A single letter, almost 20 years old, could change the lives of more than 80 low-income families in Napa.
Back in October, Napa Valley Community Housing CEO Kathleen Reynolds received a phone message.
A man called and said his family had a buildable parcel of three lots in the middle of south Napa and wondered if she’d be interested in developing affordable homes on it.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Reynolds. “There must be a catch,” she thought.
No catch, said Bill and Barbara Ream, the owners of the property.
The lot was flat, over three acres and had a density overlay on it that would be advantageous for affordable housing. Bill Ream emailed Reynolds a copy of a letter dated more than 19 years earlier. It was written by Kelly Berryman, a former Napa Valley Community Housing (NVCH) board member.
Berryman’s unsolicited letter asked if the family was interested in selling their parcel at 1000 Shetler Ave. The lot is located near the intersection of Soscol Avenue.
This letter wasn’t unique. Over the years, Bill and Barbara Ream had received many from would-be buyers. “We had this huge folder of letters from all these people wanting to build there and develop it,” said Bill Ream. “But we weren’t interested.”
The parcel is where Barbara Ream’s grandparents, John and Lucy Ianziti, had built their homestead decades earlier. Later, an elderly aunt, Mary Ianziti, lived in the family home on the property, Bill Ream said.
When their aunt eventually moved out of the house, the family decided it was the right time to sell the property and contacted Reynolds.
“Your letter was professional and the idea of creating housing for low income people in Napa always intrigued us,” the couple wrote.
The sale closed in early April. The purchase price was $2.65 million, said NVCH.
Reynolds said the nonprofit held preliminary meetings with the city of Napa department heads, discussed ideas in terms of infrastructure and building layout and received positive comments and suggestions.
“In a few years, we will have built over 80 attractive and safe homes that will enhance the neighborhood,” she said.
Barbara Ream has many memories of the Shetler Avenue property. Her grandparents worked hard to maintain the land, turning it into something that closely resembled the small village in southern Italy that John Ianziti came from, she said.
“There were fruit orchards, olive trees, almond trees, grapevines (and) a house he built,” she said. Barbara’s father, Adelbert Ianziti, grew up there “and it was a really important place to him.”
“My father had a deep respect for all those who contributed to the success of the valley, and recognized the value of hard labor,” said Ream.
“He once took us to pick peas for the day. We earned next to nothing but, even as kids, I remember how sore I felt afterwards. It left a lasting impression on me.”
Her mother, Doris, “sacrificed a great deal to support our family,” she wrote.
My father had a stroke 14 years ago, and she remained his primary care giver throughout the remainder of his life.
Barbara Ream said her dad would frequently return to his childhood home on Shetler Ave to work on the property and visit with her aunt Mary.
The family house, less than 800 square feet, includes three tiny bedrooms, a small living room, an even smaller dining area and one bathroom. Two girls and two boys, including Adelbert, were raised in the home, said Barbara Ream. During the hot summer months the family would eat their meals in the cellar area, where it was cooler.
“This was a place of peace for him until he passed,” she said.
Ream grew up watching her father’s “great concern for people who didn’t have adequate housing.” Her father even built a home in Yountville that he leased to vineyard workers.
“I knew where my father’s head was in terms of really appreciating the people that built the community of Napa. When we approached Kathleen we felt like this was honoring my father and grandparents as immigrants themselves and also having worked so hard to be able to create a life for themselves and their family.”
Even though she’s since moved out of the state, “I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen,” she said. “I think they’d be so proud.”
“It took the vision and foresight of one family to change the lives of many families,” said Reynolds.
That, and one old — but not forgotten — letter.
This story was edited to reflect the correct sale price of the property.
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or email@example.com
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