I have to admit, I have a hang-up about old downtown Napa buildings — buildings that were around during my youth and young adulthood. I have devoted a few of my past biweekly columns to those with history.
The Napa Valley Register recently ran stories about three buildings that interested me not only because of their history but because I have a personal interest in them. They were the Borreo building, the former Merrill’s Drug Store building and the former Napa Register building.
Reportedly, the sale of the Borreo building to a developer is in the works. The eventual use or uses for the 127-year-old native stone building at the northeast corner of Third Street and Soscol Avenue have not been finalized.
My first recollection of the Borreo building was when my family moved to Napa in 1942, right after the start of World War II, when it housed an Oldsmobile dealership on its ground floor. Their showroom was behind large plate glass windows fronting Third Street, and the repair facility was behind the showroom.
It was on the second floor of the Borreo building that I began my military career. On June 23, 1948, at age 18 and having just graduated from Napa High School the week before, I climbed the building’s stairs to the second floor and, along with a lot of my friends from Napa High, enlisted in the California National Guard. That led to a 25-year military career with the last 20 years on active duty with the U.S. Army at home and overseas.
A recent Register story was about what has become known as the Merrill’s Drug building on First Street. It reported that even though the building and some of its neighbors were being razed and replaced by a $70 million hotel/commercial complex, the developer was going to incorporate the brick and terra-cotta facade of the building into his development.
The Merrill’s building was built in 1929 by Sam Gordon, a local developer, and initially housed a Safeway grocery store. Then, in 1936, J.C. Penney’s department store moved into the location, where they remained until the 1960s when they built a new building on the corner of First and Franklin streets.
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When Penney’s moved to its new location, Merrill’s opened in its former site. Merrill’s occupied the building until 1994, when it closed its doors. The building has remained empty for the past several years.
My mother worked in the ladies department at Penney’s in the 1950s, and because Mom worked there, that’s where we bought my first dress suit when I was a sophomore at Napa High.
Finally, a few weeks back, the Register ran a front-page story about Napa Valley’s Beckstoffer family buying the former Napa Register building at the corner of First and Coombs streets, now the home of Sushi Mambo.
The owners of the Register built the building in 1905 to house the newspaper staff and printing presses, and they remained there until 1965 when they moved to their current location on Second at Church Street.
According to the Register article, the Beckstoffers pledged to never demolish or sell the historic building.
My interest in the Register building goes back to 1962-63 when I was an active participant in the Vietnam War and became a Register correspondent and sent my dispatches to that location.
In conclusion, I have to admit that I love downtown Napa’s old buildings — what’s left of them.