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Napa Porch Fest Part 2

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

When an impromptu outdoor music celebration erupted in Ithaca New York in 2007, an annual summer movement spreads across the United States and Canada like wildfire. Today musicians, singers and bands gathered in as many as 130 Porchfests events with more evolving every year.

In the Spring of 2011, Thea Witsil, Julianna Inman and Louisa Hufstader were fascinated viewing one such previous East Coast music gathering. In less than 6 months, the ladies launched the first porch fest event west of the Mississippi. That’s spelled with a small “p “since nobody knew if this was going to become a real happening or a disaster. That July 30th, 40 bands set up on porches and lawns around multiple neighborhoods of Napa City limits. Curious folks from all around the State wandered the streets sampling the music and googling the great architecture throughout Napa. It was wildly successful and the following year Napa Landmarks took over as sponsors and organizers of this pioneering event to show case the architecture as much as the musicians.

Since then, for security and safety the Porchfest area has been limited to Old Town South of 3rd/4th Streets transition, East of Jefferson Street, North of Pine Street and West of Coombs Street. Over the years nondescript apartments have replaced many classy Victorian and Queen Anne homes built at the turn of the Century by wealthy San Franciscans and ship captains who found the Napa weather ideal. Still, a multitude of large mansions and tiny bungalows stand cheek-by-jowl in the Old Town area.

This July 30, Napa Porchfest will feature over 140 bands scheduled to perform on 70 porches in the Old Town neighborhood. And for foodies, there will be over 22 food vendors at three sites, including Cal-Mex, Maine Lobster, Chinese Dim Sum, Japanese Sushi, Pizza, Burgers, Hot dogs, Fusion Sandwiches, Southern Style BBQ, Mocktails, Hawaiian Style fresh Lemonade, chocolate truffles, desserts, Coffee and more. Bring your lawn chairs and appetites.

There are so many wonderful buildings in Old Town Napa. Unlike the First Street Downtown commercial area where many stately Victorian homes were destroyed in the redevelopment frenzy of the 50’s and 60’s that tore out the city’s heart of “old non- functioning “structures for new non-descript commercial buildings. Most of the residential area south of 3rd St. survived, and fortunately the replacement by less interesting buildings was minimized.

I’ve always believed that the best Northern California communities to live in today are those that escaped the ravishes of the Mid-century redevelopment craze. They were quiet in the 70’s and 80’s, reborn in the 90’s and are now the best places to live and shop.  Petaluma, Sonoma, Healdsburg and south Old Town Napa.

A Landmark and Porch worth Visiting

One of the most interesting and majestic mansions in the old town area is the Migliavacca House, 1475 fourth Street. Built in 1890 and design by local architect WH Corlett (dear to my heart) was actually constructed where the present Napa City/County library was to be built in 1970. The County owned property was expected to be demolished to make room for the then stylish brutal architecture library. When locals objected, the house was moved to the bank of the Napa River with expectations to move by barge to either Benicia or Bethel Island. That didn’t happen and the house sat till 1995 when Tom Connell bought the badly vandalized mansion and moved it to Fourth and Evan Streets. He spent at that time a record $120,000 for the renovations and repairs. Eventually Robert Johanson bought the mansion and has converted it to professional offices.

What’s most interesting is its front porch and unique circular balconies on the upper floors. The top third floor with the "rounded top" is believed to serve as an open ballroom, ideal for parties and events. Blair Johanson noted, “we too have a love for these beautiful buildings that are never going to be replicated.”

It’s hard to classify the architecture but it falls into the Queen Anne style popularized by architect Corlett at that time. Queen Anne differs from classic Victorian because of its combination of quirky architectural details and eccentric additions, such as the round porch arches, sloping roofs, round-corner rooms, also familiar on the 1801 Inn and other Napa buildings. Thank you, Bill Corlett for the many gifts to the street!

This is one of many homes in the area deserving the Porch Fest scrutiny by the public. Enjoy the music and architecture!

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB owned & renovated the 1801 Inn and has worked on eight others.

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