Even though scaffolding still covers the exterior of the First Presbyterian Church of Napa, inside the newly restored sanctuary Reverend David Stoker was in full celebration mode as he yanked a rope hanging from the staircase, inciting the church’s once-broken bell to sound out.
Two years ago on August 24, 2014, the bell lay in a heap of rubble after a 6.0-magnitude earthquake inflicted widespread damaged across Southern Napa, leaving Stoker’s historic 1876 church in danger of sliding off its brick foundation. The church’s sanctuary was littered with debris, the stained-glass window was laying out in the street and the walls bore large cracks.
“We had not missed a single Sunday of worship in this sanctuary for 147 years,” Stoker said, “until the earthquake struck.”
The disaster knocked the church out of commission, forcing the congregation to move services into the gymnasium. But after two years in partial exile, the congregation moved back into its restored chapel in early July. And aside from the ongoing exterior restoration, Stoker said church life had mostly returned to normal.
“I think when you get on the other side you end-up being a stronger person,” Stoker said walking among the pews of the chapel. “And our church is a stronger church than it was two years ago.”
Though the rest of Napa has mostly recovered from the disaster, downtown still bears deep scars from the damage. The historic 1878 county courthouse remains encased in a protective wrap with its interior looking as battered and disheveled as it did the day of the earthquake. The county recently finished installing braces throughout the building just so planners could get inside and safely assess the damage.
“Some walls will have to be disassembled brick by brick and reassembled from scratch,” said Rick Marshall, Napa County’s Deputy Director of Engineering as he walked through the building last week.
Marshall said designers mapped every crack, every speck of damage in the building. A design plan for the restoration is due by next spring with the restoration work expected to last into summer of 2018.
But amid the tousled interior, Marshall pointed out an ornate skylight of colored glass that survived the quake virtually unscathed. He noted that the more modern end of the courthouse building had survived and was quickly put back at work. Workers erected a wall separating the damaged half from the functioning end.
“It’s tragic to see the damage,” Marshall said, “but it’s really reassuring to see it survived really well in a lot of ways.”
Across the street from the courthouse, a large gap stood in place of what had been the city’s original jail — later converted into offices and shops. Crews spent more than a year hauling away the collapsed debris. Next door another historic building that housed a bail bonds business and a law office appeared hollow as if its interior had been removed, leaving just a shell of the building.
Other damaged downtown buildings had already been restored — though a “for sale” sign stood in front of the town’s historic Post Office, which residents had hoped to see return as a post office.
But the imposing emergency traffic barriers that once stood outside Molinari Caffe after the quake had finally been removed which had lead to an uptick in business.
“Now the street’s open, the building’s are a lot farther along in their construction,” Marshall said. “Things are more back to normal than they were.”
After the earthquake badly damaged Christina Jamieson’s two-story Victorian home, the professional house-cleaner waged a high-profile campaign to save her house, even though some building inspectors said it would have to be torn down.
Jamieson hung banners from the porch calling for the building to be saved and even launched a crowd-funding campaign which she said netted all of $165.
She said it was a visit from Senator Diane Feinstein (D- San Francisco) to the neighborhood following the earthquake which finally helped her secure for a loan to get the house repaired. Two years after the quake, the house was finally on its way toward full restoration, its front facade looking as it probably did when it was built in the 1800s.
“I was determined to make this house stand up,” Jamieson said beaming at the newly restored house. “I love this house, I would not let it go.”
Stoker of First Presbyterian Church said like his church, many homeowners didn’t have earthquake insurance and were forced to pay for repairs out-of-pocket. Church members raised $1.5 million of the $2 million needed for the church’s restoration — even though some were facing their own hardships.
“I know people wanted to give more,” Stoker said, “and they couldn’t because they were having to use their own funding to fix up their own homes.”
Stoker said many people were worried tourism in Napa would fade after the earthquake. But he said it quickly rebounded as the area touched-off an aggressive rebound.
Stoker leaned on the pulpit, taking in the newly repaired sanctuary with its new stained-glass windows glowing with a prism of colors.
“I think our town is stronger for having gone through the earthquake,” Stoker said.