The Victorian Project
In August of 2010, Lauren Ackerman fulfilled a long-held dream of owning one of the iconic Victorian houses in downtown Napa. On August 21, 2010, she purchased an 1888 Queen Anne Victorian built by the famous early Napa architect, Luther Turton (he had built approximately 125 homes in this time period in Napa Valley) located on the corner of Fifth Street and Randolph Street, just two blocks from the Napa River where Moriomoto’s, The Napa River Inn, Angele’s Restaurant are situated.
When Lauren first saw the house, it was completely overgrown with trees and shrubs and the interior showed 122 years of wear and tear that had been sadly neglected by previous tenants. It looked, in fact, like a haunted house you might see in an old black and white movie. Lauren, however, looked beyond the disrepair and saw the fantastic “bones” of this once-beautiful house. She made it her goal right then and there to bring the house back to its former glory and started evolving a plan for it.
Today, restoration on the Victorian is well underway. Through the process of bringing this house slowly back to life, several unexpected treasures have appeared: the original hand-carved redwood handrails found stashed underneath the house have been put back in their original place; a treasure trove of antique tools was discovered in the Carriage House; a postcard from Santa Barbara in 1909 floated down from the ceiling during repairs being made to the plaster; a long, handwritten letter from January 1921 was discovered, the writer exclaiming the extravagance of spending $1.00 a pound for turkey at a friend’s Christmas dinner accompanied with the sheer pleasure of riding in an “automobile” until two in the morning after the holiday feast! Finding these unique pieces of history has made the house come alive in a whole new way for Lauren.
Other discoveries made along the way: it was the custom in 1888 to paint the lead in stained glass windows in real gold leaf – something Lauren learned when she restored all the beautiful windows that had been warped over time. There was the aviary located in the Carriage House that was used to raise pheasants and chickens in the early 1900’s. Also found was the “secret” door from the Master bedroom into the bedroom next door – checking in on the sleeping children or a secret rendezvous? We will never know for sure.
As the restoration continues, Lauren is hoping there will be more discoveries. The entire restoration thus far has been a wonderful learning curve on the history of late 19th Century Napa that makes the project for Lauren so compelling – the house evokes a simpler time and historic elegance that we sometimes forget today as we go about our busy lives.
Lauren’s plans for the house are evolving but, essentially, the big picture concept is to have use this iconic Victorian as an historic winemaker’s event house, not a tasting room, but a place to do intimate winemaker dinners, feature celebrity chefs, create special seasonal events (Victorian Cabernet Christmas? Murder Mystery dinner?), trade tastings, and other such programs, both for Ackerman Family Vineyards and other wineries or gourmet food vendors. Lauren would also like to offer the house to various non-profit groups for donor luncheon or dinner events if it they were so inclined. Essentially, it is Lauren’s goal to open the house up to the neighborhood as a local treasure for years to come – a gift of history for the Napa community. As for a name, currently, the house will simply be known as “The Ackerman House.”
Stay tuned for more progress reports as the house continues its journey back to 19th century beauty…