Ernie Butala & Petite Abruzzini

Interviewer: George Vierra
Date of Interview: June 2, 2017

George Vierra: We are doing an oral history of St. Helena. We have two native residents who are going to be basically telling us about their lives and what they remember. We have Petite Abruzzini and Ernie Butala, both from St. Helena, and we’ll have each of them very quickly introduce themselves and talk about where they live now, and then we’ll go through a whole series of questions.

Bonnie Thoreen: Let me interrupt for just one second.

George Vierra: Yes.

Bonnie Thoreen: It is June 2nd.

George Vierra: June 2nd.

Bonnie Thoreen: 2017. We are at the Presbyterian Church in St. Helena.

George Vierra: On Spring Street. Okay. 

Ernie Butala: Make it official.

George Vierra: Yeah. And they both signed the document already, and we’re in good shape. Okay. Petite, do you want to tell us who you are and where you live now?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, I’m Petite Abruzzini. I was a Volper.  My father, Albert Volper, was born in Conn Valley, and he had three other brothers, and then they moved to Silverado Trail between — let’s see, where would that be — oh gosh — Zinfandel Lane and just north of that. We lived there for probably about six years, and then we moved into town in St. Helena. My mother was from San Francisco, so she was a city gal, and so she didn’t like the farm very much. My father would go back and forth and work it until then they sold it. There was history where my father’s father had a winery in Conn Valley. In fact, I just saw in the St. Helena paper today that it’s for sale.

George Vierra: What was the name of the winery?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, it was — oh, gee, now I forgot what it was. It went through my mind.

George Vierra: It was on Conn Valley Road?

Petite Abruzzini: Conn Valley Road, yes.

Bonnie Thoreen: Swiss —

Petite Abruzzini: Italian Swiss Winery.

George Vierra: Italian Swiss Winery.

Petite Abruzzini: Yes. Thank you.

George Vierra: You weren’t associated with the one in Asti?

Petite Abruzzini: No, and it’s a ghost winery right now.

George Vierra: Yeah, that’s for sure.

Petite Abruzzini: And I went to live in St. Helena all my life.

George Vierra: Well, we’ll get more deeply into it later on. Ernie, why don’t you tell us quickly who you are and where you live now and a little about your family.

Ernie Butala: Well, I’m Joseph Ernie Butala, which nobody knows my first name, mainly because all the family are Joseph and so they call me by my middle name, Ernie.

George Vierra: Too many Josephs. 

Ernie Butala: Too many. There were seven of us, both grandfathers, uncles, and everybody, and born and raised in St. Helena. Still here. The family ranch where I was born at is right next to Crane Park on Crane Avenue, and I live on Vallejo Street, right too far from the ranch so it’s easy to get to and from work. My dad was born in Montana, and my mother was born in Austria, and they moved and met here in St. Helena and moved to — Frankenstein, which is my mother’s maiden name — moved up to Pritchard Hill where they bought the ranch, and that’s where my dad and my mother met up there, and they got married in 1924 and moved to St. Helena and had the big — in fact, it was in the St. Helena Star about the big old- time family wedding that lasted three days. Remember the old ones?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, that’s the old Italian weddings. 

Ernie Butala: The old Italian weddings, lasted three days.

George Vierra: There wasn’t an Italian on the hill then was there? Your Austrians and Slovenes. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, that’s what we had.

George Vierra: Of course, Slovenes are like Italians. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, yeah, and then we had — half the town we were related to at the time, so anyway, like I say, over the years, my dad passed away in ’74, my mother in ’76, and my brother and my sister, Marge, just turned 100, and so I’m 85, my brother’s 88, and we’re still living in the valley.

George Vierra: The next thing I would like to know is okay, your brother you told was still alive, and who is still alive in your family?

Petite Abruzzini: I’m the only one.

George Vierra: You’re the only one, the last surviving member. Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

George Vierra: We know basically when everybody died, and you know your addresses. What I want you to do now is describe, say, the place where you lived, the home in which you lived, so people get an idea of what home life was like and what the — for example, nowadays everybody has a lawn to mow and all those things. Tell us what your home was like, the St. Helena home was like. Where was it located?

Petite Abruzzini: The St. Helena home was —

George Vierra: Where was it located?

Petite Abruzzini: It was 1633 Alexander Court.

George Vierra: Is that on this map?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Let’s see. Where would — up Main Street. Where are we?                                    

Ernie Butala: Alexander Court is right here.

George Vierra: Alexander Court.

Petite Abruzzini: It would be right there.

George Vierra: About yea?

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: And what was the address?

Petite Abruzzini: I can’t think. I said 1633, but that isn’t correct. That’s my address.                                   Oh gosh, 1114 I think it was.

George Vierra: Okay. We’ll put that down there. Okay. And, Ernie, yours is over here on South Crane, which would be right here. There’s Vallejo Street. 

Ernie Butala: I’m right there.

Petite Abruzzini: Right in the corner.

George Vierra: No, you were born — this is where you were though. 
Ernie Butala: Yeah, but right here. The ranch was right here, next to the tennis courts.

George Vierra: That’s 296, okay. So, describe your house. So, it was actually a court in those days?

Petite Abruzzini: Yes, it was a court, Alexander Court. Do you want to know about the Alexanders that owned the court?

George Vierra: Whatever you want to say, yes.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, he was manager — Frank Alexander was the manager of the bank, so they named the court after him. Do you remember that? 
Ernie Butala: Uh-huh.

Petite Abruzzini: And then his son, Paul. So, we lived there, and the Alexanders lived there with their kids, and we just — it was a wonderful life, you know, no computers, one telephone that everybody used, you know, and it was interesting, like a party line.

George Vierra: One thing. I want to interrupt you very quickly. Here’s the Napa Valley route for the railroad in 1938. Look at the telephone numbers that they show for the different places.

Petite Abruzzini: It should be just two numbers.

George Vierra: Two numbers.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right.

George Vierra: St. Helena was number 48.

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh. I remember 33.

George Vierra: So, there was an operator in town. You’d ask for a person, and they would switch up, huh?

Petite Abruzzini: We’d know her. Her name was Florence Cook. 

Ernie Butala: I remember when we got our telephone, and what we had was out there on                Crane Avenue.

Petite Abruzzini: With a crank

Ernie Butala: It was the old crank, and we were on a seven-party line out there, and that was back in ’41, ’40. They moved in in ’40.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, I remember that

Ernie Butala: So, when the phones came in that area, I have no idea.

George Vierra: But, you see, at least they had them of course at that time in the late ‘30’s.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, that’s the way it was when we lived in town, but then after I got married and lived out of town, that’s when I had the party line. It was like 15 people on there, but we didn’t mind. If we lifted up to call and someone was there, we’d just hang up until it was our turn, you know. It didn’t make any difference. But I went to school here in St. Helena. I went to Ursuline Academy first and then went to grammar school.

George Vierra: Where the existing grammar school is now?

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, and then high school, St. Helena High School.

George Vierra: St. Helena High, and that, of course, has been there forever.

Petite Abruzzini: Yes, yeah, and it was small then. It was just the main building.

George Vierra: What year did you graduate from high school?

Petite Abruzzini: ’47.

George Vierra: ’47. Ernie, when did you graduate?

Ernie Butala: ’51.

George Vierra: ’51, okay. 

Ernie Butala: Now, did you go to the Ursuline Academy?

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh, I did.

Ernie Butala: That’s what I thought. You said grammar school, Ursuline Academy is where RLS is.

Petite Abruzzini: Right now.

George Vierra: Okay. So, it used to be Ursuline Academy

Ernie Butala: Ursuline Academy.

Petite Abruzzini: It’s right where — we lived — let’s see where are we.

George Vierra: There’s Elmhurst.

Petite Abruzzini: It’s right here.

George Vierra: Yeah, so you walked it very close, easy.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, my father built a stile, and I jumped the fence and went to the Ursuline Academy, and I went to St. Helena High School.

George Vierra: This is, of course, all walled off now. You can’t really see everything, because they’ve got big walls. There’s driveways in there.

Petite Abruzzini: Those driveways are still there. There’s no really walls there. There’s a wall there, but not here, because the Alexanders were here, and Mr. Murray would live there. He was the postmaster at the time.

George Vierra: What did one do about the water in those days? Did you have wells or was it city water?

Petite Abruzzini: No. City water.

George Vierra: City water, okay.

Ernie Butala: It came from Spring Mountain.

George Vierra: From Spring Mountain?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, oh yeah.

George Vierra: Is that the one they were talking about trying to take out now for $6 million or something?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, my gosh, tell me about it. 

Ernie Butala: Can I throw something in on that dam?

George Vierra: Please go ahead. 

Ernie Butala: Here about a month or two ago in the Register they had that dam off of Hagen Road in Napa where the guy took the dam, cut a 15-foot opening in the dam and left it, and now it’s not a dam. It’s a bridge and they can leave it there. Why don’t they do this up here?

