In the mid-1860s, a Bavarian immigrant named Philip Pfeiffer bought a small piece of land at the corner of Main and Clinton streets. By 1875 he had built a small stone building he intended to use as a brewery. This building, now the home of Vintners Collective, is the oldest commercial stone building in Napa.
In 1878, Pfeiffer fell on hard times and sold the brewery to Chancellor Hartson, a banker, who then sold it to Gotthelp Barth in 1879.
Barth continued to use the building for a brewery, which he expanded around the existing stone structure. Barth is said to have bought a new steam engine, boiler, malt mill, and kettle in San Francisco and hired an experienced Bavarian brewer to take charge of operations. By the end of construction the brewery had become one of the largest west of the Sacramento River.
Unfortunately, by 1881 Barth’s dream was shattered by a fire that spread too quickly for firefighters to contain. Most of the structure burned to the ground. Barth decided not to relaunch his brewing empire, and the lone stone building survived and fell back into the hands of Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer also abandoned the idea of a brewery and instead reopened the building as the Stone Saloon. At the time, Main Street was the heart of Napa’s red light district.
A few years after the saloon opened, the establishment was deemed a “disorderly house” and closed. It is strongly suspected that other activities were going on upstairs, since there are traces of several small rooms on the second floor.
From 1918 to 1937, the building went through many incarnations — as well as a street number change from 123 to 1245 Main in the 1920s. From 1920 to 1925 it was used a grocery by John Rossi, Henry Banchero, Ernest Borreo and Camillo Ceriani.
Ceriani also used the building as a home, and in 1926 and 1927 it was used as both a home and the Fred Peper Saloon. From 1930 to 1933, it housed the Betterchix Hatchery.
The Pfeiffer Building is best known to long-time residents as the Sam Kee Laundry, as the laundry operated there from 1937 until 1977. The building sat vacant until Andrew’s Meat Co. and Deli opened there in 1980 and stayed until 2000. Now home to Vintners Collective, this historically significant building is an example of how a town is transformed over time and how a building can be adapted to new uses while preserving its character and architectural integrity.
In an effort to recognize the historical significance and legacy of Napa County’s commercial properties, the Napa County Historical Society and Napa County Landmarks are offering customized histories for interested businesses. This article is a sample of what business owners can expect in their customized history books. For a donation of $750, businesses will receive a bound book and one-year membership to both the Napa County Historical Society and Napa County Landmarks. For $1,000, businesses will receive a history book, high-quality image and description of their building for framing, memberships in both groups and links on their websites.
Visit Vintners Collective or the Goodman Library to see a sample. Contact Kristie Sheppard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 224-1739 for more info. If you are computer savvy and would like to volunteer your time to help create these histories contact Jules Evans-White at email@example.com.
Research for this article was conducted at the Napa County Historical Society & Napa County Landmarks. The Society is open Tuesday-Saturday from 12-4 p.m. and the Society’s Research Library is open Tuesday-Thursday, 12-4 p.m.