Napa’s oldest building — the city’s lone surviving structure from the Mexican era — has a new owner. George Altamura has purchased the Old Adobe property on Soscol Avenue at Silverado Trail.
“The Old Adobe is one of my loves just like the Uptown Theatre,” said Altamura, who restored the Third Street movie house for live entertainment. “I have always wanted to own the building and restore it to what it was in 1848.”
Stephen Cuddy, president of Napa County Landmarks, said the sale promised better times for historical property. “The Old Adobe appeared for many years on our 10 Threatened Treasures list and we are extremely gratified to announce this groundbreaking moment in the historic preservation of one of Napa’s irreplaceable landmarks,” he said.
“This building is the oldest representation of the Mexican era in our county,” he said in a news release. “The Old Adobe is the only building from this era still standing in the city and a tangible and unique reminder of the area’s cultural roots.”
Napa County Landmarks has also nominated the adobe for the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in the 1840s, the city landmark, also known as the Cayetano Juarez Adobe, has seen its share of owners and tenants, from original owner Don Cayetano Juarez to the merchants who later operated bars or other watering holes inside its thick walls of mud and straw.
The Old Adobe was most recently owned by Tito Fuentes Jr., the son of former San Francisco Giants second baseman Tito Fuentes. In 2002, Fuentes and his wife, Alma Fuentes, paid $825,000 for the property, Alma Fuentes said in a 2012 interview.
The Fuentes family ran a bar and restaurant for several years, adding Caribbean dishes to the mostly Mexican menu. Later others ran restaurants in the building, the most recent being Pemba Sherpa of Taste of the Himalayas.
Alma Fuentes said the family always planned to restore the adobe, but couldn’t arrange financing, especially for the costly seismic retrofitting that would have been required.
“I just didn’t have the financial backing” to do the work properly, she said. “The stress of it all was too much for me. I don’t have millions in the bank. I knew when to call it quits.”
Fuentes said she thinks Altamura will be “a wonderful owner” of the historic property. “He has the financial ability to get that building up where it needs to be,” she said.
The sale price was not disclosed, but was said to be less than $825,000.
“It’s going to be a labor of love like the Uptown,” said Altamura. “I’ll lose my shirt on it, but I don’t care. I like to do things like that.”
Recalling visits when he was younger, Altamura said, “If I can restore it I’ll be so damn happy.”
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He wasn’t sure about the future for Taste of the Himalayas. “I don’t know if he’ll stay or go. It’s up to him,” Altamura said.
“We still have a couple years on the lease,” Sherpa said.
Altamura wouldn’t say how much he paid for the property, how much he’ll invest in the upgrades or how long such renovations would take.
“I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t care,” Altamura said of the upgrade cost. “I want it to be perfect. It’s a legacy.”
Preserving the building is “a win for the city and county,” said Stacey De Shazo, historic preservationist at Napa County Landmarks. “This is a long part of history that’s been sort of forgotten and covered up.”
“This is the community’s property,” she noted.
De Shazo noted there are only two adobes standing in Napa County. The second is the Chiles Adobe in Chiles Valley.
“As far as the state is concerned, it is one of the most important buildings in the city of Napa,” said De Shazo. “Alma tried to protect it. Now we have a new steward. It’s exciting. George has the funds to make this happen. This is a property that should be embraced by everyone. Anything that can keep this building standing and restored is a huge win for the city.”
De Shazo said there are 80 Napa County properties on the National Register.
Of these 80, the most recent property to be listed was the Monte Vista and Diamond Mountain Vineyard in Calistoga.
The bulk of the 80 listings are from surveys conducted in the 1970s, she said.
De Shazo said she hopes the Old Adobe building would eventually become a museum or home to a nonprofit. “It’d be great to have some sort of parklike setting around it,” she said.
“I’d love to see that building completely restored to a beautiful landmark that people come to see in Napa,” said Fuentes. “It should be a comfort food place or traditional Mexican food restaurant in the name of Cayetano Juarez or a museum. It needs to be a treasured place and used and visited. Its been crying out for that for years. I didn’t have the means to do that. George can do that. He can make it happen.”