Every year, as part of Christmas programming, television networks feature the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. I never get tired watching that meaningful film classic.
I mention the 1946 Academy Award-nominated movie because, every time I watch it, I am reminded that Bedford Falls, the small town depicted in the movie, was a lot like my hometown of Napa post-World War II.
Like Bedford Falls, Napa of those days had its cast of memorable characters. It also had tree-lined streets, Victorian-era houses and cottages with white picket fences like the movie community. Napa of today still has areas with those ageless attributes but, back then, there were other things that formed what I would call a village lifestyle.
For example, a milkman, making his early-morning rounds through the residential areas, was frequently a part of the old movies. He stopped at some of the houses and exchanged full glass bottles of milk or cream for empties left on the doorstep. Like in the movies, I remember Stornetta’s Dairy deliverymen making their rounds in Napa. Stornetta’s Dairy was located just over the Sonoma County line at the intersection of what is now Highway 121 and Napa Road. The buildings are still there.
A little later in the day, like in the movies, along came the iceman delivering ice for the family’s ice boxes. Refrigerators were still a luxury item for a lot of families. During the summer, when the driver stopped to make a delivery, kids went to the back of the truck and took chunks of ice to suck on. Union Ice Co. was the local purveyor of ice and their plant was at Eighth and River streets, on the east side of the river, near the old Rough Rider building. The Union Ice and Rough Rider buildings have been razed.
In the afternoon, newspaper boys on their bicycles rode up and down the streets throwing the afternoon edition of the Napa Register on lawns and driveways — or maybe into the bushes. Until a few years ago, the Register was an afternoon paper and, until the 1960s, was located in the building on the northwest corner of First and Coombs streets, now slated to be part of a new hotel-commercial complex.
You have free articles remaining.
After school, on weekends and during school vacations, the residential streets of the city were the children’s playgrounds where baseball, hide-and-seek and kick the can were played. When Mom got tired of kids underfoot, she would command them to “Go outside and play.” For a lot of reasons, kids can’t play in the streets anymore.
Downtown was the center of the Napa universe. All commerce, government and community activity took place downtown. On Thursday nights, the stores stayed open until 9 p.m. and the sidewalks were crowded with locals meeting locals. Being there during the Christmas season was a lot of fun.
Saturday mornings were spent working in the yard, mowing the lawn or washing the family car. That was when neighbors chatted across the fence and caught up on gossip.
On Sunday mornings, families wore their “Sunday best” and attended services at one of the many local churches.
Movies at the Fox and Uptown theaters were a popular family pastime. The nights that theaters gave out free water glasses, dishes or dish towels and the like, were especially popular. On Saturday mornings there was a kids’ matinee that featured weekly serials that always ended with the hero falling off a building or being run over by a train but, miraculously, he escaped the next Saturday and lived on to fight crime and evil.
The times were probably not as serene and orderly as I have depicted. But, in retrospect, it was a wonderful time to be young and full of life and, while Napa may not have been as movie-like as Bedford Falls, it was a great place to live and raise a family. I know. I was there.