Its builder came west for the Gold Rush, then arrived in Napa as California was becoming a state. Now, the home that has formed a link to the city’s earliest days will become a haven for wine country tourists.
The owner of the Williams Smith House has cleared the last hurdle to transforming the landmark at 1929 First St. into a seven-room bed-and-breakfast inn. A vote of support by the City Council last week gave the green light to Shahin Shahabi, who over the past two months had won over Napa’s Cultural Heritage and Planning commissions, despite some neighbors’ worries about increasing noise in a section of town already well stocked with B&Bs and vacation rentals.
Though Shahabi gained the right to open the B&B at the historic home, the debate shone a light on the conflicts that can appear between neighbors when a private house is turned outward to paying visitors.
“This isn’t a nonresidential area, and sometimes people forget that,” said Malcolm Mackenzie, an attorney working with Ralph and Ladan Dalla Betta, a couple whose home borders the future inn.
Before the council’s decision, he and the Dalla Bettas asked the city to impose nighttime quiet periods and block outdoor fixtures as conditions for letting vacationers into the landmark.
“It’s just as residential as my quiet street in Browns Valley, and you need to use the same standards you would use in any residential area,” Mackenzie told councilmembers, four of whom voted to approve the bed-and-breakfast. (Juliana Inman recused herself because she lives within 500 feet of property.)
In approving the B&B at the landmark house, councilmembers forbade the inn from adding a swimming pool or hot tub, and required guests to be notified of nightly quiet hours – after 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on weekends.
Shahabi’s new inn will give the public its closest view of the Williams Smith House, which was built around 1868 and is named for its first owner Williams Smith, a Massachusetts native who first came west to the Golden State in the 1840s and settled in Napa in 1850. In later years, he helped found the Smith & Cheeseborough Hardware Co., one of Napa’s first hardware sellers.
Shahabi’s architect described the inn as the surest way to pay for the upkeep of the nearly 150-year-old residence and ward off any neglect. “The main goal is to restore this historic building to its former glory,” said John Kasten. “This will allow many more people to experience it at a personal level, (and) it also will make restoration financially feasible.”
The wooden Second Empire exterior of the home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, would remain, as would the two-story section that was added later in the 19th century. Shahabi plans to remove a non-historic garage beside the house, replacing it with space for eight vehicles.
The interior would be remodeled with three guest rooms on the ground floor and four upstairs, as well as a dining room, common room and a unit for the on-site manager.
Shahabi, the proprietor of Stonehedge Winery, first applied to open the B&B in 2015 but was turned down by the Planning Commission after nearby residents shared their worries about lost privacy and peacefulness with more tourists in their midst. A revised plan reduced the number of rooms to seven from 10, eliminated extra window openings, dropped a bocce court and reduced the size of the inn’s outdoor sign.
Councilman Scott Sedgley acknowledged the concerns of those who soon will share their block with strangers, but added that inflated real-estate prices make the search for private owners increasingly difficult.
“I’d much rather see a young family with kids buy the house and pass it down for generations – but financially it just doesn’t work out that way,” he told the audience at City Hall. “And if someone wants to do that, I imagine they could afford to build a swimming pool.”