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.”

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