Napa County Landmarks’ Holiday Candlelight Tour a Retrospective
By Rebecca Yerger
A long-standing Napa Valley seasonal tradition has been, and will continued to be, Napa County Landmarks’ Holiday Candlelight Tour. For over three decades, this popular event has celebrated not only the season of festivities but especially honors preservation-minded property owners and their historic properties.
The local Holiday Candlelight Tour was inspired by the candlelight, evening walking tours held in Charleston, South Carolina during the 1980s and enjoyed by a former Landmarks board member. From that pleasant experience came the seed of an idea, the concept, of a Napa Valley version with, of course, some modifications to fit Landmarks and the local community. The thought was, instead of offering just a monthly evening walking tour with perhaps a viewing of an interior or two, to aim higher. The Landmarks board’s decision was to create an annual evening event tied to the holiday season and all of its festive traditions. However, an equally as important aspect of the Holiday Candlelight Tour was to also create an opportunity to showcase the benefits of historic preservation as well as Landmarks and its mission within the joyous and beautiful backdrop of the holiday season.
The premiere of the Holiday Candlelight Tour was on December 10, 1989 in Yountville. Set beneath the clear and starry skies of that evening, those attending that inaugural Holiday Candlelight Tour visited four historic properties and one new-construction Victorian style residence. These tour stops included a church, two private residences, an historic inn and former railcars converted into guest accommodations. As they made their way through these properties, the attendees were serenaded by strolling local high school choir carolers, as well as, musicians performing holiday music within each featured property and greeted by informative docents – some dressed in period attire. The reception, offering appetizers from Yountville restaurants, was held at Vintage 1870, now V Marketplace. While only a couple hundred people attended the first Holiday Candlelight Tour, the event was deemed a success and the first annual Holiday Candlelight Tour.
Eventually, the number of attendees grew substantially. While each subsequent year has had its own personality, they have shared the same format and mission with the original Holiday Candlelight Tour. There have been some unique similarities between the inaugural event and the other years. This is the case for the year 2018. Ernie Schlobohm, Napa County Landmarks (NCL) President, elaborated, “A few years ago for the 2018 Candlelight Tour, we showcased a ‘hidden’ Napa neighborhood – the Center, Behrens and Seminary Streets area. In addition to the 11 smaller scale, late-1800s residences, the tour featured an 1890 caboose.”
Regarding this railcar, the 2018 Holiday Candlelight Tour program said, “In 2004 Steve Case, a longtime collector of railroad memorabilia, made the ultimate purchase.” Case had paid $10,000 for the caboose and another $6,000 to have it moved to Napa and ultimately “onto a stub of track in his side yard!” added the event program. It met with favorable responses from his neighbors, but typically closed to the public with the exception of the 2018 Holiday Candlelight Tour.
Since its inception, the Holiday Candlelight Tour had featured over 160 properties. Schlobohm continued, “One of my favorite properties was the William Corlett House across from Fuller Park at Jefferson and Laurel Streets. It was opened for the first time to the public for our 2016 Candlelight Tour. It was an incredible opportunity to see first-hand its elegant and original interior details.” He added, “It was an even greater privilege to tour this house, as it was designed by and the residence of a very prominent and influential Napan, William H. Corlett.” (Corlett designed many of Napa’s historic buildings including the Franklin Station Post Office and the County of Napa Hall of Records buildings.)
Regarding the diversity of the neighborhoods, architectural styles and eras showcased over time, Dan Cutright, a Napa native and NCL board member, said, “I appreciate the effort NCL makes to change areas and styles each year to add variety to the annual event.” He continued, “In fact, they have even showcased specific themes for some Candlelight tours, such as Mid-Century Modern and Monticello Park, Craftsman and the works of our prolific architect from Napa’s past, Luther Turton.”
Cutright also stated, “I’ve attended all but the first Holiday Candlelight Tour. We (Cutright and his wife Susan) have found each highlighted neighborhood to be interesting in their own way.” He added, “However, I do have my favorites, such as Randolph Street, and especially its block with the globe style street lamps.”
When asked about his favorite residence, Cutright paused to consider that question and his answer. He replied, “I truly enjoyed the tour featuring the Main and Brown Streets area. I found the J.L Brown House to be one of my top favorites. The property owner, Erik Nickel, restored the interior with such elegance and taste.” Cutright added, “But Elizabeth McKinne’s home on Randolph Street is another favorite. Its kitchen with its farmstyle kitchen sink is outstanding. It was done so tastefully!” He remarked, “The Holiday Candlelight Tour had been, and will continued to be, a great way to see that house you’ve always been curious about as well as underscore the importance and appreciation of historic preservation.”
The Holiday Candlelight Tour has been side-lined only three times in its 32-year long history. The reasons for these cancellations were the 2014 Napa earthquake and the Pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Addressing its future, Schlobohm said, “Barring anything unforeseen, the Holiday Candlelight Tour will return in 2022 with all of its traditions.” He added,” We are looking forward to its return!