Historic Calistoga Avenue Cottage for Restoration as 13th Mills Act Property in Napa | Local News


A historic home at 1488 Calistoga Ave. in downtown Napa, one of three nearly identical Queen Anne-style cottages built side by side in 1886, will be preserved and restored under a Mills Act agreement.

The Mills Act is a 1972 law of the state of California that allows owners of historic properties to pay less property taxes in exchange for maintaining, restoring or rehabilitating the property’s historic character.

A Mills Act contract must be in place with a city or county that maintains a Mills Act program, such as the city of Napa. Only properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, California Register of Historic Places, or the city’s local historic inventory are eligible.

The Chalet on Calistoga Avenue – listed in the National Register and Local Historic Inventory – is 13e property in the City of Napa to receive a Mills Act designation, which has been available to residents of the city since 2005. That’s more than twice as many designations as in October 2018, according to previous Registry reports.

Karen Wesson, the owner of Chalet Calistoga, is no newcomer to the Mills Act: she has already renovated Judge Johnson and Sarah Horrell’s home at 554 Randolph St. under a Mills Act deal.

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That house – marked with a red tag after the 2014 south Napa earthquake – had been separated into six apartments and suffered from years of delayed maintenance, according to a previous Registry report.

For five years, Wesson and a team of workers renovated the property and converted it back into a single-family home, restoring the original design elements – such as the front portico, redwood siding, and roof finials – in course.

“I think Mills Law is a great resource for all of those old homes,” Wesson said. “And I am very grateful to the City of Napa for proposing and approving it.”

Wesson will also rehabilitate the Calistoga Avenue home – repairing historic features, restoring interior features, modernizing the kitchen, and performing ongoing maintenance – but the project is on a smaller scale than the Horrell House, a-t she declared.

This time around, Wesson said she will restore various small details of the house that have changed over time.

“Sometimes over time, and especially with the other two houses, you can really see where the changes come into play,” Wesson said. “Over time, they kind of lose the character of these three unique houses.”

The development of Calistoga Avenue in the late 1800s and early 1900s consisted of homes built for low-income families, according to a house history document filed by Wesson.

All three chalets were originally built on land owned by George Horton – who ran a furniture store in St. Helena – in March 1886, with the two almost identical houses nearby. Horton hired Charles W. Wilkins, a contractor from Oakland, to build the houses – which was to take only three months, according to a March 1886 article from the Napa Register Wesson included in the document.

Horton sold 1488 Calistoga Ave. to photographer Mark Hopkins Strong in 1889. Strong lived and owned the cottage until he sold it in 1921.

According to Napa County Assessor John Guardian, the estimated property tax savings for the Calistoga Avenue home are 63% if Wesson rents the property or 70% if she lives in the property. (This reduction is based on the Proposition 13 base year value, which is set when purchasing a property.)

The estimated value of the Calistoga Avenue property is $ 1.285 million, which means the house’s 22% annual share of the property tax will drop from about $ 3,000 to about $ 1,000, according to an estimate of the city’s fiscal impact.

Wesson said restoring and maintaining these homes can be very expensive, so she appreciates the reduction in property taxes. She also said the process for applying for designation under the Mills Act involves detailing the work that is going to be undertaken and having it approved by the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission and Napa City Council.

“Now you have to give a specific timeline, it has to be well thought out and approved by the CHC, so these are genuine restoration projects,” Wesson said. “You can’t say ‘I want to replace my windows and install all the vinyl windows’. It’s more like replacing vinyl windows with what was originally.

Applicants to Napa properties must also pay a fee of $ 2,500 to cover staff time and materials. Mills Act contracts are for an initial term of 10 years, and the contract will automatically renew for an additional 10 years, unless the owner or the city decides not to renew.

“I think there are more people in town who should consider (a Mills Act request),” Wesson said. “I mean, it’s a great way to really focus on catering. It is an incentive to give it back its character; its original character and in kind sometimes. Because so many houses are starting to lose it.

The mainstay of downtown Napa, Shackford’s Kitchen Store and More, will change its business model from brick-and-mortar retailer to online merchant. Take a tour inside the store here.






You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.


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