George Vierra: Well, it’s dry. Let the water flow. 

Ernie Butala: Cut an opening in the bottom and call it a bridge instead of a dam.

Petite Abruzzini: Then the water can come through. 

Ernie Butala: Because you need — let the water come through.

George Vierra: Why don’t you write a letter to the editor? 

Ernie Butala: Oh, I talked to them, and I really should, I guess.

George Vierra: You should. 

Ernie Butala: Anyway, they need — the dam, actually it’s holding the road up. On Spring Mountain Road is holding it up. You take that down, that road’s going to collapse.

George Vierra: You gotta rebuild the super structure then somehow. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Anyway, I had to throw that in.

Petite Abruzzini: No, that’s true though, that’s true. 

Ernie Butala: And I thought it’d make — and now you can go walk across that dam and use it as —        call it a bridge.

George Vierra: That should look very, very well. Okay, and Ernie, tell me about the house where you guys lived on 296. What was that like? Like it is now basically, surrounded by vineyard? 

Ernie Butala: Well, you know the house. You’re living in it.

George Vierra: I know. 

Ernie Butala: Out there in the vineyard, it’s that little two bedroom — at that time it was only a two- bedroom house. We all lived in that, but there again, we were in the country, and when my dad bought the place it was all a forest and so they had to — most of the Crane ranch and all that was in vineyard across the street, so when he bought that he pulled out all the trees and replanted that after they bought it, and so naturally, like everybody at that time, we had the barn, we had pigs and cows and chickens. Everybody had the same — and rabbits, lot of rabbits.

Petite Abruzzini: And your own milk. 

Ernie Butala: And you had to get everything yourself, and it was self-sustainable, and so we lived in that and then in ’37 when my grandfather Butala died, he asked my mother to come over and take care of him, so we moved over to my grandmother’s house on Main Street, and we lived there for two years and moved back to the little house, and then my dad built the new house there where we’re at now on Grayson Avenue, the big house on Grayson Avenue.

Petite Abruzzini: Where on Main Street were you? 

Ernie Butala: You know, Vern’s Drive-in?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, that’s true. That’s right. Okay. 

Ernie Butala: That’s all — right, and Central Valley, you know that big white two-story house?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: That was the house.

George Vierra: Near Vidovich? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: That’s the one they took and gave to the fire department to burn down, so then they built — let me step one back. In ’33, my dad bought that property on Grayson Avenue there.

George Vierra: Right. 

Ernie Butala: And my dad and my grandfather built the winery out of that old dairy barn.

George Vierra: Right. It was called Sunny Brook Winery. 

Ernie Butala: Sunny Brook Winery.

George Vierra: Sunny Brook Winery.

Petite Abruzzini: Sunny Brook, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And we built that and then in ’40 he built the house, the big house in front of the winery, and we all moved back into there in 1940.

George Vierra: Okay. The big house that the Thoreens live in now? 
Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. So, the one that Bonnie lives in is the one that you originally had? 

Ernie Butala: No, no. The big house is behind the winery, behind it.

George Vierra: Okay. I understand, okay. I know which one you’re talking about. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, behind Bonnie.

George Vierra: It’s right next to the winery? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: There’s nothing in between it. Okay. Now you told me a story before I think is a good time to talk about it. The house at 296 South Crane was not built there, correct? 

Ernie Butala: That’s according to my brother, what the story goes.

George Vierra: The story goes, but in any case it had been basically — was the grapes planted by your family or the Italian gentleman who you bought the property from, the vineyard? 

Ernie Butala: I have no — the only thing I know is the front half was in vineyard, the house was sitting there, the barn was sitting there, and all the rest of the property around it was all pine trees and oak trees.

George Vierra: Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Was that all Dr. Crane’s before? 

Ernie Butala: That was all Dr. Crane’s.

George Vierra: Now, I think your brother had told me about the story that the house was actually — you were over someplace, the house was someplace over near El Bonita Avenue originally. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Is that the same house that’s now at 296 South Crane? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: And approximately what year? What happened is the story, what’s the tale, and what happened and what year? 

Ernie Butala: Well, at that time, it was like a trailer park, and we used to call them the holy rollers, remember?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, I remember that. 

Ernie Butala: They had the revivals.

Petite Abruzzini: It was the Church of Christ. 

Ernie Butala: And so, they had a lot of cabins there, and so when they quit having the revivals there, they bought the two cabins, put ‘em together, and that’s the house you’re living in now.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay.

George Vierra: Are those cabins the ones where it butts right up against Salvestrin’s place to now, those houses that are like in a line? Were those the cabins? 

Ernie Butala: I don’t know if those are the same ones or not.

George Vierra: But in any case in that general area were these two cabins that were put together? 

Ernie Butala: Right, but they came from that general area according to my brother, and that’s what his story is and my dad’s.

George Vierra: Go on with your brother and your dad’s story, then how is it that two houses were put together and moved — what is that, a half a mile? 

Ernie Butala: It was probably a half a mile.

George Vierra: How was that done? This is what year? About 1937? 

Ernie Butala: You got me. I imagine horse and buggy, because they didn’t have that kind of equipment then.

George Vierra: So, they had to find some way to lift it off the ground, off the foundation, and the basement, was at 296 South Crane already? 

Ernie Butala: Let’s put it this way — them people back in them days was driving horses and pulling buggies, they are very ingenious. How they did — like the old saying, give me a lever and I’ll move the world, and that’s exactly probably what they did.

Petite Abruzzini: No laws or restrictions or anything then.

George Vierra: But the story is basically they moved the house about half a mile to where it is now. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Probably rebuilt the cement — built the cellar once they put it in place is my guess. 

Ernie Butala: Well, back then, you remember way back when in the 1800’s, because that’s where I’m going to, everybody had a basement because that’s where you — there was no refrigeration then.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s where our cooler was, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And you had all your canned goods, everything was there, your cold storage, your wine you kept down there. Everybody had a basement.

George Vierra: Right. 

Ernie Butala: And that’s why most of those houses had basements.

George Vierra: Yeah. Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: They had that screened in area. Remember that? 

Ernie Butala: Uh-huh.

Petite Abruzzini: Where you keep the eggs.

George Vierra: Okay. Let’s move on to transportation, mode of travel. What was the primary way that people first of all got around town and then around the valley? How was it you — how did you primarily get around town? Bicycles, walking, cars?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, we didn’t have — gosh. I don’t know. We didn’t go very far, that’s all I know. I mean we took the train. I remember when we had to go to the city, we’d take did take the Vallejo ferry and then go over with the ferry to go over to the city. My grandmother lived there. We did that, but as far as — when did my parents ever get their first car? I don’t know.

George Vierra: But it was primarily public transportation of some sort?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, somebody had to — 

Ernie Butala: Well, the electric trolley went right down Main Street.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, that did all the way to Vallejo.

George Vierra: That’s different than the one that’s over on Railroad Avenue now?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. This went down Main Street.

George Vierra: Right down Main Street?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, it just went right down Main Street from Calistoga.

George Vierra: You want to show where —

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know where that cut off though.

George Vierra: Do you remember where that electric trolley was? 

Ernie Butala: Okay. The electric trolley, you know, in front of the high school —

George Vierra: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: Where the paved area is, you got that little stone thing by the stone monument.

George Vierra: Yes, right there. 

Ernie Butala: That was the waiting station for the electric trolley.

George Vierra: Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: The trolley, electric trolley, was on the west side of the highway, the railroad was on the east side of the highway.

Petite Abruzzini: Where’d it come through though? Where did it come through when it hit Main Street? I remember going down, because the kids from Calistoga would go to Ursuline Academy and they took the train down, so it had to stop in front of the school. 

Ernie Butala: Where did — in front of my grandmother’s, she had the right of way in front of my grandmother’s house, so it had to cross right there and go over and cross down on the bridge and went down Main Street, down the center of town.

George Vierra: But you say that the trolley line was on the west side of — on the east side or the west side of the highway? 

Ernie Butala: The west side.

George Vierra: West side, so later on Southern Pacific or somebody came in to put a train track on the east side of the highway. 

Ernie Butala: No. Southern Pacific was there already.

George Vierra: Okay. So, the train was already there?

Petite Abruzzini: It was always there. 

Ernie Butala: The train was always there.

George Vierra: That’s what this was? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: As opposed to the Light Rail which was — 

Ernie Butala: The Light Rail, they put that in — God, it seemed like in the ‘30’s.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, in the ‘30’s, I remember. 

Ernie Butala: So, they put that electric line down in the middle in the ‘30’s.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

George Vierra: And where did it start and where did it end?

Petite Abruzzini: Calistoga. 

Ernie Butala: Well, it ended in Calistoga, yeah.

George Vierra: But the train also is run all the way to Calistoga.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah.

George Vierra: The railroad also did.

