Napans Cayetano Juarez and Justin Altamura lived centuries apart in a city that has changed exponentially. But there’s one thing that tie the two men together — a house built out of adobe mud bricks some 171 years ago.
Juarez was the first, and original, owner Napa’s Old Adobe, the city’s oldest remaining structure.
Altamura is the newest.
He’s currently overseeing a retrofit and renovation of the building, one of the most significant improvements to the structure in many, many decades.
The adobe brick building at what is now 376 Soscol Ave. was reportedly constructed in 1845 during the Mexican Colonial period.
Mexican army soldier Don Cayetano Juarez owned some 88,865 acres of land around the adobe. Using labor from Native Americans, he built the mud-walled home for his family, along with other structures that didn’t survive.
In later years, Juarez provided 48 acres of this land to establish the Tulocay Cemetery and 192 acres to build the then Napa State Asylum. He and his 11 children called the adobe home for many years. In the 1920s, it was converted to a bar and road house. The current tenant is the Taste of the Himalayas restaurant which is closed during the remodel.
Today, the Old Adobe is in dire straits.
It needs earthquake retrofitting. The original mud bricks have deteriorated. Appendages and outbuildings were built on top of and around it along with incongruous wooden siding.
Altamura is keen to take on the task.
The Napan, grandson of well-known Napa businessman George Altamura, acquired the property from his grandfather about 18 months ago.
“This is kind of like a dream for me,” said Altamura. Working on this project “is one of the best times in my life.”
Altamura, age 30, said he’s a history buff.
“It’s so exciting. I love this kind of stuff. And this being the oldest building in Napa, it’s really special to me.”
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“It’s really important for me that people know about the history of this building and the man that built it,” said Altamura.
According to the documents Altamura submitted to the city planner’s office, the project includes several key components.
The original mud adobe bricks will be preserved and repaired. New bricks will be made to replace bricks that have since deteriorated. Additions such as two storage buildings built much later have already been removed. Other siding and modern bricks will be removed to restore the building back to its original state.
Cracked stucco and plaster will be removed and repaired, added Altamura. He’ll also improve the roof, lighting, doors and landscaping all around.
“Everything is going to be as authentic as possible. Everything I can save, I’m going to save,” he said.
Altamura estimates the work will cost around $150,000 and could be finished in December.
His team is working seven days a week, he said. The work is expensive and he’s gotten a loan to fund the project. “I have a lot invested in this.”
The work won’t stop at just the adobe building. He plans to add a western “false front” look to the rest of the smaller commercial buildings on the parcel, to make it appear “almost like a character property,” he said. “It’s going to be unique. I think people will like it.”
Altamura said he plans to start on that work after the adobe is done.
As part of the project, Altamura said he plans to install historical information or photos inside the adobe.
Local preservationist Juliana Inman said the site is so important that she recommended that an experienced property construction manager supervise the work.
“My hope is that the Juarez Adobe can be returned to its historic appearance,” she wrote in an email to the city.
“I agree with her,” said Altamura. “I want what’s best for the building. Not what’s best for me, what’s best for the building.”