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Napa County Landmarks cites Napa Valley's 'Ten most threatened treasures'

Napa County Landmarks cites Napa Valley's 'Ten most threatened treasures'


After a four-year lapse, Napa County Landmarks has again issued its list of the county’s “Ten Most Threatened Treasures.”

The list includes some newcomers such as two earthquake-damaged houses at Napa State Hospital, the Center Building in downtown Napa and the three buildings forming a crescent at Napa County’s former Health and Human Services complex on Old Sonoma Road. Three of the buildings on the list are in St. Helena, one is in Pope Valley and another, slated for destruction, is in Calistoga.

Those in the Upvalley include: the Aetna Springs Resort in Pope Valley; three St. Helena properties, Jacob Meily Winery, Pope Street; The Pellet Winery, Vallejo Street, and Franco-Swiss Winery, Conn Valley Road; and The Brannan Stable, Grant Street, Calistoga.

These once-annual lists can be a “nudge” toward preservation, but primarily they are intended to make the public aware of the county’s rich architectural history, said John Sensenbaugh, a member of Landmarks’ Preservation Action Committee.

“It brings awareness and appreciation of our historical heritage,” Sensenbaugh said recently. “During the urban renewal craze, Napa like a lot of other cities in the ’60s and ’70s ripped up a lot of old buildings and now we regret that. We want to make a positive impact on people that these buildings are important.”

Aetna Springs, Pope Valley

At one time this was the summer vacation “playground” for generations of families from elsewhere in the Bay Area to visit for relaxation in the thermal springs, for golfing, and for socializing.

In 2010, Napa County Landmarks placed Aetna Springs on its Ten Threatened Treasures list, noting many of the buildings were in an advanced state of decay.

In 1987, Aetna Springs was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance. There are 32 buildings on the site that have fallen into disuse and decay.

The property was last used as a resort in the 1970s, about 100 years after construction began.

In January, George Smith Partners, a commercial real estate capital markets advisory firm, announced that it secured acquisition financing for the recent purchase of Aetna Springs Resort. The new owner is Alchemy Resorts.

Napa County Assessor’s Office records indicate the sale price was about $22 million for more than 50 parcels.

Last November, the owners, the Dallas Police and Fire Department Pension Fund, decided to close the nine-hole golf course.

The course also was closed in 2007 while it was revamped by famed golf course architect Tom Doak and while a new clubhouse was built. At that time, the owners were Aetna Preserve LLC.

The golf course opened with five holes in 1891 and two years later, an additional four holes were added.

Aetna Springs history

The original owner of the resort was Len D. Owens, who sold it to Texas native George Heibel in 1945.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for governor at Aetna Springs.

From 1972 through 1976, a development company that had bought the resort made three proposals for large residential communities. The county Board of Supervisors denied the first two proposals and the company withdrew the third, a county report said.

In 1976, the resort was bought by New Educational Development Systems (NEDS), a nonprofit corporation associated with the Unification Church. NEDS operated an educational/recreation/retreat center and clashed with the county over land use.

NEDS leased the land to a Southern California development company in the late 1990s. In November 2000, county voters turned down an attempt to redevelop the site with a 200 person-per-night resort, the report said.

In 2006, developers Robert Radovan and Bill Criswell bought the property. Three years later, the county Planning Commission turned down their plans to create the adjacent Lake Luciana project, which called for converting farmland into an 18-hole golf course and luxury home sites.

In January 2012, the county Planning Commission approved a permit to restore and revitalize the Aetna Springs resort and those approvals remain in effect.

Jacob Meily Winery, St. Helena

Owned by the city of St. Helena, the historic building commonly known as the Signorelli Barn is decaying. The city uses the barn for storage. Cars have repeatedly crashed into it, causing heavy damage.

In 2018, the city’s SHAPE (St. Helena Asset Planning Engagement) Committee looked at all the city-owned facilities, including the former winery, later owned by the Signorelli family. They recommended the city spend the money to fix it up so it could be used, possibly by a local nonprofit theater group.

In 2010, at no charge to the city, students from the University of San Francisco’s Architecture and Community Design program put together a conceptual plan for turning the barn into a community facility.

The barn is a link to St. Helena’s past, and a couple of the people associated with it have had streets and a park named after them.

