Do Historic Napa: A Dive into Downtown Napa’s Main Street

Today, we are taking the edutainment route and sharing some incredible history about Downtown Napa. While many people know this location as an amazing spot for food, wine, and entertainment, it also happens to be chock full of rich history. Put on your walking shoes and get ready to be a historian for the day as we take you on a journey back in time through Downtown Napa’s Main Street. 

Stop #1: Winship Building

National Register: Winship-Smernes Building in the City of Napa

Our first stop happens to be one of the most recognizable buildings in Napa Valley. The Winship Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is the perfect example of the Victorian commercial architecture that used to be more prominent in Downtown Napa. As you may notice, the octagonal tower is the building’s most notable feature and most likely made The Winship Building the tallest structure on Main Street at the time. Through the years, the building has been inhabited by physicians, lawyers, and the mayor of Downtown Napa. Perhaps its most important role was providing pharmaceutical needs to the community when Levinson’s Drug-Store opened in 1897 and operated for over 80 years. 

As things shifted with time, The Winship fell into disrepair by the 1970s. Shut down for 15 years, it was reopened in 1985 by a new tenant, Napa Valley Roasting Company. When a fire broke out from one of the coffee roasting machines two years later, the sprinkler system kept the then 99-year-old building intact. One of the fire marshalls at the time said that “it was the most flavorful fire I’ve ever been to.” 

The Winship Building soon became a hub for lovers of fresh, fire-roasted coffee. Experience elements of inspiration from European cafes as well as Victorian details as you step through the red doors. Here you will find drinks loaded with espresso and single-origin coffees from Indonesia, Africa, and the Americas. This spot also offers sweet treats from local bakeries around the Valley. Fuel up on a little coffee and sugar, you’re going to need it for the rest of our adventure! 

Stop #2: Napa Mill Building

Courtesy of Historic Napa Mill: Facebook Page

Now that you’re fueled up, it’s time to take a walk along the river to Napa Riverfront. A whole little downtown district on its own, the Riverfront boasts world-class restaurants, shopping, and hospitality. However, what we are really searching for is the Napa Mill Building. Here’s a little hint, it’s the tall red brick building at the very end of Main Street and is the oldest industrial structure downtown. The Napa Mill Building was built by Captain Alfred Hatt in 1884, and his name is still visible amongst the red brick toward the top of the building. The Napa Mill Building was originally used for selling coal, grain, and vegetables. While the Captain garnered much success in his business, his family life was cursed with death and misfortune. Local legend has it that his eldest son haunts the Napa Mill today, specifically at Sweetie Pies Bakery where many have reported strange visual experiences.

After passing through the hands of many owners, the Mill was finally restored to what it is today. Many historic features can be seen in the building such as the silo, milling equipment, elegant tinwork, and original style flooring. The Napa River Inn opened on June 9, 2000, and helped usher in a new, booming period for Downtown Napa. If you wander around the Napa Mill, you’ll find many stops to grab a quick bite for lunch. Stop by the Napa General Store for world-famous Chinese Chicken Salad or head over to Angèle for French bistro fare. If you want to unwind in a courtyard before our next stop, Celadon’s garden is always in bloom and offers a wide range of global comfort food. Don’t have an appetite just yet? There are plenty of little shops to stop into or you can check out the mosaic fountain next to Celadon, which aims to visually tell the story of Napa Valley. 

Stop #3: Fagiani’s Building

Napa Valley Register – Fagiani’s Before 2019 Remodel

It’s time to book it back down Main Street to our next historic spot. This building has it all –  murder, mystery, and a new hot spot for food and drinks. Fagiani’s is now home to Avow, but it was originally owned and operated by different residents. Designed and built in 1908, the building was an example of the Second Renaissance Revival style. Exterior tiling lined the walls and light Art Moderne touches were added throughout the first floor during remodels. Rumored to have been the location of a speakeasy during the prohibition era, this building served many purposes throughout its early years. Eventually, it turned into a bar and liquor store run by Muriel Fagiani and Anita Andrews. This is where our murder mystery begins. 

History tells us that Anita typically ran the bar until closing time. A July night in 1974 was the last time she was seen closing up the bar. With little knowledge of who could have committed her murder and no witnesses, the case went cold and the building was locked up for 30 years.

Around the time the building was reopened in 2010, there was a break in the case. A cigarette butt left in a bar ashtray showed DNA evidence that matched Roy Melanson who was already serving time in a Colorado prison. The Fagiani Building was reopened as The Thomas, a bar that respected the architectural structure in its remodel. After a collapse scare in the South Napa Earthquake, the bar closed again and new proprietors took ownership in 2014. 

Avow restaurant recently opened its doors in late July. The new owner, Joe Wagner, decided to restore the building back to what it looked like in the early 1900s. There is a bar on the first floor, dining and kitchen on the second, and a place to lounge on the top floor. Avow serves up California cuisine with unique appetizers. It’s the perfect place to end our historic tour of Downtown Napa with a little bite to eat and a house cocktail. 

Go Explore!

There you have it! Who would have known Downtown Napa’s Main Street was filled with such mystery and history? If you want to extend your stay here, there are plenty of beautifully remodeled hotels and B&Bs to explore. Make sure to keep an eye out for all the architectural details to show you signs of what once was in Downtown Napa.