Take a Look Up and Around Downtown Napa

Generally my main form of exercise has been walking.  Not a lot of hoopla about it, just a regular routine, two days a week with a good

Gordon Building on First St.

friend and an occasional outing with my hubby on the weekends.  With the riverfront development and promenade, one of my favorite walking destinations is downtown Napa.  Whether I start out at the Hatt Building or the Oxbow Market, I can create an interesting loop around the heart of downtown.  In this tumultuous time, some favorite dining and retail establishments have gone away and some new and exciting places have opened up; it all adds interest and intrigue to how our downtown area is shaping up.

My personal preference is to preserve what we have, sustaining the beauty of our historical architecture; polishing and refining it so that generations ahead can sense the pride of those who have worked and lived in this town. I am not an architect or engineer with the knowledge of what structures must be overhauled, and which ones will not make it much farther into the 21st century, but I have noted some beautiful pieces of construction that I thought I would point out. When you’re downtown again, you may pause and look up and around at these lovely points of architecture; artwork really, and treat yourself to a self-guided tour of the outdoor gallery of Napa’s downtown history.

As we hurry along First Street, with our shopping and dining destinations in mind, we are usually under a large awning structure that juts out over the sidewalk on most buildings. Many of the store fronts still exhibit the architecture of the 1960’s and 1970’s; aluminum framed windows and not so interesting to behold. One day, as I was walking along First Street, I happened to look up at the building across the street. It was 1130 First Street, the Gordon Building, circa 1929.  Up above the cumbersome awning is a display of intricate Spanish Colonial Revivalist architecture, with beautifully carved tile work, dramatic arched windows and blue and green accents that remind me of the ethereal paintings by Maxfield Parrish. The tile work and beauty of this building wraps around the corner into the Coombs Street Plaza, where across the plaza is a building of mixed eras and façades, commonly known as the Merrill’s drugstore building.

On the north corner of the Merrill building there remains a very Spanish colonial style of façade with terracotta tiles, faux-adobe surface and wrought iron bars on the small windows.  Although not intricate and beautiful architecture, the “jail house” look sparks my imagination.  I like to ponder what this quirky piece of architecture meant to someone, and I know that in time it will be redeveloped and erased, tucked away in distant memories. The good news is that “distant memories” and information about our history can be found at the Goodman Library, circa 1901, a native stone beauty that is home to the Napa County Historical Society at 1219 First Street.  For complete information about the library visit the website:  http://www.NapaHistory.org.

As I walk around downtown Napa I admire the work that shows our dedication to restore and revitalize our historic beauty.  The colorful Art Deco tile work at Downtown Joe’s, originally the Oberon building, circa 1934; Wells Fargo Bank, circa 1923, the Napa Valley Opera House.  Each project has that heartfelt commitment to sustain our history, recycle, re-use and showcase what we have.  Another beloved project is underway at 813 Main Street, restoring the mysterious Fagiani Bar.  This building is one of the few remaining native stone commercial buildings from 1908.  In November of 2007, Steve and Johanna Hasty bought the building and Noble House Construction and Development is painstakingly restoring it back to a lively bar and restaurant.  The vision is to maintain the stone structure, as well as the captivating 1940’s Art Moderne tiling on the entrance to the bar.  The goal is to open the new restaurant and bar in the summer of 2010.  Inquiries about the project are welcome by phoning 707-257-3482.

As we turn each corner downtown, we may come upon a sacred old space that we can’t help but overlook during our daily comings

Fagiani Bldg on Main Street

and goings.  Taking a walk in downtown Napa can become a treasure hunt eliciting mystery as well as acquainting us with our ancestors of a hundred years ago.  If interested, visit the Goodman Library, as mentioned above.  Visit www.PreservationNapaValley.org to learn how you can become involved in preserving our historic communities.  Maps and historic guides are also available from the Napa Downtown Association located at the Visitor’s Center, 1310 Napa Town Center, 707-257-0322.

Oberon Bldg/Downtown Joes, Main Street

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