A recent edition of the Napa Valley Register had a story about Napa-based The Doctors Company dedicating its south-county headquarters to Dr. Joseph Sabella, its founder and former CEO.
According to the article, Dr. Sabella led the company from 1976 to 1994 and the company was the country’s largest medical malpractice insurer.
Dr. Sabella certainly deserves the honor. I became acquainted with him when the company relocated to Napa and, later, we were co-members of the Napa Rotary Club.
The addition of The Doctors Company to Napa County was a real coup for our community, and I am proud to say that I was personally involved in the company’s decision to move here.
I was president of the Napa Valley Economic Development Corporation (NVEDC) from 1988-1990. NVEDC was a joint effort of and received funding from the city of Napa and Napa County. Angie Pieper was the executive director of NVEDC and the members of its board of directors were volunteers.
One day, I got a call from Angie Pieper, who asked if I would be available to meet with a representative of The Doctors Company. She said the company was going to relocate from Santa Monica, and was interested in looking around Napa for a suitable site. I eagerly agreed to meet with them.
I initially met with Reese Wilson, who was employed by the company as a site selector. His task was to find a site, determine its suitability and coordinate with the local governments. Wilson told me they were also looking in other areas.
I was a Realtor at the time and familiar with available suitable properties. One of those was a parcel of land on a knoll on South Kelly Road, east of Highway 29. The parcel was a part of the Gunn Ranch, formerly known as the Greenwood Ranch, owned by Herb and Jane Greenwood Gunn. Mrs. Gunn was the daughter of Judge Harlow Greenwood, a Napa County Superior Court judge.
When I moved to Napa in 1942, Napa-Vallejo Highway was what is now North and South Kelly Roads. The ranch was then in one piece but, at some time in the 1950s, Highway 29 was re-located to its current location and the ranch was split with parcels on both sides of the highway.
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At the time of the Doctors Company interest, the portion on the west side of Highway 29 was being developed as Napa Valley Gateway Business Park.
The portion on the east side that would eventually be the home of The Doctors Company contained the Greenwood home, a 19th century two-story structure that had been on the property for about 100 years.
When the company acquired the property, the home was moved in one piece from its position atop the knoll on South Kelly Road, across Highway 29, to the business park and became the offices for Napa Valley Gateway.
I met with Reese Wilson several times. He did his due diligence and, when he felt the parcel was suitable, he invited company officials to come to Napa and visit the site. As a result, I met with several high-ranking officials at the site at different times.
I remember standing on the knoll with the officials admiring the view of the airport and the valley beyond, and stressing the benefits of its location at the intersection of two main highways, close proximity to the Napa County Airport and all of the Bay Area airports and, most importantly, a Napa address.
They were impressed.
A deal was struck, and the development process began for what was to become, according to the Register article, a 78,000-square-foot building that would eventually house up to 250 employees. The company moved onto its new campus in 1992.
Reese Wilson and I became good friends, and I am proud to say that, while having lunch with him one day, he made the statement that “Jim Ford is the reason The Doctors Company moved to Napa.” While that is maybe an overstatement, and I doubt he ever told anybody else, it was great to hear and good to know that maybe I played a part in luring The Doctors Company to Napa.