Petite Abruzzini: I assumed it did. I know the trolley did. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. The train went — they had the train — okay, you know where the Cal Mart is in Calistoga?

George Vierra: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Right. 

Ernie Butala: That was the Southern Pacific roundabout.

George Vierra: Okay. So right there — 

Ernie Butala: You pulled in right into there, they unhooked, rotated the engine at the roundhouse, went down and hooked onto the train, and pulled it back.

George Vierra: Because you can still see, of course, there’s shops now in train cars across from Cal Mart. 

Ernie Butala: Right. Yeah.

George Vierra: But aren’t there railroad tracks on Washington Street? Not Washington. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, Washington Street in front of the post office.

George Vierra: By the post office, yeah. Was that SP or was that Light? 

Ernie Butala: I’m trying to think if that was the electric line, the rail line, the trolley line.

Petite Abruzzini: Right. 

Ernie Butala: Was the one that went down Washington Street in Calistoga.

George Vierra: Not the SP? 

Ernie Butala: No. And it might be a spur.]. I don’t know Calistoga. I’m not sure.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, I don’t either.

Ernie Butala: I know that they got some tracks there, and whether it’s the Light Rail or the…

George Vierra: And the Light Rail only lasted until, what, the maybe ‘50’s or so at the most?

Petite Abruzzini: I’m not sure. I don’t remember that. Let’s see. Well, it had to be — no, it had to be —

Ernie Butala: ’39, the World’s Fair.

Petite Abruzzini: ’39. Yeah, right, yeah. And then I don’t remember when we were going to high school the train going down at all.

Ernie Butala: I remember it, yeah, going down Main Street.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

Ernie Butala: In fact, working with Cal Trans, we had to do some work on Main Street, and we dug down and hit the railroad tracks. They had to go down and dig all the tracks off of Main Street, and so they repaved it all and tracks were just as good as the day they put them down.

George Vierra: That’s interesting. As another thing as far as transportation, the Silverado Trail, of course, was not paved until when approximately? It was a dirt road.

Ernie Butala: I don’t know.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know. It was when we lived on the Silverado Trail, it was not paved then, and that was in ’28.

Ernie Butala: Yeah, because it was an old wagon train, because you came up on the west side, or the east side, and the bridges were the ones that crossed over — the stone bridges were the ones where you crossed over to get into St. Helena.

George Vierra: Let me tell you a story that Everett Belani  told me. Everett Belani who used to have the trucking company, you know?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, good.

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: I met Everett in 1971 when I started for the Mondavi family, and Everett used to talk about during Prohibition that they basically used to get a barrel and — not just Mondavi, but other wineries too — they’d get a barrel and they’d fill three or four barrels and put them on a wagon with a horse. They’d take it over the trail, which was not paved, and they’d take it all the way down to Vallejo, and they’d then go across to San Francisco and unload the barrels and bring them back in, and the used to take gravel and put in the top of the redwood tanks, so when the revenuers came around the tanks from the top always looked full. So that was in Prohibition that ended in what, ’33 or so?

Ernie Butala: ’33.

George Vierra: And so at least then we know for sure it wasn’t paved, and it wasn’t paved when you lived there also.

Petite Abruzzini: No.

George Vierra: So, it’s probably my guess is sometime in the ‘40’s maybe it was finally paved.

Ernie Butala: I couldn’t tell you.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know, late ‘30s, ‘40s.

George Vierra: Yeah. But that at least was a part of transportation that was important. Now, the next thing is, and we’ve talked about this before, as far as the flooding of the Napa River. Describe to me your memories when you were growing up, how much trouble it was with the rivers and creeks flooding as a result of rains?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, it never bothered me, so I can’t tell you really. I mean, I don’t remember my father ever complaining.

Ernie Butala: On your map right there, see how the old creek comes down here and makes a turn?

George Vierra: Sulphur Springs.

Ernie Butala: Follows parallel where Gott’s Drive-In.

George Vierra: Taylor’s Refresher.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

Ernie Butala: That was actually sitting on the bank of the river.

George Vierra: Okay.

Ernie Butala: And when they dug this channel from here straight over to here, they took the dirt and filled this in and then they built the Penland’s Gas station and Gott’s Roadside and all that used to be this channel, Sulphur Creek.

George Vierra: So that’s built on fill?

Ernie Butala: It’s built on fill, and so every time it had a heavy rain this used to — because you had to come down, make a 45, get to the bridge and make another 45, and go under the bridge. By doing that everything upstream used to flood; henceforth, the water up here by the cemetery used to flow straight across through our vineyard, come down here, and this was the alluvial area.

George Vierra: The alluvial fan.

Ernie Butala: That’s why our vineyard looks like gravel, looks like gravel underneath.

George Vierra: Well, it’s a great soil for grapes.

Ernie Butala: Because that was where every time it flooded, it overflowed.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And that’s where the water came through because of this, and then they took this turn out of here.

Petite Abruzzini: How wide was that river at that time, years ago?

Ernie Butala: Probably almost as wide as it is now.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, not any different? Okay.

Ernie Butala: But back in — speaking of flooding — back in ’55, remember they had the real heavy rain?

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. Yeah. I remember that. 

Ernie Butala: And all that, that they had the PG&E had the tower lines where they’re at right now.

George Vierra: Correct, right behind where K&K used to be?

Ernie Butala: Where’s K&K?

George Vierra: K&K next to the Sunshine Market. There used to be a Nipshield  I think it was called.

Ernie Butala: That was the substation.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, Nipshield, yeah.

George Vierra: The substation.

Ernie Butala: I’m talking about the one right here across from Vern’s  old drive-in, it’s an A&W.

George Vierra: Okay.

Ernie Butala: It crosses there.

George Vierra: Near Mills Lane? Here’s Mills Lane. Here’s A&W right here. Here’s Grayson. Here’s the A&W now.

Ernie Butala: So, you have the Chevrolet garage here, you had Vern’s Drive-In and that tower line went right here between the two. This was my grandmother’s property, and it went right down between the property where it is right now.

George Vierra: Okay. All right.

Ernie Butala: And it went all the way up the creek on the south side of the creek, and back in ’55 when we had the heavy rains, two of the towers washed out and fell over.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, wow. I don’t remember.

Ernie Butala: Because the one on my mother’s side, her bank came down like this, and she had a tower sitting right here, and the other tower was over here, and then it went from there over the hill. This tower, the one that washed out and fell over into the creek, this one washed out and fell on the bank on this side, so these two towers washed out in ’55, and in fact, the water got so high it started to overflow into the vineyards.

George Vierra: Speaking of floods, I do know that there has been a lot of alteration of Napa River. There used to be a lot more of like “flood plains” up and down the valley, and those have basically been eliminated. I heard stories. I’ve only been here since ’71, but I heard stories of the area on Deer Park Road that almost every year used to flood, and a guy just to get to his house had to sometimes take a boat from Highway 29 over to his house.

Petite Abruzzini: It’s possible.

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Off of Deer Park, and there’s probably other places like that along the river.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, sure.

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Because there were flood plains that probably helped from flooding in St. Helena, but you’re still going to get sporadic flooding all the way along the river I’m sure. All the crossings, for example, Rutherford Cross, John Field Cross, Oakville Cross. There was probably floodings there often.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. You had a lot of floodings until like I say Bell Canyon is where they built the reservoir there. That was back in — I don’t remember when that was built. It had to be in the ‘60s, ‘70s.

George Vierra: But that controlled the flooding then when they reserved it in the canyon?

Ernie Butala: Conn Dam is another one. They built that in ’55.

George Vierra: Hennessey.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. And that flood used to make Napa flood every year.

George Vierra: Okay.

Ernie Butala: I mean, it really flooded.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, that was terrible. I remember those floods. 

Ernie Butala: And so ,when they built those, that really helped the flooding in the valley, mainly Bell Canyon for St. Helena.

George Vierra: Bell Canyon. Okay, good. Okay. Let’s go into some more social things now. What was the primary religion that existed in St. Helena or religions? Were they a little bit of Presbyterian, a little bit of Catholic? 

Ernie Butala: A little of everybody.

George Vierra: A little bit of everybody? So, there was nothing that dominated, for example, were the Seventh Day Adventists in existence yet, for example? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: So, they were already up the hill?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Well, they didn’t have a church in town.

George Vierra: They didn’t have the church in town. It was still in Angwin only?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, it was still in Angwin, which they still have up there too. 

Ernie Butala: In fact, that property where the Seventh Day Adventist church used to be part of the Academy.

George Vierra: Part of the what?

Petite Abruzzini: Ursuline Academy.

George Vierra: Oh, the academy. That was RLS now.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right where it is.

Ernie Butala: They bought half the property and the school bought the other half.

George Vierra: Okay. Okay. Fine. What types of clubs and organizations were you members with when you were growing up? For example, were there things like for children? Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, etc.? Were there Future Farmers of America? Were there Kiwanians, Legions? What type of things existed?

