Local History – December 2009

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Local History” December 2009.

Treasures Of Terrace Drive
by Lauren Coodley

Ten Kinds of Snakes
It’s what he remembers: finding them in those open fields between
farmhouses & meadows where poor kids like him could feast on nature…

Sometimes history offers itself in a casual conversation; sometimes it arrives in the form of a letter in the mail. Linda McElroy wrote the following in the summer of 2008:

I have thought many times to contact you to see if you might wish to explore a piece of Napa Paradise before it is transformed.

My grandparents, John and Theresa Maddalena purchased a three acre farm for $8,000, in 1943. There is a two bedroom house, two car garage, four small rentals, one and a half acre pasture for the milk cow, chicken house, rabbit house, feed and shop rooms. Built in 1935, mostly of redwood, the buildings are in decay. The property is at 1111 Terrace Drive, about two blocks from the Tulocay Cemetery.

My Aunt Rose has lived on the property since 1943. I moved to the Benicia Arsenal in 1998 from Mt. Shasta. Within one month, my cousin,  Walter, my aunt’s only son died. From that time, I have shopped and cared for my Aunt Rose. In Sept 2007, I moved to Napa so I could care for her in her home. She died January 1, 2008.
My family is now pushing to bulldoze and sell to a developer, as soon as possible. I am on a familial archaeological dig, becoming more involved each day.

Your book was prophetic. Important reading for me. Again, I invite you to visit, maybe pick up a memento or two. I have great rabbit coop doors, farm implements, and I have not explored the garage loft yet. Most recent treasures: my grandfather’s copper still, which he used for making grappa.  Also, a stationary box with letters from Italy written 1910-1922.

Librarian Stephanie Grohs and I stepped onto Linda’s porch on a cold winter afternoon. We immediately felt the poignancy of this farm, with its haunting reminder of the unvarnished nature of rural life in Napa throughout most of the last century. We often forget that land was inexpensive here until the last twenty years. Even people of modest means could own a home in the country and raise their children there.

Typically, the homes of the less prosperous are not among those preserved, thus our images and impressions of the past are incomplete. The plain farmhouses, the rusting equipment, the quiet meadows, are too often destroyed. The beautiful downtown Victorians are not the only homes Napans once inhabited, yet they often define Napa’s history. There, on Terrace Drive, lies another truth. Historian Joseph Amato explains:

Before there were trucks and stereo systems, tract houses and motorcycles, the air was filled with other sounds. It was the roar of nature that set the evening ambience: a hubbub generated by millions of water fowl, amphibians, beetles, bugs, and birds, grasshoppers and a myriad of other creatures that thrived in the small lakes and ponds and wetlands.

Although the Maddalena farm has been sold, before Linda McElroy passed the keys to the new owner, she generously made the farm available to students working on the Napa Grid Project, organized by photography instructor John Dotta (napagridproject.wordpress.com). Their luminous images illustrated here will be featured in several upcoming exhibitions.

As I was researching this essay, I learned about the preservation of another section of the Terrace Drive neighborhood. Jeff Green remembers:

I was a reporter with the Napa County Record from l973-l976. I was covering the Napa City Council, and at one meeting a citizen came to the council with a proposal to build tennis courts on surplus land. The city administrators looked around and decided that nobody was using Fairview Park.

Green suspected otherwise, and checked with a friend who grew up near the park. He learned that kids still went there to play ball.

So, I decided I’d go bang on some doors in the neighborhood… I went up and down a couple streets and everyone was 100% opposed…They mounted a big drive to save the park, and marched on city hall. The city backed off.

Fairview Park was preserved.  Paula Amen Schmitt (nee Judah) writes:
I have fond memories of the baseball diamond at the top of “the field”, as we kids called that enormous open area between Hoffman Avenue and the two ends of Terrace Drive…

I remember going up to the diamond for a big gathering of little girls interested in playing softball—my sister Shirley and I walked up from home with our baseball gloves and our own bat. I remember being put on the Orioles team–they gave us all purple T-shirts with the team name on it, which I was terribly proud of. All the teams had bird names. I wonder if others remember that ball diamond, the air raid station—a little building where volunteers watched the skies for unknown aircraft— or the playground with swings & merry-go-round, how the area looked, the sounds. I wonder who else remembers playing there, running through the weeds, and picking cattails in the swamp.

I am grateful to Linda for her beautiful letter which introduced me to this story… and to Stephanie Grohs for arranging to film Linda to record her memories. As historian Joseph Amato reflects:

People everywhere live in an increasingly disembodied world, their landscapes and minds increasingly falling under the persuasion and control of abstract agencies and virtual images. Everywhere, place is being superseded and reshaped. Home, locale, community, and region– and the landscape they collectively form– have entered a stage of transformation.

To contribute your own memories of this neighborhood, write Paula at schmitts@inreach.com. Thanks to Wendy Ward of Preservation Napa Valley (www.preservationnapavalley.org), who is working with University of San Francisco Architecture Department and Paul Kelley Architects to produce further documentation of the Maddalena property.

Quotes by Joseph Amato are from Rethinking Home, University of California, 2002.
Special thanks to Jay Rogers, for his memories of growing up wild in rural Napa, which inspired the author’s poem which begins this essay. The poem will be available in its entirety in a poetry collection by Lauren Coodley and Paula Amen Judah to be released in 20ll.



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