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Adams Street property

The city of St. Helena is considering what to do with its 5.6-acre Adams Street property next to the library.

We missed the meeting on the Adams Street parcel as we were on an archaeological tour of Ancient Greece. History is important — no less so in St. Helena than at the “Gates of Fire” at Thermopylae.

In that spirit, I would like to set the record straight regarding the history of the Adams Street parcel, and my uncle and aunt’s intentions in selling it.

The Star quoted my friend as saying, “The city bought the property in question from Virginia Daly for half of market rate with the understanding that it be reserved for the community.” This is simply inaccurate.

The parcel was NEVER sold at a reduced price.

In fact there were three offers on it at the time — one from the largest vineyard owner in the Valley and one from one of the wealthiest winery owners. I know this as I handled the transaction for my aunt in conjunction with the mayor, Ken Slavens — and dealt with all three offers.

It was never sold with the understanding that it would “be reserved for the community.”

The City did agree to name a plaza or a fountain or some such thing for the Daly family in recognition of his donation of the land where the library and Silverado Museum are located. (More on that in Part II).

The City was actively looking at several parcels in town for possible locations for building a new City Hall and police station.

The history of the parcel’s importance to the City started in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when the State of California planned to put a freeway up the middle of the Valley to speed motorists to Lake County.

Cattle was the biggest crop back then followed by prunes and walnuts. Grapes were important, but were not the center of attention that they are today.

St. Helena was hardly a tourist destination. There wasn’t one restaurant of renown in the area. If one wanted “table service,” that is a waitress to actually bring food to the table, one had to go down to El Real in Rutherford, or the Grapevine Inn in Yountville where Brix is today.

Though there was an environmental element to resisting the freeway, which would have split the Valley in half, significant opposition came from the Main Street merchants.

Lovingly referred to as the “Main Street Mafia,” merchants, Supervisor Julius Caiocca, Councilman, then Mayor John Aquila, (who owned the Roxy Movie Theater), Louis Stralla, Battiste Tripoli (who owned Tripoli’s market, where Dean & DeLuca is) and other merchants met regularly at Betty Kimlinger’s Kim’s Sweet Shoppe (now Kokopelli).

The merchants were afraid that St. Helena would become a ghost town (like Cloverdale) were we bypassed by a freeway.

The freeway was killed, but then in the ‘60s a huge billboard appeared above Walter Shaw’s Real Estate office located at the north end of the Taylor’s Refresher (Gott’s Roadside) parking lot. It said, “Future home of Safeway.” Safeway had planned to buy the 12-acre parcel and put a store at the entrance to town.

Back then, next to a freeway, the city fathers’ greatest fear was an elongated, mile-long Main Street with stoplights — like Willits, Ukiah, or Sonora. They feared “strip zoning.” They wanted to stop growth at the Sulphur Creek Bridge and expand the commercial district east of town.

Though not a card-carrying member of the “Main Street Mafia,” my father, Jim Pop, had a keen interest in preserving the town he had recently moved his family to. He loved St. Helena and was determined (along with the others) to prevent it from becoming another Ukiah or Eureka with an endless Main Street.

Jim Pop went down to Safeway’s headquarters where they politely told him they had to build on Main Street, just south of the Sulphur Creek Bridge, because Highway 29 was “where the traffic was.”

Jim Pop was stubborn and he convinced Judge Shifflett (who owned a lumber yard where the current Safeway is) to sell it to Safeway.

Backed up by the Brady Markle Study (a study of the ideal future and beautification of St. Helena), Jim Pop got them to purchase Judge Shifflett’s lumber yard and go east of town, resulting in the current Safeway shopping center.

Starr Baldwin (who owned the St. Helena Star) hailed Jim Pop as the man who saved Main Street.

(To be fair, there were merchants with businesses south of the Sulphur Creek bridge who wanted development south of town). Like today, solutions back then were rarely unanimous.

Around this time the Jackse family decided to sell their “Jackse Winery property,” consisting of nine acres, a 1926 house, and a wooden winery barn for $90,000. Ten thousand dollars per acre was far and away the highest price ever for vineyard land.

Roughly half the parcel was zoned “M” for “manufacturing” — which meant anything that wasn’t residential — the eastern half was “Agriculture.”

Jim Pop convinced his sister Virgina’s husband, John Daly, who hosted a TV show called “What’s My Line?” to buy the Jackse Winery property sensing that the future of St. Helena commerce would be east of town, following Safeway.

Sixteen years older than my Aunt Virginia, Uncle John purchased it as a long-term investment to be eventually sold to support his widow after he was deceased.

In the ‘70s Mayor Lowell Smith got Jim Pop to convince his brother-in-law to donate an acre of land for the city library which was crammed into the Carnegie Building across the street from Danny Kay Cleaners (the Napa Valley Roasting Co.).

In 1978 my uncle donated a one-acre parcel to the City plus land to extend Adams Street. The City proceeded to construct Library Lane and extended Adams Street to the edge of the remaining 5.7 acres of what is now the Adams Street parcel.

Norm Strauss, whose Robert Louis Stevenson Museum was in a rented space in Hawk’s Hatchery (the former Terra restaurant) which overlooked the Keller’s parking lot (La Condesa), was convinced by my father to build a “real” museum next to the library. Between the new library and new museum, (plus the Safeway shopping center) it looked like an ideal beginning to promote eastward expansion of Adams Street, and the commercial businesses of downtown St. Helena.

In 1989 Safeway entered into an option agreement to purchase the Adams Street parcel.

(To be continued next week)

 

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