This 1950s retrospective may seem eclectic or random in topic, however, there is one common theme. All of the following stories are a reflection of mid-20th century life in Napa Valley.
Within the local criminal and justice system an array of potential and actual cases filled caseloads.
In 1952, the prized bull named Prince Domino Q III, owned by famed restaurateur George Mardikian, was in legal trouble. After the Prince had wandered into a neighboring Napa County pasture filled with heifers, he was charged with “assaulting” the heifers by the neighboring ranchers. Napa County Judge Lernhart, the case’s presiding magistrate, found the Prince not guilty.
Many residents were amused by this case, but some were annoyed by their inability to share the case’s details with their out-of-town friends and family. An April 1952 Register article explained, “Napa lost another communication link today when the staff at Western Union Telegraph company office walked off the job with operators across the nation.” The Register added, “About six employees are affected by the strike. There is no picketing.”
Long after that labor issue was resolved, the Napa County Grand Jury was called upon to assess numerous local issues. For instance, in 1956, an angry group of local citizens, upset by the Napa Sanitation District operations, policies and procedures, demanded the Grand Jury investigate the agency. No judicial action was required to resolve that complaint.
A few years earlier, 1953, the jurors had investigated a unique case for Napa County, a purported male vice ring. However, the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence.
While these case did not go before any judge, the caseload of the local justice department was rapidly increasing during the 1950s due to the county’s growing population. To help expedite those cases, in 1959, California Governor Goodwin J. Knight appointed local attorney Thomas Kongsgaard to the post of Napa County Superior Court judge.
California officials also made another special appointment involving Napa Valley. On June 26, 1958, the site of George Yount’s original blockhouse was dedicated as a State Historic Landmark.
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That summer brought even more notice and fame to Napa County when Hollywood came to Napa Valley to film the motion picture “This Earth Is Mine.” This movie, about a wine-making family struggling with the realities of Prohibition blended with internal family drama, starred Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons.
A few years earlier, a future local employer indicated an interest in establishing a Napa plant south of town; however, its pending arrival was initially cloaked in secrecy.
A mid-1950s Register article said, “The possibility that one of the largest industrial firms in the U.S. may be interested in a branch location at Shipyard Acres brought swift action by the County Board of Supervisors at their regular meeting yesterday.
“A resolution was passed to submit to federal authorities a statement of intent to purchase the property after Supervisor A. M. Lauritsen said he had had an indication of the giant corporation’s interest. ‘It behooves the board to move swiftly since two to three million dollars may be involved,’ said Lauritsen.”
Based on the information suggested by Lauritsen and the article as well as the timing of this announcement, the mystery corporation was probably Kaiser Steel.
As local residents waited for more information about this promising but elusive employment news, the intentions of other local agencies and organizations were far more transparent. A 1956 Register article said, “The Napa County Health Council will hold an all-day seminar Monday at Walker’s Cafe to inform residents of the health services available from official and volunteer agencies.”
Providing quality health care was on the forefront in Napa. In 1951 more than 100 volunteers from local businesses began an intensive capital campaign to raise funds for the Parks Victory Memorial Hospital building improvement fund. This community facility was once located on Jefferson Street between G and H Streets.
These groups focused primarily on physical health, but a late-1955 news brief announced the establishment of a place for spiritual well-being. According to the Register, the Carmelite Order had purchased the Oakville Grade Road property known as the Doak Mansion. The Carmelites bought the large estate to serve as their sanctuary for prayer and mindful meditation.