CALISTOGA — When Kate Stanley was driving around Calistoga looking for a place to buy, she didn’t have any particular area in mind, it just needed to be in Calistoga.
Then she turned her van onto Cedar Street and saw something from her dreams. Large shade trees, quaint homes with front porches, beautiful Craftsman-style houses.
“Some day,” she thought, “some day” she would live there. Two years later, Stanley bought the “worst looking house on the best looking street.” She was, and still is, giddy about her neighborhood. Her affection for Cedar Street is shared by her neighbors.
The lure of what some say is the most desirable street in Calistoga is more than just a pretty face. Residents of the tree-lined street agree that the dappled lane with charming homes is one of the more enchanting streets in Calistoga, but Cedar Street residents say it’s deeper than the pageantry, saying it’s a true community within a community.
“I love that our neighborhood is such a neighborhood,” said Genevieve Welsh, who has lived on Cedar for 17 years with partner Thomas Rivers Brown, and grew up in her family home at the north end of the street where she and Brown are building a winery. They also own a house down the street that serves as their office.
“People live on Cedar Street. They raise their families on Cedar Street. There is a true community that exists in Calistoga” on Cedar, Stanley said. “It’s not just second homes.”
It’s one of the oldest planned streets in the city and there is longevity in the residents, with folks like Kathy and Jim Flamson, who have lived in their house for more than 40 years.
The people who reside on Cedar spend time on Cedar, too.
People “are around, sitting on their porches, watching out for their neighbors and growing both close ties and connections to the community,” said Tim Carl, a frequent Inside Napa Valley contributor who has lived on Cedar for five years.
The houses have a distinctive “Calistoga” look and feel to them. For example, there is still a cottage built by city founder Sam Brannan on the street and the Judge Palmer house that sits next to Pioneer Park are just some of the gems — and its close proximity to the main downtown businesses make it walkable, Carl said.
Walking Cedar Street can take a while, sometimes a long while, said Jim Flamson, but not because of its length; Cedar Street is nine blocks long between Pine and Willow streets (not counting the blocks that continue on Rancho de Calistoga’s side, which is separated by green space and a walking trail nicknamed “The Loop”).
“It takes twice as long to walk” down Cedar than anywhere else “because you stop and talk to everyone you know,” Jim said.
Stanley’s mother was curious why she saw so many people walking past the house. It’s part of “The Loop” Stanley told her. At the northern terminus of Cedar, a walking path leads to Rancho de Calistoga and forms a roughly three-mile loop that is popular with Cedar residents as well as other Calistogans.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Dennis Lang about The Loop. A lot of people use the walkway, he said.
His wife, Michele Treuscorff added, “It’s a very popular circuit for us old fuddy-duds that can’t run very far.”
Walkers headed to The Loop pass by affable folk watching the day go by from favorite perching spots out front.
“It seems like a front porch culture,” Kathy said. “People kind of come by and talk.”
Porches on Cedar Street are, indeed, gathering places. There are potluck porch dinners organized by word of mouth, email or shouting out to a passing neighbor to join in. It’s common to be invited by an impromptu wave and beckoning to come on up to the porch for a glass of wine – there are, after all, at least a handful of winemakers who live on Cedar, and no shortage of wine enthusiasm and knowledge. An enterprising and curious wine connoisseur might consider rooting through the recycle bins on Cedar to find out what the experts are enjoying.
Those porches — some hugged on the front and sides by railings and covered overhead, others with an open face — are premiere viewing spots to watch Calistoga parades. In fact, Cedar Street accepted an official “apology” from Mayor Chris Canning — who owns a house on Cedar but said as mayor he cannot opine on any “favorite” street, because “they are all beautiful” — in the past when he announced that the annual Fourth of July parade would not be lining up on Cedar Street as it normally does due to the construction on the Lincoln Avenue bridge, which is in the midst of a two-year complete overhaul by Caltrans.
Canning knew that the parade re-route would dampen the usual festivities on Cedar – not entirely, but somewhat.
The same bridge work would mess up the routine route of other parades like the annual Lighted Tractor Parade – largely due to the angle of the turns necessary from Cedar onto the main route and the way the construction site was situated at the time. But Cedar Street residents know they have prime views come parade time.
Welsh remembers when she and Brown were about to buy their home and her dad, Barney, cautioned Brown that living on Cedar Street meant you better love parades and welcoming people in your front yard – more on their particular front yard later.
Dawnine and Bill Dyer had a parade-day porch party every year they lived on Cedar Street in the house now owned by Welsh and Brown.
“I was working at Chandon at the time many of those years. We would have some form of sparking cocktails and a brunch party,” Dawnine said. “Anybody who walked by was invited.”
Most Calistoga parades – Independence Day, Homecoming, Lighted Tractor Parade – stage on Cedar Street giving residents a behind-the-curtain-like glimpse at every parade entrant as they do final touches before for the judge-worthy glamour shots down Lincoln Avenue.
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“You can walk (down the road and) see the whole parade before it starts,” Jim Flamson said.
“We almost never get to Lincoln” before they’ve seen all the entrants, he said.
