City advisers are satisfied that a planned conversion of downtown Napa’s earthquake-battered post office building into a hotel will preserve enough of the elements that have made it a historic landmark.
The local developer James Keller gained support this week from the Cultural Heritage Commission for his overhaul of the Franklin Station post office, an 85-year-old Art Deco edifice that has been closed since the 2014 South Napa earthquake seriously damaged its structure, brickwork and interior.
Keller, who bought the dormant building from the U.S. Postal Service last year, seeks to meld its tan-brick façade, north-facing front windows and lobby into a multistory hotel with 163 rooms and suites, in an expanded structure extending upward and back from its Second Street entrance.
Four commissioners (Sarah Van Giesen was absent) voted Thursday night to grant the project a “certificate of appropriateness,” which affirms the former post office will keep its historic character even after conversion to a hotel. The building, which was designed by the Napa architect William Corlett, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Like the city’s Planning Commission, which endorsed the hotel plan last week, members of the heritage group praised Keller for taking on the challenge of reviving a building the quake had damaged seriously enough that the Postal Service had considered demolishing it to save the estimated $8 million in repair costs.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic about this project; I’m in awe of Jim Keller for taking this on,” said commissioner Beverly Shotwell.
The commission’s approval sends the project on to a final vote by the City Council, after which the city would review a detailed building design and Keller would seek partners to build and brand the hotel.
Early plans filed with the city call for reusing about 20 percent of the Franklin Station building’s original structure, including the granite front staircase, six large windows facing Second Street and the former post office lobby. Including side walls facing east and west, roughly the front 15 feet of the post office would make the transition to hotel use, according to Mark Hulbert, a preservation architect working with Keller.
Keeping a substantial part of the old post office – and with it the soul and meaning of its design – in place was a top priority for commissioner Bill Tuikka.
“What I don’t want to see here is just a façade as some communities in Southern California have done with their buildings, where only a façade is left,” he said. “I know this building is dear to the heart of the people of Napa, and they would like it to still look like the (historic) building.”
Because the original building would hold no more than 80 rooms, the conversion would include new construction up to the site’s 60-foot city height limit to increase guest space. Keller also could seek an exception that would allow the addition of a rooftop lounge and bar, a feature of the Archer hotel that opened on nearby First Street a year ago.
The hotel also will incorporate the footprint of Zeller’s Ace Hardware, on Randolph Street behind the Franklin Station building. Dick Clark, owner of the hardware store, reached a deal in February 2017 to sell the property and work with Keller on finding a new location for the business after a post-quake decline in foot traffic around Zeller’s.
Using both properties, the hotel would occupy about 175,000 square feet, according to Keller’s proposal.
A third purchase by Keller, of a city-owned parking lot just east of Franklin Station, will provide the vehicle space the hotel will require. Replacing the 55-space surface lot would be a mechanized garage with room for about 228 vehicles, where 65 spaces would be set aside for public use. The parking structure also would include 7,000 square feet of ground-level space for retail stores.