When I started writing my biweekly articles for the Register several years ago, I made notes from portions of the Napa library’s copy of the 1947 Napa City Directory. I refer to that material frequently when composing my essays.
At the time of publication, the 1947 directory reported the population of Napa as 14,000. Victory Hospital, with a total of 58 beds, was the city’s medical facility. Including one high school and one junior college, there were eight public schools with a total of 3,300 pupils and 143 teachers. Plus, there were three parochial schools with 460 pupils. The police department had 15 men, three cars and four motorcycles while the fire department had 15 men, five fire engines, one hook and ladder truck, one water truck and one car.
While copying the material, I happened to look at the publication’s directory of citizens and noted a listing for James W. Ford of 1445 East Avenue, with a phone number of 2568J, who worked at Moffitt Motors. That was me! I was 16 years old when I worked at Moffitt Motors chasing repair parts and delivering cars during summer vacation from Napa High.
In the business listings, there were three businesses that were of personal interest that I want to discuss in this offering.
The first was West’s Tire Shop. I had a special interest in that business because a very close friend and schoolmate of mine was Bill West, the son of the owner. After graduating from Napa High, Bill took over the business and ran it until it closed.
In 1947, West’s had gas pumps but were mainly in the vehicle tire business. It was located on Main between Pearl and Clinton Streets between today’s Fire Museum and the former Sam Kee Laundry building.
During World War II, because of the war effort and a worldwide shortage of rubber, new tires were not available. West’s was very busy re-treading used tires with recycled rubber from old tires. After the war, they removed the gas pumps and greatly expanded their tire business. They became one of the largest truck tire recapping businesses in Northern California.
Another business of personal interest was the Bettencourt bicycle and motorcycle business, owned by Nelson Bettencourt, Sr. Ownership was later assumed by Nelson Jr., another close friend of mine.
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Bettencourt’s was the local dealer for Harley Davidson motorcycles and Schwinn bicycles and they were the only motorcycle and bicycle repair shop in town. They also had a shop in Vallejo.
When I moved to town in 1942, the Bettencourt shop was on Coombs between First and Clay Streets, just behind what was then the Napa Register building, more recently the home to Sushi Mambo. That building was razed and replaced by the Coombs Street entrance to Merrill’s Drugs.
Immediately after WWII, Bettencourt moved his shop north to Brown and Clinton Streets, right beside Napa Creek. They were in that location until they moved to a location beside the railroad tracks on Soscol Avenue, across Soscol from today’s Umpqua Bank. The business was closed in the 1990s.
Finally, another business of personal interest was a service station owned by brothers Harry and Agamemnon (Ag) Monte. It was a very busy station on Third between Main and Brown Streets, across Third from the old court house. On the south side of the station was the Greyhound Bus depot with bus entrance on Brown and exit on Main.
Each brother had a son that became friends of mine. One was Bob Monte who owned the Gem Bar on Coombs, between First and Clay. The Gem was a very popular watering hole for businesses and a local hangout. For a time, the Gem served lunches and my aunt and grandmother were both cooks and my mother was a waitress at the establishment.
The other son was Ray Monte, Bob’s cousin. Ray married Nancy Tyther, a Napa High classmate of mine. For many years, he was the Napa County Veterans Service Officer. Ray and Nancy opened and operated the Magnolia Hotel restaurant in Yountville, one of the first successful upscale restaurants in the Town.
In conclusion, it’s fun going back in time and being reminded of who was in town, where they were located and what they did lo those many years ago.