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know, are Kiwanians anymore here? Used to be.

Ernie Butala: They used to be, the Red Mens and some of the other —

Petite Abruzzini: Odd Fellows.

Ernie Butala: Odd Fellows.

Petite Abruzzini: I think they’re still existing.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Odd Fellows, Red Mens.

George Vierra: What’s a Red Men? I never heard of that organization.

Ernie Butala: They still got ‘em. They’ve got a club here in town yet.

Petite Abruzzini: Right above the Show House. I mean, just up from the Show House, a big huge building, you walk upstairs.

Ernie Butala: You know where the — I guess, it’s a library — not a library, but the book store is upstairs of the Odd Fellows is where the Red Men still have their meetings.

George Vierra: On Oak Street? On Oak and Adams?

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Okay.

\Ernie Butala: You know Tony Pena?

George Vierra: Yes.

Ernie Butala: He’s a member of the Red Men.

George Vierra: Interesting. Okay.

Ernie Butala: And he said they’re down to about 10, 12 members now.

Petite Abruzzini: Are they now?

Ernie Butala: They’re getting down.

Petite Abruzzini: No young people anymore.

George Vierra: Okay. Now I want you to talk to me about childhood friends. Who were your best buddies growing up and how long did it last and did it change over the years?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, my goodness. Martha Alexander, Joanne Smith. Oh gosh, when we were living in the court. I mean, they’re all gone now. I’m still the only one alive, and I keep waiting. Let’s see, in high school I had good friends, and they’re gone also. It was good times. I mean, we had bicycles, and we hiked and went to the river and threw rocks. It was fun, and then behind us by the Ursuline Academy they had all this ivy and these things hanging from trees, and we used to go out there and play like we were Tarzan and swing around. You know, we played. It was good.

George Vierra: And you?

Ernie Butala: Well, most of the time — well, actually going back to when I was a kid now — the Frankenstein ranch, my grandmother —

George Vierra: On Pritchard Hill.

Ernie Butala: On Pritchard Hill that every year my dad used to come right there before they built the dam and they had the creek going through, and every year he used to dam up the river and that was the swimming hole.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah.

Ernie Butala: Remember those swimming holes?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, right.

George Vierra: On the creek or on the river?

Ernie Butala: On the creek.

George Vierra: Before it hit the river? It was east of the Napa River? 

Ernie Butala: It was on the creek, yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. Conn Creek.

Ernie Butala: Used to dam that up. Had a couple big rocks. We used to go up there and jump. That’s where I learned to swim at, and I must have been two or three years old. They’ve been doing that until they built the dam in ’55, and then that flooded everything.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

George Vierra: Interesting. What kind of activities did you do when you were growing up? For example, you would do things with your friends. There was no — for example, was there a theater in town that one would go to?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. I was usherette in high school.

Ernie Butala: Oh, yeah.

George Vierra: So, there was at least a theater, but mostly what kind of things did kids do in a small town? What was the population in those days of St. Helena?

Petite Abruzzini: About a thousand.

Ernie Butala: A thousand, 1500.

Petite Abruzzini: We knew everybody.

\Ernie Butala: If you didn’t know ‘em, you were related to ‘em.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. That is so true. My father said, when my mother got married, he said, “All right now,” he says, “Don’t talk about anybody in St. Helena because they’re either related or best friends.” You don’t talk about people.

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: For example, were there in either the creeks or the rivers, where there at least fish like crappie and bluegill one would fish for or did they even exist in those days?

Ernie Butala: Oh, gosh, yes. Sulphur Creek, we used to go down there, and we used to use the old — the Kentucky windless fishing pole. That was a pitchfork.

Petite Abruzzini: A pitchfork. That’s right.

Ernie Butala: We used to walk up and down.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, but you’re not supposed to catch those.

Ernie Butala: We were allowed to then back in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

George Vierra: What kind of fish was it mostly?

Ernie Butala: Steelhead.

Petite Abruzzini: Steelhead.

George Vierra: Steelhead. Oh my. Those are good fish.

Ernie Butala: Some salmon once in a while. Oh, you used to get them like this.

George Vierra: Boy that’s nice. You hardly ever see those anymore now. Over on Zinfandel Lane once in a while I’ll see that steelhead and salmon run in the fall. Once in a while, but it’s pretty rare that they’re there.

Ernie Butala: Well, the worst thing I’ll tell you for the fishing and all that that I remember was the Fish and Game service itself, because Harold Smith now every year you remember going up Sulphur Creek down there. All these little creeks, you had a pocket here and a pocket there and a pocket there, but the water was too shallow running between the pockets, and the fish couldn’t go up and downstream, and so everybody went up there, and they had steelhead and all that, and the little fingerlings up there, so Harold Smith one day, he took his grader and he went down the creek from one pocket, cut a little V trench down there from one pocket to the next pocket to where the water would be deep enough for all the fish to go downstream. Fish & Game came over and wrote him a ticket.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, you’re kidding.

Ernie Butala: No.

Petite Abruzzini: I probably knew that and forgot about it.

Ernie Butala: You cannot do that, because now you’re disturbing the habitat.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, shoot. What is this?

George Vierra: A little bottle of a port made from a family called Butala Vineyards.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, my gosh.

George Vierra: So, you get to taste it.

Petite Abruzzini: Shoot.

George Vierra: It’s highly drinkable.

Ernie Butala: Must be good. And actually, that’s what happened, and they just got down to where the Fish & Game — the environmentalists. I’ll put it that way — the environmentalists turned around and ruined everything.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, they usually do.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Because we used to go down there and dig trenches so the water would run so the fish could go downstream, the little ones, you know.

George Vierra: The fingerlings, yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Just a taste is all.

George Vierra: I’m not going to force it down you.

Petite Abruzzini: Not that much for me though, please. Oh shoot. Twist the bottle and it won’t drip. That’s good.

Ernie Butala: Put us on the map.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, it’s good. Now turn it when you pour.

Ernie Butala: But like Napa River now, I think about everybody up and down the river has some kind of a fishing hole or a swimming hole or something in there, because that’s where most of the fish was, but Sulphur Creek used to dry up like it is right now. By June, July, there was no water in Sulphur Creek.

George Vierra: Well the bridge across Valley View only went in when, in the ‘80s, from Crane to —

Petite Abruzzini: Oh there? When did that — I don’t even know when that went in.

George Vierra: Because the only way we used to get across the bridge to go to Sulphur Springs when the creek was dry, you’d drive into the cemetery.

Petite Abruzzini: Right.

George Vierra: That was the only way.

Ernie Butala: Yeah, because when it would start raining, Crane Avenue which goes from South Crane to North Crane you couldn’t cross. You had to go all the way down to Main Street and all the way around and come back around the other side. When we went to school, we had to walk all the way around to get to the grammar school.

Petite Abruzzini: Sure. That’s true.

Ernie Butala: So, when the water went down, Harold Smith used to take a grader and grade a road across the gravel, and you’d be able to drive across through the water and up the other side, up north by the cemetery and there by Crane Avenue. He made two crossings.

George Vierra: That bridge was put in — it had to be in the ‘80s. It was not in the ‘70s I don’t think.

Petite Abruzzini: It’s not that old.

George Vierra: It’s a pretty new bridge from Crane to Valley View.

Petite Abruzzini: I just don’t remember. You could probably find out through the Star.

Ernie Butala: I couldn’t tell you. Probably, like I say, either late ‘70s or early ‘80s, somewhere along in there.

George Vierra: Okay. Now we talked a little bit about schools already so we know that. What kind of professions? Describe to me the kinds of things that you did.

Petite Abruzzini: What I did?

George Vierra: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Or what did I do?

George Vierra: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. I babysat first.

George Vierra: When you graduated from grammar school, after that, you went to high school and you graduated from St. Helena High?

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: And then what did you do?

Petite Abruzzini: Then I went to school in San Francisco and became a beautician.

George Vierra: Beautician.

Petite Abruzzini: And then I had my own shop in St. Helena.

George Vierra: You had a shop. Where was it?

Petite Abruzzini: It was on Hunt Avenue right in the hotel underneath.

George Vierra: What was it called?

Petite Abruzzini: La Petite, of course.

George Vierra: La Petite on Hunt, interesting.

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: And how long did it last?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, unfortunately I got pregnant and had to stay in bed, so finding people then — now there’s so many people — probably maybe four years.

George Vierra: And what is it that’s in the building now on Hunt?

Petite Abruzzini: Well that’s what’s in it, a hotel.

George Vierra: There’s Hunt, there’s Church, there’s Edwards. Here’s Hunt.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. It’s right here on the corner, right here. There’s railroad right here. See the hotel was here, and I was in the hotel. My father-in-law —

George Vierra: Oh, the St. Helena Hotel.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. No, not St. Helena, Valley, Napa Valley.

