Like in a scene out of "Grapes of Wrath," Billy Grimoldi remembers riding from Texas to Napa with her four brothers, mother and sister-in-law in the back of a '34 Chevy truck loaded with all their earthly possessions, including mattresses, barrels of potatoes and pinto beans, and two foxes in cages.

When night fell, they camped along Route 66 with dozens of other families fleeing hard times for California's plentiful jobs during World War II.

Their food staple on the trip west was bologna sandwiches. Day and night, bologna. "To this day I can't eat bologna sandwiches," Grimoldi said.

Arriving in Napa, Grimoldi and her family moved into a new home in Shipyard Acres and went to work a stone's throw away at Basalt Rock Co. — now Napa Pipe — which was producing barges, tugs and other small ships for the Navy.

Shipyard Acres was built by the federal government at the start of World War II to shelter the men and women from Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas who were working three shifts a day, seven days a week, to support the war effort.

"I remember the accents," said Lorraine Kongsgaard, whose father, A.G. Streblow, was president of Basalt Rock. Small, insulated Napa was suddenly hosting war workers from across America, she said.

Shipyard Acres quickly became home, Grimoldi said. "The houses came with three bedrooms and a bath. We only paid $38 a month. The iceman delivered ice. The milkman came and delivered milk. We had a regular community."

With last week's city approval of a 15-acre industrial park behind Napa Valley Memorial Park on Highway 221, the last traces of Shipyard Acres, which housed hundreds of defense workers, will disappear.

Most of the land where nearly 400 housing units stood has already been developed into a cemetery and myriad industrial uses along Kaiser Road. The new project will wipe out two dozen concrete pads, the last vestiges of the Shipyard Acres community.

The developer, Joe Rossi of Rossi Development, remembers riding in a go-cart on the empty streets of Shipyard Acres in the 1960s.

Just as the houses on this land served a national purpose in World War II, the planned industrial park will provide a home to the basic services that Napa needs today, said Rossi, who expects to start development in the spring.

Napa has a shortage of land where rough-edged businesses such as truck mechanics, plumbing contractors and welding shops can locate, Rossi said.

"Because of the flood control project displacements, people are trying to find places to go," he said. Local businesses have shown interest in all nine lots, he said.

Rossi expects to sell the lots at Enterprise Court subdivision with an agreement that his company build the structures.

Chapel of the Chimes, which operates the Napa Valley Memorial Park cemetery and funeral homes, is selling off most of its vacant acreage to Rossi, while retaining 11 acres.

The 11 acres should be enough for another 60 years of cemetery operations, said Scott Pennington, vice president of operations of the Chapel of the Chimes, which owns six funeral homes in Northern California.

The Napa funeral home/cemetery is for sale, but "we don't have a confirmed buyer at this point," Pennington said.

Bill Kampton, a Realtor with Colliers International who brokered the land sale, said industrially zoned lots are hard to find in Napa. "I tell people that finding industrial land is like finding low income housing," he said.

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Raw land with industrial zoning in Napa commands in the neighborhood of $12 per square foot, which is twice what comparable land near the Napa County Airport sells for, Kampton said.

"When push comes to shove, people still want to be close to town. That's where your employees and customers come from," he said.

Cassandra Walker, the city's economic development manager, said the Rossi project is important to the city's economic health as the city builds out.

The flood control project displaced a cluster of small repair shops and other industrial uses on the river south of Third Street. In the future, as the river becomes more of a premium address, owners of other industrial riverfront properties will convert to higher-rent uses, Walker said.

Even when the last of the foundations at Shipyard Acres are ripped up, Grimoldi said she will still have happy memories of her early adult years there.

She worked in the shipyard's sheet metal shop "bucking rivets" and as a clerk in the project's community store. Her wage at Basalt was 95 cents an hour, which was good for those days, she said.

Grimoldi moved out in 1952 to get married to her husband, Renaldo, who also worked at Basalt and ended up putting in 43 years at its successor, Kaiser Steel.

Her mother stayed on at Shipyard Acres another year or two until they finally tore it down. A community that had sprung up during World War II lasted over a decade.

Kevin Courtney can be reached at 256-2217 or at kcourtney@napanews.com

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