It was April 1942, over 76 years ago, when my mother and I loaded up our car and a rental trailer and left Los Angeles for Northern California and a place called Napa. I was 12 years old and in the 6th grade.
My stepfather had preceded us by a few weeks and had been hired as a crane operator at Basalt Rock Company’s new shipbuilding venture on the Napa River south of town. Our nation had been an active participant in World War II for just four months.
We moved into one of two new duplexes on St. Helena Highway (AKA Highway 29) between Union Station and Trower Avenue. The duplexes were just south of today’s Grace Baptist Church and have been replaced by several single family houses.
Back in those days, the Westwood subdivision had just begun construction. The development of Alta Heights above East Avenue was ongoing. The DeVita Tract at the south end of Jefferson Street was in the process of building out. The Bel Air area and Browns Valley subdivisions were still a few years away.
Today’s downtown Napa was the total business district. There were no shopping centers on the perimeter of the city. The commercial district was mainly from Main Street west to Randolph Street and from Pearl Street south to Fourth Street.
In general, retail stores lined First Street and bars and restaurants lined Main Street.
There was no Highway 29 freeway bypass of the city. (That came in 1950.) To get from north to south, or vice versa, through the city of Napa, you had to drive the city streets.
The public school system within the city consisted of Lincoln and Shearer elementary schools, Intermediate School and Napa Union High School. Salvador and Mt. George elementary schools were just outside the city limits of that day.
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In September 1942, the local education system changed from several independent small school districts to one large district (today’s Napa Valley Unified School District) and both Napa Junior High School and Napa Junior College were opened.
The elementary schools had grades K through 6, Napa Junior High grades 7 through 9, Napa High grades 10 through 12 and Napa Junior College grades 13 and 14.
In September 1942, after finishing Miss Strohl’s 6th grade class at Salvador School three months earlier, I was enrolled in Miss Flora Mehl’s 7th grade homeroom at Napa Junior High. Like the high school, we changed classes and classrooms several times a day which was a new experience for me.
All three schools attended classes in the stately building at the corner of Lincoln and Jefferson Streets, now the offices of the NVUSD, and in the “temporary” wooden buildings that still stand on Lincoln Avenue.
Napa High and the JC students attended classes from 7:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. and the junior high from 12:30 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.. There was no lunch period and only 10 minute breaks between classes. All schools shared the gymnasium and the shop areas. The high school and JC shared Coleman Field and its football field and stadium.
That arrangement ended in June 1948 the year I graduated from Napa High. In September of that year, the main structure of today’s Napa High School facing Jefferson and Marin Streets was ready for occupancy and the half-day schedules ended.
I spent my entire junior high and high school time, a total of six years, attending classes with what I remember as 40-minute periods for half of a day.