George Vierra: Napa Valley Hotel, okay.

Ernie Butala: Well, that hotel from the alleyway, you had the Sweet Shop, you had the real estate.

Petite Abruzzini: No, the other way.

Ernie Butala: Which way were you?

Petite Abruzzini: I’m on Hunt and Main, on the east side.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Well, my grandmother owned from the alleyway, the Sweet Shop, the real estate, and the hotel, she owned all that at one time.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. We used to own the hotel at one time too.

George Vierra: So, you had a hairdo place until you got pregnant and then after that you couldn’t do it anymore?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, the only reason I couldn’t was because I had to stay in bed for six months and then I had people that were working for me. Virginia Lynch was my main one and Hilda — oh gosh what was her name? Her husband worked at the post office — Frank Hensch— Dallas — Dallas Hench. She worked there and then I couldn’t keep it up any longer because I couldn’t find people, you know, so —

George Vierra: You couldn’t find people actually to work for you.

Petite Abruzzini: Right then. I had one lady from Lake County come down for an interview and then — now there’s so many of them, there’d be no problem, you know, but then there was not that many, so I had to give it up, so then I became a wife.

George Vierra: What about you? When you got out of high school what did you do?

Ernie Butala: Well, let’s see. When I graduated, I went to work for the State Department of Architecture down Imola, down there, and worked there until I was drafted, and then went in the Army for two years. Came out and went to work for Solar Tree Service trimming trees for PG&E and stayed there for 12 years and finally realized it was a dead-end business and went to work for the Caltrans and been there for 33 years after that until I graduated, retired I mean.

George Vierra: Doing the same type of work, basically tree work and downed lines, etc.?

Ernie Butala: You mean for the State, for Caltrans?

George Vierra: Yeah, for Caltrans.

Ernie Butala: No. I worked for highway maintenance.

George Vierra: Highway maintenance, okay.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. I gave up that. That’s a young man’s business, tree climbing.

George Vierra: Climbing trees.

Petite Abruzzini: I would think so now or anytime really.

Ernie Butala: Now you want to get onto Main Street, ask me the question.

Petite Abruzzini: I can do Main Street.

Ernie Butala: I bet you can’t answer this either.

Petite Abruzzini: What?

Ernie Butala: How many saloons on Main Street?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh. Oh, my gosh. You probably know. There was a lot of saloons. I know my mother said if I walk to town with my girlfriends they never could walk on the east side of the street.

George Vierra: Because they’re on the east side?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, they’re on both sides really. I like what you call it in the corner. 

Ernie Butala: Was it Gee gee’s?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, he was across the street from my beauty shop.

George Vierra: On Hunt and Main? 

Ernie Butala: On Hunt was Gee gee’s right by the railroad tracks.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: Was Gigi’s. That was a fabulous place.

Petite Abruzzini: And she cooked, boy, Frances. 

Ernie Butala: She made the best stew.

Petite Abruzzini: Anything I think she did, right.

George Vierra: That was later a woman’s dress shop too, later on?

Petite Abruzzini: No. 

Ernie Butala: No. It turned into a bar.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, a bar, and then I don’t know if there’s anything in there now. 

Ernie Butala: I don’t know what’s in there now.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t either. 

Ernie Butala: Right there next to the railroad tracks.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, it’s nice looking now compared to what it was before. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. They remodeled it.

Petite Abruzzini: It had a lot of character. It would be I think really well accepted now.

George Vierra: So, it’s on the east side of the railroad tracks?

Petite Abruzzini: No, on the west side.

George Vierra: West side of the railroad tracks. 

Ernie Butala: No. West.

Petite Abruzzini: Right next to it.

George Vierra: And the south side of Hunt? 

Ernie Butala: Okay. You got Hunt Street comes here and here’s the railroad tracks there.

Petite Abruzzini: And there’s the alley right there. 

Ernie Butala: This is the alleyway to get to the back of the business. This is right here. Then you got another business here and another business there, and then here’s Main Street here.

Petite Abruzzini: And that was Vasconi’s  Furniture right there. 

Ernie Butala: Vasconi’s who was right here on the corner on the other side.

Petite Abruzzini: No, no, this side. No, that’s a drug store. 

Ernie Butala: Oh, yeah. Vasconi’s Furniture, yeah, right. But you walk into Gee gee’s —

Petite Abruzzini: Wooden floor. 

Ernie Butala: Wooden floor, bar stools. You’d think you were walking into an 1800’s western bar. Right?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, really. Yeah, true. 

Ernie Butala: It had the high ceilings, dust, cobwebs all over. That was it. You walked in there. The tables were clean, but it was a place to go in there and enjoy yourself.

George Vierra: And Gee Gee was the proprietress? 

Ernie Butala: Gee Gee and his wife, Frances.

George Vierra: Oh, Gee Gee was the man?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

George Vierra: What was their last names?

Petite Abruzzini: Frillie, Frellie. F-R-E-L-L-I-E.

George Vierra: And they cooked well too then? 

Ernie Butala: Oh, they — yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: I think it was for lunch. I don’t know about dinner. 

Ernie Butala: They didn’t specialize — we had stew, you had this, you had that. One meal thing.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, lunch and dinner.

George Vierra: What did a meal cost in those days? Do you remember approximately what it cost for a meal?

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t remember. She’d bring it over to me at the shop. 

Ernie Butala: I want to say I think something like 50 cents or a dollar and a big bowl for a buck and a half.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. You could take it home for dinner too. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. But speaking of the bars, you got to remember the bars. You’re going to have to help me with this.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, I don’t know anything about the bar. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. Start up by —

George Vierra: Let’s look at the map. Where are we going to start?

Petite Abruzzini: What do you mean start? 

Ernie Butala: On Main Street.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, okay.

George Vierra: We’re on Main. 

Ernie Butala: On Main Street, okay. Start up.

George Vierra: Here’s Pope.

Petite Abruzzini: Do the east side first. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. Let’s start up here where the first one is.

George Vierra: Here’s Hunt. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. Go up here to Adams Street.

George Vierra: Here’s Adams. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. Where the old Bank of America is.

George Vierra: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: Remember it used to be the City Hall.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, you’re on the west side. 

Ernie Butala: On the west side was Hank’s.

George Vierra: Where Trinchero’s is in there now, right? That building?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: I have no idea, but anyway was the City Hall.

George Vierra: Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Right where the parking lot is. 

Ernie Butala: And when Hank’s bar was there —

Petite Abruzzini: And Lottie’s Dress Shop was next to it. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Then you crossed Hunt and Adams.

Petite Abruzzini: Then whatchamacallit on the corner. We’d get the penny candy in there. There was a door here, and we’d go through to school. 

Ernie Butala: There was Hank’s on the corner, then you crossed Adams. Two doors down was Mickey’s.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, Mickey Carons, yeah.

George Vierra: Next to Vasconi’s? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, right next to Vasconi’s. It has the big doors that opened up and you could just walk —

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, the whole thing was opened up.

George Vierra: Okay. So, you had Mickey’s there. 

Ernie Butala: And then you come down, then you had the Pastime.

George Vierra: Here’s Main here, here’s Main. 

Ernie Butala: On Main Street you come down and had the Pastime.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. You’re still on the west side. 

Ernie Butala: I have to go down — then Pastime.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, right. 

Ernie Butala: Then you had the St. Helena Hotel.

George Vierra: Right. 

Ernie Butala: Then you had Angelo’s down here at the corner.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, where Bulati’s is. 

Ernie Butala: Where Bulati’s is, yeah.

George Vierra: On Spring or

Petite Abruzzini: Corner of Spring. 

Ernie Butala: On the corner of Spring and Main.

George Vierra: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: Then you crossed down here where Wells Fargo is and had Riggo’s. We used to call her the tiger lady.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Well, she was tiger lady.

George Vierra: Riggo’s it was called?

Petite Abruzzini: She had a little — 

Ernie Butala: I don’t remember. We used to call her the tiger lady.

George Vierra: Pretty close to what we call Mitchell now. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s where that service station is you was talking about.

George Vierra: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: Mitchell. Then you come up Main Street.

Petite Abruzzini: No, not by Mitchell’s. It was the corner.

George Vierra: Well, here’s the Wells Fargo right here. Wells Fargo is right there. Sunshine is here. Here’s Spring Street. Here’s Main. Here’s Oak. Here’s Spring. 

Ernie Butala: Her business was between Spring and Mitchell.

Petite Abruzzini: Right. Yeah, the whole thing. 

Ernie Butala: The whole thing.

George Vierra: What was it where Ascentia is now? What was there?

Petite Abruzzini: Nothing.

George Vierra: Nothing.

Petite Abruzzini: A lot of shacks in there.

George Vierra: So, there was no Wells Fargo, so it was Wego’s and that’s all there was in that whole block?