The annual Fourth of July parade was staging on Cedar Street as it always does – and it was hot, typical for Independence Day in Calistoga — when a pig that was part of the parade wandered off and found its way behind the picket fence of Dawnine and Bill Dyer’s house. It came into the yard and collapsed in front of the house, likely looking for water that it found in the fountain in their yard, Dawnine said.
The front yards on Cedar Street are as lively as the porches are relaxing.
“You can run for (political) office by working in your front yard on Cedar Street and win with very little effort,” is what Bill Dyer used to say, Dawnine said.
Personal politics on Cedar Street may be at odds with one another; this year’s city council race in point when Welsh and Brown had a support sign out for incumbent Jim Barnes and right next door was a sign for Barnes’ opponent Don Williams. No worries, Welsh said, it’s all about the passion Calistogans have for their city, and that’s a good thing.
Welsh and Brown are their house’s fourth owners since it was built in the early 1900s and their porch has looked the same for at least 20 years, maybe more, thanks to its paint colors which are “a particular dark brown, green and red,” Welsh said. They’ve painted the house twice since owning it and each time the prep work stirred concern.
“When it’s taped up and people are walking by they say, ‘They’re not changing the paint color, are they?’,” Welsh said. It’s had its distinctive look since Dawnine and Bill Dyer owned it and who lived in that house for 18 years before moving to Diamond Mountain in 1996. The Dyers still own a house on Cedar, one they rent out now, but may use when they decide to downsize.
Referring to a house by the names of the people who live in it now – or previously —instead of by its street number seems to be another part of Cedar Street culture.
“When you say you live on Cedar you don’t say the address, you say the name of the person who lived there before,” Kathy Flamson said.
For example, those who knew the Dyers when they lived in the house Welsh and Brown now share still refer to the house as the Dyers house even though there was another owner between the time the Dyers owned it and the current owners. Welsh said they’ve had people show up on their porch and ask if this is the Dyers house.
“When we bought (the house) the cook stove was wood burning,” Dawnine Dyer said. The people the Dyers bought the house from were the grandchildren of the original owners. They used it mostly as a summer home and it had been empty for some time, she said.
Now a “free little library” at the edge of the driveway draws others into the friendliness of the neighborhood. On the route for some Calistoga Elementary School – located at Cedar and Berry streets — the little library is a stopping place for children to pick up a book or drop one off.
It’s used “constantly,” Welsh said. On more than one occasion, she noticed there weren’t very many books remaining and the next day it was “like Christmas” and the library was replenished.
One day, she spotted a woman she didn’t recognize putting books in the library and asked if the woman was the generous donor; she was. The woman lives across town, drove by and noticed the library and that it was getting low on books so set out to refill it. She shops at garage sales and thrift stores to keep the library full.
The neighborhood is “eclectic from tip to toe,” Kathy Flamson said, and the “Cedar Street Crawl” – a moveable feast of sorts with guests enjoying appetizers at one home, entrees at another and dessert a couple doors away – has proven to be a popular auction item at Calistoga Rotary fundraisers. There are a “lot of good cooks” on the street, the Flamsons agree.
Cedar Street has drawn a diverse collection of dwellers, “a range of different kinds of people all of whom seem oddly friendly and interesting,” Tim Carl said.
“There are artists, photographers, writers, designers, architects, computer programmers; people in (or retired from) the businesses of: construction, restaurants, healthcare, hospitality, electricians, plumbers, etc., making it similar to one of the old-school neighborhoods like when I was a kid (in) my neighborhood in St. Helena,” Carl said. “Back then, as on Cedar, it wasn’t just a monolithic collection of individuals and families from a similar economic strata, with the homes, yards and interest all pretty much the same, but instead represented a broader cross section of the community.”
That broad range of interesting people mirrors the interesting features of homes on the street, some with great historic value.
“Our house is quite historical,” said Dennis Lang. “It was the carriage house for the Brannan’s, built in the late 1800s. It’s been added on to at least three different times to make it a home.”
The Judge Palmer House, next to Pioneer Park – where summer Concerts in the Park are held and considered another treasure of the neighborhood – was named a Napa County Landmark in 2013, and is another example of eye-catching architecture and is one of few examples in Napa Valley of French Second Empire Victorian style.
Most of the houses are on the smaller side – though Jim Flamson recalls spending a lot of time at a “really big house” on Cedar as a Cub Scout in his youth – and the lots are small, too. There are few garages on the properties, which forces residents to park on the street. Parking can be cumbersome at times, residents said, and may be one of the few complaints they have about living on Cedar.
But it’s a place where you can sit on lawn chairs in the middle of the street in the dark on the Fourth of July, place lit lanterns around you to draw motorist’s attention to your existence and trust cars won’t hit you. It’s something the Flamsons have done to watch the annual Independence Day fireworks at the Fairgrounds.
“They’re the ‘cheap seats’,” Jim Flamson said.
Not much has changed on Cedar Street in the last handful of decades other than some complete renovations on a few houses and a vineyard has been filled in with the Cyrus Creek development by Paul Coates, maybe there are fewer children living there now and maybe there is a little more car traffic than before. What remains is what makes Cedar Street a neighborhood unto itself.