Winship Building

Spared from fire and redevelopment, the 1888 Winship Building now stands as one of the finest remaining examples of Victorian commercial architecture in Napa County. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Edward H. Winship arrived in Napa from Minneapolis in 1887 with money to burn. Among his purchases was a plot of land at the corner of First and Main Streets for which he paid $15,000. Like its neighbor the Semorile Building, the Winship was designed by noted Napa architect Luther Turton, intended to house retail on the ground floor with offices above. At the time of its construction the octagonal tower, which is the building’s most notable feature, was likely the tallest structure on Main St.

The building’s first anchor tenant was a druggist named Springsteen who was bought out before long by Joseph Levinson, a name that would become synonymous with Napa’s pharmaceutical needs for over 80 years. Such was the association that Levinson himself was often called “Pills” by friends and colleagues. In 1897, through a partnership with Dr. Edwin Hennessey, Levinson’s drug store became the first spot in Napa where patients could get an x-ray. Hennessey awed townfolk of the day by revealing a broken bone in a young man’s hand with his new x-ray images.

Dr. Hennessey, Napa’s most notable physician, kept his practice in the Winship Building. Besides bringing radiography to Napa, his other claim to fame was being the post-execution examiner of William Roe, the last man to be publicly hung in California.

Among the other upstairs tenants was the lawyer and future mayor Charles Trower, an important courtroom and political figure in early twentieth century Napa. The Semorile family, owners of the neighboring Semorile Building, at one time ran a print shop in the Winship.

In 1910 the Winship’s owners made the unfortunate decision to remove the building’s famed octagonal tower. Without it the Winship looked like a much more ordinary building through most of the twentieth century. It was not until 2003 that the building’s signature feature was restored at the behest of owner Michael DeSimoni.

The Winship fell into disrepair by the 1970s. After Levinson’s Drugs vacated the building, the empty storefront was taken up by a pawn broker, Valley Loan Co. Though initially threatened with demolition by redevelopment, by the 1980s Napa’s city council had decided to incentivize the restoration of the Winship Building. This task fell to Napa native Ging Chan and a group of his assembled investors. Chan had grown up two blocks from the Winship, and as a member of one of Napa’s pioneer Chinese families, he had an acute connection to the location of the Winship. Chan recalled as a boy walking to Levinson’s drug store.

Since its reopening in 1985, the Winship’s corner storefront has been occupied by Napa Valley Roasting Company, long a hub for morning conversation and quality fresh-roasted coffee. A fire caused by one of the coffee roasting machines resulted in some interior damage to the building in 1987. Luckily a sprinkler system kept the fire from spreading, saving the then 99 year old building. Fire Marshall Tom Johnson had this to say about the incident: “It was the most flavorful fire I’ve ever been to.”

Images

Winship Building

Winship Building

The Winship Building's tower, which features so prominently in its architectural profile was not present through the majority of the building's lifespan. While part of the original 1888 construction, the tower was removed in 1910 not to be restored until 2003. Image courtesy of the Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. View File Details Page

Towerless Winship Building

Towerless Winship Building

This photograph from the mid 1970s shows the Winship building prior to being restored in 1985 and without its showpiece tower. The accompanying Semorile building is visible in the left part of the frame. Image courtesy of Charles Hall Page & Associates. View File Details Page

Levinson's Drugs Street Scene

Levinson's Drugs Street Scene

This street scene is from a series of photographs by Herman A. Darms which depicted most of Napa's downton business blocks in 1908. Here, Joseph Levinson stands in front of his drug store. Image: Public Domain. | Source: Napa City & County Portfolio Directory by H.A. Darms, 1908. View File Details Page

Levinson's Drug Ad.

Levinson's Drug Ad.

From at least the 1890s through 1972 Levinson's Drugs occupied the corner storefront of the Winship Building. Besides offering prescriptions Levinson also sold camera supplies and even offered x-rays. This ad from the 1960s touts free delivery by motorcycle. Image courtesy of the Napa County Library. View File Details Page

Dr. Hennessey's Liniment

Dr. Hennessey's Liniment

Something of a panacea, Dr. Hennessey's Liniment was said to cure everything from the common cold to rheumatism. Sold at Levinson's pharmacy and concocted by Dr. Edwin Hennessey who had his offices upstairs. This bottle is indicative of the close partnership between Dr. Hennessey and the pharmacist Joseph Levinson. The bottle can be seen on display at the Hennessey House Bed & Breakfast on Main St. Image courtesy of the Napa Valley Register. | Creator: Napa Valley Register View File Details Page

Historical Plaques on the Winship Building

Historical Plaques on the Winship Building

These two plaques on the Winship Building comemorate its 1888 construction and its 1985 restoration led by Napa native Ging Chan. Image courtesy of Cinthia Garcia-Chavez. View File Details Page

Napa Valley Loan Co. Ad

Napa Valley Loan Co. Ad

After Levinson's Drugs closed, the main storefront of the Winship was occupied by Napa Valley Loan Co., a pawn shop. The featured ad is from 1978. Image courtesy of the Napa County Library. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

John Thill, “Winship Building,” Explore Napa, accessed June 28, 2017, http://explorenapa.org/items/show/20.
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