Petite Abruzzini: It was real shacky, not a very nice place. 

Ernie Butala: Used to be — remember the Chevrolet garage there?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Right. Yeah. That wasn’t there. 

Ernie Butala: It was behind it.

George Vierra: Okay. There used to be a gas station right here on the corner that’s still there.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s where she was, Wego’s.

George Vierra: Right on Spring and Main?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: You’re right.

Petite Abruzzini: It went up this way. 

Ernie Butala: You’re right, because the Chevrolet garage was right on Mitchell and Main, and she was right next to it.

George Vierra: The Chevy garage was over where — 

Ernie Butala: It was Meyer’s  Chevrolet.

George Vierra: Where the Wells Fargo site is now. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. And Wego’s was there which is now a gas station.

Petite Abruzzini: And then Zumwalt’s across the street — not Zumwalt’s, but Stansberry’s. 

Ernie Butala: Stansberry’s, yeah, right.

Petite Abruzzini: Stansberry’s across the street.

George Vierra: This street or this street?

Petite Abruzzini: That’s Pope and Main, on the corner of Pope and Main.

George Vierra: Okay. Pope and Main, right here, okay. Right there.

Petite Abruzzini: North.

George Vierra: All right. Right there. And there’s a lady’s store or something right there on the corner here if I remember correctly on Pope and Main?

Petite Abruzzini: Pope and Main there was just a service station.

George Vierra: I’m thinking of Hunt. I got the wrong town.

Petite Abruzzini: Anderson Brothers was on Pope and Main, south by the bridge. 

Ernie Butala: Right next to the bridge between Pope and the bridge.

Petite Abruzzini: Right, and across from that was Stansberry’s. 

Ernie Butala: Was Stansberry’s.

George Vierra: Okay. So now we’re talking about how many more bars were on the east side? 

Ernie Butala: Okay. Going up — okay, here you have Pope Street going up and you got — where’s Spring Street?

George Vierra: Spring Street is right here. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Here’s Main, here’s Spring. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, because here was Angelo’s there, and then you come up here, and here’s Hunt. Right here on the corner of Hunt you had I want to call it the Oak & Bucket.

Petite Abruzzini: I didn’t know that. 

Ernie Butala: Was right there — I can’t think of the name of it.

Petite Abruzzini: You mean where the drug store was, Vasconi’s drug store? 

Ernie Butala: Furniture, yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, furniture. Okay. 

Ernie Butala: Was that one right there on the corner. Then you had Gee Gee’s here.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, right. I remember that. 

Ernie Butala: Then you had — gosh, what in the heck was that name right next to the theater that one there?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, I thought that was the Pastime. 

Ernie Butala: It was the Pastime, but before that, originally.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, I don’t know. Did it have pool tables in there? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, it had pool tables. It begin with an M.  Bert would know. Bert would know.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know, don’t remember. 

Ernie Butala: Then they came up here, then you had next to the gas station underneath that hotel they had another bar downstairs underneath that.

Petite Abruzzini: What? Under what hotel? 

Ernie Butala: You know the two-story building next to the gas station?

George Vierra: It’s called the Wydown or something like that. 

Ernie Butala: And it used to be —

Petite Abruzzini: Oh that? Oh. 

Ernie Butala: It used to be Donaldson’s.

George Vierra: Donaldson was in there. 

Ernie Butala: But before that it used to have a bar in there. Where that little restaurant is, it used to have a bar in there years and years ago.

Petite Abruzzini: I didn’t know there was a restaurant in there now. 

Ernie Butala: Well now there is, yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: I didn’t know that.

George Vierra: So, there’s lots of bars.

Petite Abruzzini: Did it go to the hotel? 

Ernie Butala: I think there was nine or ten bars on Main Street between the two bridges.

George Vierra: How many — 

Ernie Butala: Oh, yeah, we can’t forget now on Spring Street you had that William Tell Hotel.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, sure, yeah. Right. 

Ernie Butala: Remember that one there?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, but that was a martini house. There wasn’t anything in that. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. There was a hotel and bar downstairs.

Petite Abruzzini: Now there is, yeah, but not then. 

Ernie Butala: And you go down Adams Street down there across from the school was the Grey Gables.

Petite Abruzzini: Right. Right. Grey Gables, yeah, but —

George Vierra: Across from RLS?

Petite Abruzzini: No. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: No, not RLS. 

Ernie Butala: Across from the grammar school.

Petite Abruzzini: That whole corner, the professional building right there. Yeah. That was Grey Gables. That was spooky.

George Vierra: Where Gail Quarijee [ph] is in there. 

Ernie Butala: That was more spooky.

Petite Abruzzini: That was spooky. Another one that was spooky is where Miss Hansen was when she had the [indiscernible] on Main Street. That was spooky. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: And how many “houses of ladies of the night” were there in town?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, the only one I know — there were only two I know was Pope Street.

George Vierra: There’s one on Pope?

Petite Abruzzini: At the top of the hill. 

Ernie Butala: Penny Parker.

Petite Abruzzini: Penny Parker. I used to do her hair.

George Vierra: Okay. Which side of Pope? Here’s Pope over here. There’s the trail.

Petite Abruzzini: Across the trail and go up the hill, but there’s no road there.

George Vierra: You go basically on —

Petite Abruzzini: No. 

Ernie Butala: No.

George Vierra: Across the trail?

Petite Abruzzini: Cross the trail and goes right up the hill.

George Vierra: Right there. Right there. That’s where Penny Pope was?

Petite Abruzzini: Right at the top of the hill. There’s a house there now.

George Vierra: And what’s the other one? 

Ernie Butala: And she was world famous.

Petite Abruzzini: She was, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: World famous. When I went in the Army and I was in Monterey, the minute you said, “I’m from St. Helena,” “Oh, that’s where Penny Parker’s is.” Everybody in the Army knew where she was.

George Vierra: Okay. And who was Penny’s competition?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, no, she didn’t have any competition, and this was before it got cleaned up and that’s where Wego’s were, tiger lady.

George Vierra: Tiger lady was when Wego’s was on Hunt?

Petite Abruzzini: No, it wasn’t Hunt. It was Spring and Main.

George Vierra: Spring and Main was tiger lady? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, between the two. Between Spring and Mitchell.

George Vierra: So, it’s Spring and Mitchell and Penny Parker?

Petite Abruzzini: Right.

George Vierra: Interesting.

Petite Abruzzini: But this was way, way before — well, I don’t know. I only remember her in high school. The guys would talk about —

George Vierra: Okay. Let’s talk now about the different foreign non-European nationalities. I do know I’ve heard stories about there was a Chinatown south of town for a while.

Petite Abruzzini: Right. 

Ernie Butala: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: That’s the area I think we now call the El Bonita area. 

Ernie Butala: That’s this right here.

George Vierra: Oh, it’s over here. It’s just south of Mitchell? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. That was right there.

George Vierra: So, there wasn’t a Chinatown further south of Grayson or El Bonita? 

Ernie Butala: There probably was down there, but the one that I remember —

George Vierra: Was south of Mitchell? 

Ernie Butala: Was right here next to the river right across from Charter Oak Avenue.

George Vierra: And what was it the Chinese primarily did in town? What were their professions?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, they’re the ones that dug that — 

Ernie Butala: Laundry.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, laundry. 

Ernie Butala: They had the main laundry. They were housekeepers, merchants.

Petite Abruzzini: And they’re the ones that dug the tunnel in Beringer’s. They’re the only one that had tunnels. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. They were brought into town to dig the tunnels for Beringer’s Winery. I forgot all about that.

George Vierra: They did a lot of tunnel digging, of course, for the railroad then from Pacific to Atlantic. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. They worked for the railroad.

George Vierra: The Irish workers weren’t quite as —

Petite Abruzzini: When did that dissolve, I wonder?

Ernie Butala: The Southern Pacific?

Petite Abruzzini: No, the China camp. When did that dissolve?

George Vierra: I don’t know. I heard stories. I heard there was some bigger Chinatowns south of town, but I don’t know exactly where, but this one that’s an interesting part too that they would be here at that location. So, after the Chinese left, were there other nationalities? I do know that, of course, we have a large number of Mexicans now.

Petite Abruzzini: Of course.

George Vierra: And how soon did the Mexicans show up? Were they here at the same time as the Chinese?

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know. I don’t think so. 

Ernie Butala: Don’t forget, because Mexico claimed California all the way up in the Napa Valley for years, so they had to have presence in the valley.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, sure.

George Vierra: This is something I typed up I want to read to you. The south wall on the lobby of the post office shows European men picking grapes in 1942, the south wall. Okay. The north wall shows Hispanic men — this was done in 2002. One was done in 1942, one was done in 2002. So, what is the history of the labor change, and when did women start working in vineyards and wineries? First of all, let’s talk about the nationality change first. We were originally in the ‘40s, we probably had very few Chinese and Mexicans picking grapes and working in wineries. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. I’ll tell you one thing now. Picking grapes prior to World War II and during World War II you had a lot of Filipinos.

