to ask for a refund, he claimed.
The following week the city attorney issued his opinion. “Now that substantial public funds … are being utilized to accomplish a major renovation of the property the city can, in good faith, determine that the deed condition has been satisfied and allow use of the building by the Girl Scouts … ” Mayor Lowell Smith asked both groups to work out a schedule for the use of the hall.
At last on March 20, 1983, the Scout Hall renovations were finished and the Scouts met there again. Two weeks later the City closed Scout Hall to all users due to building code violations. The biggest issue was lack of a fire escape from the second floor. The initial plans called for the upstairs to be storage. With the new use of the upstairs by Girl Scouts, fire safety required a second exit. The city council voted to fund the required changes and build the fire escape in hopes of being reimbursed. More donations began to come in, including from a new “1983 Scout Hall Fund” started by local women. In 1986 Napa County Landmarks honored Scout Hall for the sensitive renovation with its Award of Merit.
Volunteers painted the exterior of Scout Hall in 1988. Paint was donated by The Paintworks. St. Helena Paint & Decorating donated use of their water blaster. La Prima Pizza donated lunch.
City public works employee Jim Haller was tasked with repainting the name “California Olive Oil Co.” on the façade of Scout Hall in 2000. He could make out “Martinelli,” but not the first initials, so he asked the public for help. Haller eventually completed the lettering. (The initials were D.B.)
$220,000 needed in repairs
A study in April 2018 determined that the building needs at least $220,000 worth of repairs to bring it up to code. The SHAPE Committee recommended selling it to the local Scout troop for a nominal price — in exchange for the Scouts taking on the responsibility of fixing it up. Members asked for more legal analysis of the deed restriction and agreed that Scout leaders need to be involved in any decision.
According to a Feb. 13, 2020 article in the St. Helena Star, during high winds the previous weekend, the city closed the sidewalk in front of Scout Hall because of fears that the façade might collapse. Boards from it had already fallen. There was also a tarp on the roof because it had been leaking.
“The building is in terrific condition, but the exterior hasn’t been treated in 38 years,” said Assistant Scoutmaster Jon Dodge in the article. An examination of the building by a professional recommended roof and gutter repairs, improved drainage around the perimeter, window replacement/repair, new siding, front façade repairs, and new exterior paint.
Boys Scout Troop 1 and its sponsor, the St. Helena Rotary Club, are proposing to help raise money for exterior improvements to the building. They’ve already solicited the help of other organizations including the St. Helena Kiwanis Club, Federated Women of Upper Napa Valley, American Legion Post 199, Odd Fellows Lodge #167, Grace Episcopal Church, and Parlor #53 Native Sons of the Golden West. All issued letters of support. The Scouts hope to obtain donated or discounted supplies and materials from local businesses.
There are two basic options: a city-run project with a combination of private and public dollars or a privately run project with the service clubs responsible for the fundraising and the actual work. The city might fix the most pressing problems immediately and then set a longer timetable for the public/nonprofit partnership.
Scout Hall is the home of scouting in St. Helena. Leaders are grateful to all the volunteers and donors who helped maintain the hall in the past. Hopefully this tradition of supporting the youth of St. Helena in this way will continue.
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Mariam Hansen is research director at St. Helena Historical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.