Local History – March 2008

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine History Article March 2008.

Time Passing in Napa, 1

Time Passing in Napa, 1
By Lauren Coodley

One way to pour time through the hourglass of our lives is to read about Napa as it once was. Louis Ezettie, Realtor and journalist, wrote several columns in l96l that take us back to the past. If we listen to Napa’s elders today, we can glean much from their memories. This essay will intersperse Ezettie’s recollections with the remarks of the Merry Mariners group at the First Presbyterian Church.

.……Sunday afternoon and a great crowd of baseball fans pours out to watch the great rivals, Napa and Vallejo, whose lineup included the mighty Ping Bodie for Vallejo, and the slugging Lloyd Russell for Napa engaged in another thrilling contest. The bloomer girls baseball team making a cross-country barnstorming trip and annually meeting a local men’s aggregation. …Employees at California Glove Company making up two baseball teams called the Giants, captained by Bill Simpkins and Midgets, led by Archie Jacobsen, and meeting in the friendly combat as other employees formed rooting sections to cheer their favorite side.

We grew up digging up arrowheads out on Old Soda Springs Road. There must have been a large Indian population here…My family even remembered hearing about a powwow in l9l0.

Customers having dinner at Kunzel’s Restaurant on the east side of Main Street near First, where a meal consisting of pearl barley soup, roast beef and potatoes, coffee, and homemade pie cost 25 cents, cooked on a woodstove. …School children buying lunch put up in a bag for them at Levi Chapman’s grocery, southeast corner First and Brown Streets, with the lunch items including chipped beef, cheese crackers, fig bars, and some kind of fruit, for l5 cents. People waiting in line at Mason Bakery, southwest corner of Brown and Fourth Streets to buy hot bread just out of the ovens at three loaves for 25 cents and, if you found a five dollar gold piece in your bread, it was not there by accident, as the owner put four or five gold pieces in different loaves to promote sales; and at Regli Brothers Bakery (Napa City Bakery) they gave 20 tickets for $l, each ticket good for one loaf as an inducement to the hotel and restaurant trade.

We walked our cattle from Sonoma to Napa, and grazed them on the river behind what is now the Elks Club. Children would take turns watching the cattle.

……Professor HL Gunn, head of the local business college, whose penmanship with its elaborate flourishes and delicate shading was a work of art. …The big bell in the courthouse tower ringing out an alarm in the still of the night, and you consult your handy alarm location card distributed by and with the compliments of AH Smith insurance company, and if it’s a downtown number, you might jump on your bicycle and hurry to the scene.

Old town used to have a lot of boardinghouses… Do you know why there are Cupolas on downtown houses? They were “widow’s walks,” where wives watched for ships coming up the River after being out at sea.

The big, fruit cannery on 4th street opposite the SP Depot burned to the ground, throwing many people out of work, and was never to be rebuilt. The Chinese vegetable garden and watermelon patch on Soscol Avenue, back of where the Gasser Motor Plant stands, was often raided by kids living on the west side of the river, who would swim across, snatch melons, and then push them across the surface of the water as they made it back to shore.

There were skating rinks all over town, at what used to be Veterans Park, on the top floor of the Hatt Building, and on Silverado Trail by Juarez. We all used to go to Partrick’s afterwards.

.…. The first talking motion picture shown in Napa was presented at the movie theatre located on the east side of Main Street between 3rd and 2nd streets, and Eddie Cantor was the featured actor. …Julio Banchero, talented accordionist and expert billiardist, attracting music and dance lovers to Armory Hall (Migliavacca Building) and winning himself a long engagement as a solo accordionist on the Orpheum Pantages west coast vaudeville circuit. James J. Jeffries, World’s Heavyweight Champion, spending several days in town when he came here to take a small part in the cast of a show headed by Bert Lytel and Evelyn Vaughn at the old Opera House. Tom Sullivan, a local vocalist, probably setting a record for the number of encores ever accorded a performer on a Napa stage, singing for the first time the very sentimental song entitled, “Honeyboy, I Hate to See You Leaving.”

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
Till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you
(Jim Croce, 1971)

Louis Ezettie articles published in June and September, l96l, courtesy of the Napa County Historical Society. On Sunday, March 2, Richard Aldrich will present a History of the Napa Valley Opera House at the Goodman Library Building, 1219 First Street,
2:30 p.m. Free.

For an article by Louis Ezettie about the founding of Partrick’s, see: http://www.napahistory.com/partrick.htm
For a fascinating account of the Lokoya women’s volunteer firefighters by Louis Ezettie, see http://www.drycreek.org/reprints/past_and_present75.html

Many thanks to the Merry Mariners for
sharing their observations with me on February l6, 2008.



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