George Vierra: Filipinos. 

Ernie Butala: Came in from San Francisco. Remember they came in, and they did a lot of the farm labor, and they came in and picked grapes.

George Vierra: They came in on the trains?

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know how they came in.

George Vierra: Or they came in and stayed in tents or something? 

Ernie Butala: They were from San Francisco.

Petite Abruzzini: I think it was daily. I think they went back and forth. 

Ernie Butala: Like my dad — well, like my dad now he had the grapes there, so my grandmother over at her place on Main Street there, we used to call the dance hall, and they came in there, and they stayed in there because they had — don’t forget you could use outhouses then. People used outhouses and showers were permissible before World War II, and they would stay in there, pick grapes for two or three weeks and go back to San Francisco, and so that’s where a lot of these little farm labor camps came in until the do-gooders came in and said, “Now you can’t stay in these places.” In fact, they shut my grandmother’s down.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. Of course. 

Ernie Butala: And said you gotta have cubicles. You gotta have the whole nine yards in there, but at that time, they would go into somebody’s garage. As long as it had a door on it and they had privacy, they’d put beds and bunk beds in there.

Petite Abruzzini: They would sleep anywhere. 
Ernie Butala: And they would come in and pick grapes during the war.

George Vierra: So, we had this painting in 1942 of the Europeans picking grapes. They weren’t really in ’42 Europeans picking grapes? It was primarily Filipinos? 

Ernie Butala: Well, before World War II and during World War II they had a lot of Filipinos in there. Don’t forget, we did have down there behind Oakville remember that German prisoner war camp down there?

Petite Abruzzini: On the trail? 

Ernie Butala: On the trail by Rector dam.

Petite Abruzzini: Rector dam, right.

Ernie Butala: And they used some of them during war.

George Vierra: So, you had some Germans also? 

Ernie Butala: German soldiers over there helping out.

George Vierra: That was during the war though? 

Ernie Butala: During the war, towards the end of the war.

George Vierra: Okay. So obviously there was some Chinese. We had some Filipinos that were basically coming from San Francisco. We had a war that changed everything as far as who the labor was. After the war, then what was the labor force?

Petite Abruzzini: I’m trying to think. 

Ernie Butala: After the war we had the —

Petite Abruzzini: Well, I know we used to get national. Did you have the nationals? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: We brought those in. I know we had them for Berryessa [ph] Ranch. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. Now, two things that they had. They had the Bracero program they brought in mainly during the war and after the war, and I don’t know exactly where in there, somewhere in there that they came by and they said they stopped the Bracero program.

Petite Abruzzini: Is that when the nationals came in? 

Ernie Butala: That’s when they came by and had the nationals, but they also came by and said, “All right. We have so many people on unemployment, we’re going to go to San Francisco and Richmond and bus them in to Napa Valley.” Remember the busloads coming from Richmond?

Petite Abruzzini: And Vallejo also. 

Ernie Butala: And Vallejo. And they bussed them in, and let’s put it this way — they were worthless.

George Vierra: After the second World War? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. I would say that had to be in the ‘50s.

Petite Abruzzini: ‘50s, yeah, I would say ‘50s, and that’s when they wanted to be paid every day. Then they wouldn’t show up the next day.

George Vierra: So, until — you talk about the nationals. What does that mean? What are the nationals?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, you have to apply for them and sign all these papers. You have to have housing for them. We had a house in Berryessa. It was nothing, but we had to make sure it had a bathroom and showers and windows and stove and beds and all that stuff. Had to be clean. They come and checked it and everything. Then we had 18 nationals come in and just stay there until everything was over with.

George Vierra: And then go back home.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, and they were workers. I mean, a good bunch of guys.

George Vierra: How did that differ from the Braceros though?

Petite Abruzzini: That I don’t know if we ever did that. I don’t know. 

Ernie Butala: Well, the Braceros, they came in. In fact, they were brought in with busloads, and you signed up for the Bracero program.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh. Okay. Go ahead. 

Ernie Butala: And you signed up for the Bracero program, which is basically what you were talking about.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, right. Okay. 

Ernie Butala: And they came in, and they stayed at these different houses and ranches and stuff like that, but you signed up and said, “I need 10 workers.” Then they would go down and bring the Braceros in and work. Then they would work until everything was done and then they’d ship them back and then they’d go back. Then they went to this program. They eliminated the Bracero program. Then they came out and said, “We will have to hire local,” and that’s when they went to Oakland, Richmond and all that, and they brought these people up by bus, and they would get here about 9:00 in the morning, work until 9:30 or 10:00 and they’d say that was it, and if they picked 10 boxes a day, but the only trouble is we found out when they got on the bus they took more grapes home than they picked.

George Vierra: And how many years did that experiment last?

Petite Abruzzini: It didn’t last too long. 

Ernie Butala: I think it was two years or something like that.

Petite Abruzzini: Because they wanted to be paid every day. 

Ernie Butala: Nobody was getting their crops picked. They had to go hire — look around and hire anybody, anybody. And the other thing was that they thought maybe the school kids and college kids during the summer months would come into agriculture and take the place of the Braceros, and all these kids want to do is play. They ruin more of the crops than they did want to work. Remember all that?

Petite Abruzzini: I remember that. I remember we had prunes once.

George Vierra: Probably most of the people who pass those laws don’t really understand the work that’s needed and the workers who are needed and how hard it is to get people to do it. 

Ernie Butala: And I’ll stick by my statement — what ruined this country is when they turned around and did away with the child labor laws. Remember when we were young kids we had the paper routes? We picked prunes.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. I picked prunes. 

Ernie Butala: We picked walnuts. For five cents a box we picked prunes. We did all that. We worked. We did all that.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, we did. 

Ernie Butala: Now all of a sudden they say, “You can’t hire these kids.” These kids don’t know what to do, so what do they do? They hang out in the street and sell drugs.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. 

Ernie Butala: And I’ll stick to that statement.

George Vierra: So, who was it then in 1942 when Lou Keller painted that picture of nothing but Europeans picking grapes in Napa Valley? Did that ever happen when there was just nothing but Europeans?

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know. 

Ernie Butala: Well, see, a lot of Italians —

Petite Abruzzini: What do you call Europeans? I don’t know. 

Ernie Butala: We called them Italians.

George Vierra: You know what the mural looks like.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, I know. I’ve seen it.

George Vierra: But did that ever exist is my question?

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know. I remember we just had Mexicans. That’s all we had. 

Ernie Butala: See, a lot of your wine workers and all that were from like Croatia, from over there. The families, the Italians, all them were coming over here.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, to learn. 

Ernie Butala: To learn, and they were learning the wine industry, and they were the ones that brought the families over and that’s when they had it, so —

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know.

George Vierra: In the ‘40s, ‘30s and ‘40s, were there other industries, cultural industries besides wine and grapes that were major? I’m not talking about small amounts. For example, were there dairies? Were there —

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, there’s dairies at Keller’s. Oh my gosh. 

Ernie Butala: Let me put it this way — what I remember, and let me check your memory — most of the valley, the valley floor was walnuts and prunes.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: That was the biggest industry, and grapes was secondary.

George Vierra: Walnuts and prunes. What decades was this? 

Ernie Butala: All the way up until the ‘70s.

Petite Abruzzini: Probably. I’m not sure. 

Ernie Butala: I would say you go down Big Rock Road there wasn’t a grape vine on Big Rock Road. It was all walnuts and prunes. The Weir [ph] ranch down there. They had two or three thousand acres of prunes.

Petite Abruzzini: Prunes, yeah. Conn Valley had prunes. Elsie [ph] Ascan [ph], we used to go out there and pick them for her I remember in high school. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. In the ‘50s, we were picking prunes, because that was everything.

Petite Abruzzini: And we’d pick grapes too, because school wouldn’t start —

George Vierra: Did they haul the grapes out of the valley or would they dry them here or would they process them? 

Ernie Butala: Most of the grapes they took and made wine out of them right here in the valley,

George Vierra: I’m sorry. The prunes, the prunes.

Petite Abruzzini: Right here. Dehydrator right here. 

Ernie Butala: You know where Charter Oak is?

George Vierra: Uh-huh. 

Ernie Butala: Okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Right across the street, that big building is the old prune dehydrator. 

Ernie Butala: Okay. You got Main Street here. You got Charter Oak here, and right across the street you got that great big building here. I don’t know what you call it.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know what it’s called now. 

Ernie Butala: And Charter Oak goes down to Harold Smith. That building was the prune dehydrator.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s where we used to bring them.

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Brought all the walnuts and prunes.

George Vierra: Wasn’t Central Valley there for a while? 

Ernie Butala: No, no. Central Valley was over here.

George Vierra: Over further. 