According to the St. Helena Historical Society, the barn was built in the mid-1880s, when it housed the Jacob Meily Winery. Preservation Napa Valley dates the barn’s construction to 1888.

Jacob Meily, a Swiss immigrant, and his Prussian wife Margaret moved to St. Helena in 1883. They bought a 22-acre tract that had belonged to the recently deceased David Edwards. They planted vineyards, made wine and lived on Pope Street until Meily’s advanced age forced him to sell it.

In 1918, Guiseppe and Carolina Signorelli bought the property, including Meily’s vineyards. Guiseppe died two years later, but his son John continued to work the vineyard until his death in 1987.

-The Pellet Winery, St. Helena

This structure was built in the 1870s by Swiss immigrant Henry Alphonse Pellet (1828-1912), who settled in the Napa Valley in 1858 and became St. Helena’s first mayor in 1876. At one time, this winery was producing 80,000 gallons of wine annually.

According to “Napa Wine, A History,” by Charles L. Sullivan, Pellet was a winemaker for John M. Patchett, then George Belden Crane in 1863. He started his own operation, Manzanita Vineyard, which was next to Crane’s land. He bought 45 acres and planted 38.

According to Pellet Estate’s website, the firm, Pellet & Carver was one of the first commercial wineries in the Napa Valley. In 1866, Pellet made 20,000 gallons of wine from others’ grapes and had 15,000 vines in 1868. Pellet was elected as the first secretary of the St. Helena Viticulture Society.

Sullivan states that in 1899, Judge John Stanly died and his family hired Pellet to run his La Loma winery, with its 300-acre vineyard. The winery burned in 1936. When Pellet died in 1912, he was called “the dean of Napa Valley winemakers,” Sullivan states.

Today, the Pellet-Carver Winery is located on the north side of Vallejo Street and is owned by the Butala family. 

-Franco-Swiss Winery, St. Helena

This historic, crumbling stone winery is currently being offered for sale through Coldwell Banker, Brokers of the Valley in St. Helena. The current asking price is $3.995 million for the last pre-Prohibition era “ghost” winery that needs restoration. The two-acre property includes a 20,000 gallon winery permit, and vested winery use permit with an allowance of 120 visitors per week and 19 events per year, according to the listing. Additionally, there is a 2,200-square-foot historic barn, 300 feet of Conn Valley Road frontage and other amenities.

The 13,034-square foot Franco-Swiss Winery began operating in 1872 and was closed more than a century ago.

Historical records indicate as early as 1876, 20,000 gallons of red and white wine were being produced here. The roof partially caved in this past winter.

-The Brannan Stable, Calistoga

This circa-1860s structure is scheduled to be demolished soon to make way for the “Calistoga Vista” condominium project. The developer has pledged to “repurpose” some of the wood in the condominium interiors.

The rest of the top 10 threatened structures include:

- Napa County’s former Health & Human Services campus Old Sonoma Road. It features three Mission-style buildings circa 1912 and are the first known local use of reinforced concrete construction technology.

The “crescent” driveway has been deemed historically significant in its own right, as it dates to the 1870s, and remains in the same form as its original design.

Napa County and the City of Napa had been working on a redevelopment plan for the site, but now things are in limbo.

- Two large homes on the Napa State Hospital grounds designed in the early 20th century. For years, they served as residences for hospital psychiatrists and their families, then became offices. Both were damaged in the 2014 earthquake and remain empty.

It is unknown if the state will ever allocate the required funds to rehabilitate and reuse these homes, Landmarks said.

- Home at 2232 Oak St., Napa. Built in the early 20th century in the Stick Eastlake style, the so-called Daniel Thomas house near Fuller Park needs major maintenance, Landmarks said.

- The Center Building, 810 – 814 Brown St., Napa. This 19th century office building, located across the street from the historic Napa County Courthouse, was damaged in the 2014 earthquake and awaits a private owner’s plans for repairs.

- Three Silos at old cement plant, American Canyon. These silos are the centerpiece of the city’s plans to establish a “town center” for American Canyon in a proposed agreement with a developer and the “Watson Ranch” development. These silos suffered damage in the 2014 earthquake, which may jeopardize their retention, Landmarks said.

Editor's Note: This article has been revised regarding the ownership of the Pellet-Carver Winery.

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star and The Weekly Calistogan.

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