Napa Soda Springs in Soda Canyon is on the market, raising the question of whether the historic resort could be restored from ruins to the grandeur of old.
The answer is that county law allows for the possibility. Whether anybody would want to make the attempt remains to be seen. The resort ruins are a small part of 857 acres east of the city of Napa being marketed by JLL Capital Markets.
JLL’s advertising materials describe the healing waters of Soda Creek, the 80-foot waterfall, a magma rock-strewn plain and views. It also says that “stone remnants of the historic resort remain, inviting restoration and adaptive reuse.”
Napa County would usually not allow a new resort on agricultural watershed land. But county code lists Napa Soda Springs in Soda Canyon east of the city of Napa as “a landmark of special significance.”
County law allows such properties to once again have their historic use “in extant historic buildings,” provided there are such things as adequate water. The owner must agree to maintain the historic resource. A proposal would need county approval to become reality.
Stone walls remain at Napa Soda Springs resort, where the San Francisco elite came in the late 1800s to relax and drink bottled mineral water. Creating a reborn resort would be a fixer-upper job on a big scale.
“It would have to be similar in nature and intensity to the historic use,” county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said. “It doesn’t have to be an exact recreation.”
Neither he nor Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza – whose supervisor district includes Napa Soda Springs – as of Tuesday knew of any proposals concerning the property.
That leaves a Napa Soda Springs rebirth a mere possibly, perhaps a “what-if?” long shot. Then again, maybe someone such as Col. John P. Jackson will come on the scene again.
Jackson, born in Cleveland, was a law partner of President Benjamin Harrison, a Civil War soldier, a friend of General and President Ulysses Grant and a builder of railroads. The San Francisco Call upon his death in 1900 called him “one of the best-known public men in the country.”
The thin-faced man with the walrus mustache bought Napa Soda Springs in 1872. It had been a destination since the 1850s, but Jackson brought it to new levels of popularity.
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“Napa Soda Springs in Napa County yielded him a fortune in a very few years,” the obituary said.
Tucked amid the oak hills were such attractions as the Pagoda Springs, marked by an ornate pagoda. From these and other springs came mineral water that Jackson bottled.
“Napa Soda is highly esteemed as a beverage. It is sold in every city and on the coast and is one of the pleasantest summer drinks we have,” said the 1890 book “Mineral Springs and Health Resorts of California.”
One of the resort’s striking features was the Rotunda hotel. This stone circular building towered 75 feet high and was topped by a glass cupola that could be seen reflecting the sun’s rays for miles. Inside, a gas chandelier with 32 lights lit the ball room.
“The Rotunda Hotel is a magnificent structure,” the mineral springs books said.
Harrison stayed at Napa Soda Springs after leaving the presidency in 1893.
After Jackson’s death, the resort declined. By the 1944, it hadn’t been used for a hotel in years. A fire that year possibly caused by electrical wiring in a dining room destroyed nine buildings, including the rotunda, which ended up with eucalyptus growing among its ruins.
Bottling of mineral water continued. Then a 1,980-acre Atlas Peak fire in June 1960 that started at Napa Soda Springs destroyed three more buildings.
It was a far cry from a day in April 1895, when Jackson was still alive and a Napa Register correspondent saw Napa Soda Springs in its glory.
“Altogether, with its solid stone buildings of varied architecture, its healthful mineral water, the medicinal fame of which is world-wide; its pleasing dining-hall and unexceptionable (sic) cuisine; its peerless outlook over valley, hill and bay, and its entertainment features of bath, bowling-alley, billiards, lawn tennis, croquet and burros for the young folks, we can confidently claim that the Napa Soda Springs is the leading pleasure resort of the Pacific Coast,” the person wrote.
That’s in the distant past – unless a Napa Soda Springs buyer wants to try make it part of the future.