Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine History Article December 2007.
By Lauren Coodley
Napan Judy Lloyd wrote me a letter in response to my October Marketplace article. Her experience forms the basis for this essay. Lloyd writes:
I was born and raised in Napa, as was my mother, whose maiden name was Bergantini. The Bergantinis came to Napa from Genoa, Italy, and lived in the Italian community in Alta Heights district. In fact, I live in the house my mother grew up in, on Silverado Trail between Berna and Spring streets. When I first moved here twenty years ago I had a great view of the Napa Garbage company – as well as a great stench carried on the evening breezes.
What was once a quiet country road is now a traffic-packed highway. My mother used to sit on the front porch and count cars; she tells me maybe five or six would go by. When my youngest son was a toddler, we continued the tradition of counting cars – and 60 or more vehicles would pass by during our short time on the porch. My mother loves to tell stories about growing up on the Trail. Her grandmother lived just north of Spring, on the Trail, and my mother would run across the field to visit her. We never got tired of hearing about all the Italian families like the Grimoldis, Bacigalupis, Rossis, and Paniaguas, whose children grew up with her in Alta Heights.
Your article hit home for me as my husband and I contemplate what will happen when the new proposed Ritz Carlton goes up. I feel like that little house in Virginia Lee Burton’s children’s book, The Little House. Businesses will eventually be surrounding us and the traffic will be horrendous. Of course, as a union electrician, my husband loves the growth, which creates more work.
Now regarding Pear Tree Lane, I can’t help but reminisce every time I drive by the new development. I grew up just east of Beard Road, and my girlfriends and I would ride our bikes down Pear Tree Lane almost every day. It was a dirt road ending in a dead end where the orchard was. We picked pears and played in the orchard. As a young teen I would go down there to sneak a smoke – something I am glad I never continued past the experimental period. There was also a creek that ran south of Pear Tree where we would swing on willow tree branches. What lovely memories I have, memories I love to share.
A few years ago I began to hate Napa. I was discouraged that I would never be able to afford to purchase a home in the town I was born and raised. I was tired of sharing the roads with tourists who didn’t know where they were going. I despised the little expensive shops that were built solely to attract such tourists. Who cares about all that wine stuff anyway? Then a miracle happened.
I was hired to work at Stags’ Leap Winery. How did I not know this amazing property even existed. Gazing across vineyards green with the new spring, I drove through the small gate and into heaven. It was then I thought I was home. I fell in love with Stags’ Leap; its people, the property, the haunted Manor House and quaint old cottages; the wine. Oh yes, now I get the whole wine thing, but most of all I fell in love with the Napa Valley.
Looking online, I found the following history of Stags’ Leap:
Just seven miles north of Napa, in a valley within a valley, lies the century-old, 240-acre wine estate known as Stags’ Leap. Little has changed here since 1893, the year the winery was founded by Horace Chase and his wife Minnie Mizner Chase, the daughter of a prominent San Franciscan who was a U.S. Senator and Ambassador to Central America.
The property was named “Stags’ Leap” after an old Indian legend of a stag leaping across crags of the palisades (bordering the east side of the estate) to escape hunters. In addition to the old stone winery, the Chases built a gracious manor and guest house that still stand, excavated the first wine storage caves on the east side of Napa Valley and installed what is thought to be the first in-ground fresh water swimming pool in Northern California. Stags’ Leap became a center of social life, attracting the era’s most prominent politicians, artists and writers. Friends making a journey from San Francisco crossed the Bay by ferry to Vallejo, boarded a train to Yountville, and made the last leg of their journey to Stags’ Leap in horse-drawn carriages.
Perhaps it is the power of the land itself; perhaps only providence. For whatever reason, those who have owned the Stags’ Leap estate have taken it upon themselves to be stewards, committed to maintaining the rich natural heritage of this charmed valley. Most remarkable among these individuals was Mrs. Frances Grange, who acquired Stags’Leap from Horace Chase in 1913. She carefully transformed the property into a working ranch and the Napa Valley’s preeminent resort. Stags’ Leap soon became a refuge for San Franciscans escaping the cold July fog, and by film stars dogged by press and fans. By day they sequestered themselves in the good care of Mrs. Grange and her staff; lounging, hiking and splashing in one of the state’s first “swimming tanks.”
Twenty years ago, I cut out an article by novelist Anne Tyler about The Little House mentioned by Lloyd:
Like a child, the Little House has its periods of restlessness. And like a child, it finds even longed-for changes both exciting and saddening. Alone at night in the city that has always seemed to beckon, “she missed the field of daisies and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight.”
When I see those words now (and when I hear them, murmuring across the decades in my mother’s voice), I recall the feeling of elderly sorrow that came over me at age 4. At age 4, listening to The Little House, I had a sudden spell of… wisdom, I guess you could say. It seemed I’d been presented with a snapshot that showed me how the world worked: how the years flowed by and people altered and nothing could ever stay the same. Then the snapshot was taken away. Everything there is to know about time was revealed in that snapshot, and I can almost name it. I very nearly have it in my grasp… but then it’s gone again, and all that’s left is a ragged green book with the binding fallen apart.
Judy Lloyd finished her letter to me with this:
Next year, I turn 50. I still can’t afford a house but that’s okay for now. I will continue to live in the family home on the Trail where I will sit on the porch and count the cars. I will follow behind the tipsy tourists on my way home from work and pray for their safe trip home. I will continue to enjoy the fruits of our labor here at the winery, the history, and ghost stories. I will continue to remember Pear Tree Lane and the little grimy girls who played in the orchard.
Anne Tyler, New York Times, “Why I Still Treasure The Little House,” November 9, 1986.