Bill Hocker | Jan 21, 2015 Commercial projects break ground on Gasser Foundation properties
Planners want a more 'Napaesque' car dealership
Another shopping mall with corny franchise buildings floating in a sea of asphalt. Another car lot. I keep wondering why the development along Soscol, the gateway to the city, has to be so strip-mallish. I bite my tongue while saying it, but why can't Napa be more like Walnut Creek. The new 'Micheal's' mall is, frankly, an instant piece of suburban blight. The Home Depot mall across the street is the archetype of franchise environmental destruction. And I have always wondered, in the 20 years I have been here, why the entry to a region of sophisticated, some might say overly taste-conscious, citizens would be a bunch of used car lots.
The answer: Peter A. Gasser.
Working on this website I learn something every day about the history of Napa that long time residents already know. But for those of us first generation residents the stories need to be retold. And one of the most important stories is laid out in great detail in the Gasser Foundation history
I am critical on this site about the role that development (which I should begin calling 'growth' as a less loaded term) has played in diminishing the rural life that I came here to find. But growth is what America is all about, from its roots, and Peter Gasser was a prime, larger than life, exemplar of that history - perhaps even better than most in that philanthropy, boosterism and profit making seemed to be tied throughout his career, just as they are now in his legacy.
The many good works of the Gasser Foundation being acknowledged, I still look at the for-profit developments being done by the Foundation and ask, if urban development is going to happen in the city of Napa, is the best way to do it one franchise mall or car dealership after another.
I now pontificate on projects like Napa Center
, Napa Pipe
and Watson Ranch
, because the survival of an agricultural economy, and my rural paradise on Soda Canyon Road, is not just threatened by specific projects - but by the impact of urban growth as a whole. Without greater protection than we now have on the books and more elected officials committed to that protection, urban growth will cover the vines.
I know I am being elitist, overly taste-conscious. I know that these major projects already close to fruition will not be stopped. It is sad. As a former architect, I know that the right designer can make a difference in the appropriateness of architecture for a specific place and context. The franchise design departments in Kansas city or wherever that decide what the urban fabric of Napa will look like don't care what the urban fabric of Napa looks like. I suspect that Peter Gasser would be promoting franchise malls if he were here and that these projects may be an accurate reflection of his character. But he's gone and times change. Napa should become a better city than it is becoming.
A 2007 article from the NVR: The goods on Gasser
I have just ordered this book: Napa: The Transformation of an American Town
Required reading, I am guessing, for those concerned about the future of the city of Napa.