Napa County still bears a few gaping wounds – and a slew of smaller ones—from its 3:20 a.m. Aug. 24, 2014 wake-up call from hell.
On the fifth anniversary of the South Nape earthquake, much of the high-profile damage is fixed. A big recovery piece fell into place last January when the historic downtown Napa courthouse, rocked to the core by the quake, had repairs completed.
“It has been a long road, but we’re finally open for business,” Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker said as he stood on the granite steps of the Victorian Italianate building during the rededication ceremony.
But nearby, the former Franklin Postal Station and The Center building still await their resurrections from South Napa quake batterings.
The Franklin building at Second and Randolph streets still looks much as it did immediately after the quake ended its days as a post office. This 1933 Art Deco creation – designed by prominent local architect William Corlett—has a cracked brick exterior and an interior that’s unsafe to enter.
Napa real estate agent and developer James Keller saved the building from the wrecking ball by buying it from the U.S. Postal Service in 2017 for $2 million. He plans to incorporate the historic structure into a new, five-story hotel, but first must fix his fixer-upper.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” Keller said in early August. “It’s going to be probably a good $10 million bucks to repair that, if we were to repair it in its entirety. We’re still figuring out what portions gets saved and which don’t.”
The front facade and lobby area will be saved, he said.
A June 6 presentation of the project to the city Planning Commission was delayed because Keller’s legal counsel couldn’t attend. Still, a preliminary drawing raised some concerns about whether the historic postal station might be overwhelmed by the modern hotel.
“Anyone who takes it on is a savior because that building is in really bad shape,” resident Joe Newman told the commission. “It’s a really cool building and I would hate to see it torn down. But I would like to see more of it incorporated into the design. Hopefully, they can make it pencil out.”
City Planning Manager Erin Morris said a rescheduled hearing on the Franklin Postal Station project could be in September or October. She’ll know more after she sees the latest application, which the developers could submit around Labor Day.
How fast the Franklin building is repaired depends on long the city approval process takes, Keller said. If all goes smoothly, he’d hope to see the project underway next year.
The Center building is located at Brown and Third streets, occupying a prominent spot in downtown Napa. A much-circulated, day-of-the-earthquake photo shows a parked Nissan Sentra damaged by some of the building’s tumbled bricks.
Napa County Landmarks placed the Center building on its 2019 “10 Most Threatened Treasures” list, saying the structure’s fate remains unknown. No restoration proposals have been submitted to the city, the historic preservation group said.
Brian Silver, who has owned the building since the early 1970s, couldn’t be reached for comment. In 2017, he said he wants to incorporate a renovated Center building with other buildings. His plan included constructing a replica of the ornate, long-gone downtown Napa Masonic Temple on an adjacent property.
The Center building was constructed in 1904 as the Martin Building, again with Corlett as the architect. Corlett is shown in a black-and-white photograph as a bespectacled, thin-faced man with a thick mustache. Napa County Landmarks describes him as a “seminal architect” in early 20th century Napa.
“The new Martin building on Brown Street in this city will be one of the handsomest business blocks in Napa,” The Napa Register reported in 1904.
Some of the South Napa earthquake wounds are smaller. Workers this summer are fixing pavement at five locations along Oak Knoll Road, Old Sonoma Road and Cuttings Wharf Road in the unincorporated county.
All of these roads have remained open with such damage as cracks. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is paying 89 percent of the $725,435 repair cost. But why five years to start the repairs?
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“The approval process with the FHWA takes a very long time,” county Deputy Public Works Director Juan Arias said.
Some wounds are even underground.
Napa’s water system sprang 240 leaks because of the earthquake and most are fixed. An exception is several pipes crossing under Highway 29. The city turned off the damaged under-the-highway pipes and for five years has used other pipes as a work-around.
“You can’t just shut down the freeway and make repairs and route traffic around, as you would on a residential street,” city Water General Manager Joy Eldredge said.
Now the city is ready to fix the problem, with workers to drill horizontally under the freeway while traffic keeps moving. New pipes will go in under Highway 29 at Old Sonoma Road, Pine Street, Laurel Street and Third Street.
That means that, five years after the South Napa earthquake, the city’s water system comeback is almost complete. Eldredge said having the four cross-city pipes available will make the system more reliable.
“These are the last projects that we have outstanding related to the earthquake,” Eldredge said.
The city is eligible to receive federal and state governments reimbursements for 94 percent of the $2.6 million cost for the four water lines, a city report said.
Napa Valley Unified School District ever since the quake has tried to head off future wounds by moving three schools away from the West Napa fault.
A rebuilt Irene M. Snow Elementary School in south Napa opened on Aug. 14. A groundbreaking for a relocated Napa Junction Elementary School in American Canyon followed on Aug. 16.
That leaves relocating Stone Bridge School in the rural Carneros area still on the district’s to-do list. Two previous attempts failed, in one case because the intended, new location along Old Sonoma Road also turned out to be over a fault.
Will the third time be the charm? District staff in late May told Stone Bridge School parents more information could be available this fall.
Some wounds are in unexpected places. The South Napa earthquake centered under the wetlands of the southern county near the Carneros area somehow cracked the stone arch Greenwood Avenue bridge over Garnett Creek near Calistoga 30 miles away.
The 1904 bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Local contractor John Money built it for the county at a cost of $2,310. Something utilitarian also displays the craftsmanship of early 20th century stone masons.
Whether this historic bridge can be saved or needs to be replaced remains a question mark. The county is having an engineering company look at the situation.
Still other wounds are little noticed because they are off-the-beaten track. The one-lane Partrick Road bridge crosses a no-name creek in the Mayacamas Mountains about 1.5 miles from Browns Valley. It has a temporary steel bridge sitting over its quake-damaged span.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration declined to pay for repairs and Napa County appealed the decision. The county recently announced it prevailed and that 90 percent of the repair costs should be paid by FEMA and the state.
Next, the county must work out details with FEMA, such as whether to replace or repair the bridge, Lederer said. The permanent fix will happen in 2023 at the earliest, he said.
That means Napa County could still have South Napa earthquake wounds on the 10th anniversary of the quake.