Ernie Butala: Here’s Vidovich Avenue here.

George Vierra: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: But this was walnuts and prunes. I mean, that went all summer long.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, gosh, yeah. Smelled good. 

Ernie Butala: Then they’d dry them.

George Vierra: Put them out in the yards to dry?

Petite Abruzzini: They had cement in the back. 

Ernie Butala: They had the big cement tills in there. What it is, you like a great big cement thing like that, and you had the doors were open here and up here you had a great big blower with gas, and the gas would blow through here and dry these prunes out. It would take about what, six days or something like that?

Petite Abruzzini: I’m not sure. 

Ernie Butala: And the prunes, they used to have them maybe six, seven-foot high on little like railroad carts on flat trays six-foot long trays, and you’d wheel them in there and fill that thing up, slam the door shut, turn the —

George Vierra: So, after six days, then they could be packed and sold? 

Ernie Butala: They’d be all dried and ready to go.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t think they packed them there, did they? 

Ernie Butala: No. Everything was sold in bulk. Everything was sold in bulk. Then it was hauled to Napa to Sunsweet down there in Napa, and they’d package them down there in Napa.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. Sunsweet was there.

George Vierra: So, lots of prunes in those days for sure.

Petite Abruzzini: A lot of prunes..

George Vierra: Do you remember — now obviously wines did not dominate for some time if prunes that were that big an industry and there’s other things too, but were there winery and vineyard associations that were used at events and marketing like tastings. You know, we have something called the wine auction.

Petite Abruzzini: My father-in-law first started the wine tasting in the valley.

George Vierra: He did?

Petite Abruzzini: Yes.

George Vierra: At which one?

Petite Abruzzini: Beringer’s.

George Vierra: At Beringer’s.

Petite Abruzzini: They were going bankrupt when he took over when he was 34 years old.

George Vierra: I remember reading about that, yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. And he started the wine tasting.

George Vierra: The first tasting room, right.

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: That’s right. The first tasting room.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. And he started it all, and I would get mad at him and say, “See, now we got stoplights in town, and you started all this.” And he never charged for anything, and he’d have huge big barbeques there. I mean, he had the whole 49er team, and he had one — in fact, I have a piece of paper on that, newspaper, over 2,000 people, General Electric people that was at the —

George Vierra: All around the Rhinehouse?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Yeah. He’s the one that started it. 

Ernie Butala: In fact, he was noted for bringing in all the movie stars and dignitaries, presidents.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. 

Ernie Butala: Everybody he brought to Beringer’s, and their picture was taken out in front of the case out there.

George Vierra: But he did it independently as a winery. It wasn’t an association that basically did those sorts of things? There was no Vineyard Association or Grape Growers Association or that sort of thing that you’re aware of? 

Ernie Butala: No.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, what do you mean on that? 

Ernie Butala: Well, let me go back. The only thing I can remember, everybody like you had Krug’s, you had Louis Martini, you had Inglenook, you had Beringer’s.

Petite Abruzzini: Sutter Home. 

Ernie Butala: Christian Brothers. They all were owned by them people. There was no big business in the valley.

Petite Abruzzini: No groups.

George Vierra: But they didn’t get together as an association, all those winery owners? 

Ernie Butala: No. They’re all individual.

George Vierra: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: The only one that came out, which was in ’48 after the crash of the grapes, and that was in ’48 was up there right across by Deer Park Lane. There was a little Co-op winery.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. We belonged. 

Ernie Butala: They opened up, and the guys that couldn’t sell —

George Vierra: The one that’s now called Markham? 

Ernie Butala: Markham.

Petite Abruzzini: Markham, right. That was a little Co-op. 

Ernie Butala: And so, when nobody could find a place to sell their grapes, you took them to the little Co-Op.

Petite Abruzzini: And then we had one down south of Napa. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. Then you had the regular Co-op down here where Hall Wines are now.

Petite Abruzzini: Hall Winery is, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And they were the ones that now took all small growers, anybody that the big wineries wouldn’t touch.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Right. I remember Jack having to be in line to take them there. He’d bring the truck in, trailer like 2:00 in the morning and get in line and go pick them up to bring them home and then you’d take them back again. 
Ernie Butala: Yeah and Gallo signed the contract to buy whatever they made.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. Yeah. A little different.

George Vierra: When you were growing up, thinking back, what were the local memorable events? Was there any celebration or catastrophe or big thing.

Petite Abruzzini: Harvest Festival. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. You had your big five. You had the Kiwanis Club, the Kiwanis Kapades, the Harvest Festival, the Firemen’s Ball, the Policemen’s Ball. What was the other one? New Year’s.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, I don’t remember that. 

Ernie Butala: Had all the big dances over in Native Son’s Hall.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah.

George Vierra: Over on Spring Street?

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh. 

Ernie Butala: On Spring Street.

George Vierra: So that’s where everything — all the events took place there? 

Ernie Butala: Most all events, and it was open to the whole town.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Bought the tickets. That’s how they raised their money. 

Ernie Butala: And then big business moved in in 1970. They took over, and now the first thing they took over was the Kiwanis Kapades, which I thought was one of the best things in this town.

Petite Abruzzini: It was local talent. 

Ernie Butala: Local talent, and if you had talent you weren’t allowed to show up. You had no talent people only.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. It was a good thing. 

Ernie Butala: And so now this gal has come in, and the big business moved in, and when they moved in, they came in and said, “We’re going to take this over and make a production out of it,” so then they brought in professional people with talent, and nobody wanted that, and so it lasted for about two years, and then the next thing you know they moved it over to I think it was Christian Brothers warehouse by invitation only.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. That’s right. 

Ernie Butala: By invitation to the Kiwanis Kapades, and that was the end of that. Then they did the same thing with the Police, the Fire and all that, so all them went to the wineries by invitation.

George Vierra: But everything before then was basically a talent organization.

Petite Abruzzini: It was a talent thing, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: They had the little booklets, sold tickets $1.00 a piece, ten in a booklet, and heck, people bought a booklet because it was a donation for the city, and everybody bought them.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, right. The fire department.

George Vierra: Have you seen that?

Petite Abruzzini: No, I have not seen that.

George Vierra: I’ll give you this.

Petite Abruzzini: Did you do this?

George Vierra: No. You can have it. That’s an extra one, but it has lots of really nice old things what went on. I’m sure that some of this stuff is in there that we’re talking about too.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, cool. Did you do this?

George Vierra: No. It was done by the city; I think the chamber or somebody.

Petite Abruzzini: City of St. Helena, the Rudd Foundation 

Ernie Butala: To get back to the point, big business. Now what happened there was that in 1968, I think it was, is when this gal who was an arborist back east had that camellia bush, and she couldn’t remember when — some years she’d have a full bunch of camellias, flowers. The next year she’d only have half, and some years she wouldn’t have any, so she started figuring out what happened. So, she found out when the snow level covered the bush, in the spring she had a full thing of flowers. When she only had half, then the top half had no flowers, the bottom half would have flowers. So that’s when they came out in 1968, they start using the sprinkler system for frost control and that’s how come they took the grapes moved from the hills to the valley floor. The prunes went out, the walnuts went out, and grapes came in.

George Vierra: So, one of the reasons they didn’t plant grapes on the valley floor was because the probably of them being killed by frost? 

Ernie Butala: Frost, yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: Remember before that we used to have the smudge pots. I mean, when you come over here, you couldn’t see that wall over there there’d be so much smog.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. Really bad. 

Ernie Butala: It’d be so black because everybody was burning tires.

George Vierra: Yeah. Tires I heard was also right at the vineyards behind horses. 

Ernie Butala: Anything that would burn to make heat.

George Vierra: When did wind machines show up? 
Ernie Butala: At the same time. Basically, in the same time as the water.

George Vierra: So, smudge pots and wind machines about the same time or the wind machines with the water. Sprinklers didn’t come in until the ‘70s or ‘80s for frost protection.

Petite Abruzzini: Probably, so we got our wind machine.

George Vierra: It was just starting. Sprinklers were just starting for frost protection I think in the ‘80s. It hasn’t been that long. 

Ernie Butala: I know. Like I said, it had to be in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and the reason for that I keep going by is I use the Crane Park as Constantini was there.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, right, right. 

Ernie Butala: Is that — she passed away. He passed away and so she wanted to sell the ranch, and she had 22 acres there, so George Lucas bought the ranch for the school, bought half of it and the park bought the other half. Well, he said he turned around and paid I think it was top dollar was $1,000.00 an acre for all that property. Kept it for three years I think it was and turned around and sold it for $10,000.00 an acre to some lawyer, and they turned around and doubled the price by selling it to the school district.

Petite Abruzzini: Wow. 

Ernie Butala: And that’s when I started noticing the price of the land going up.

George Vierra: So, do you think if they had had better frost protection earlier in the Napa Valley that they would have planted as many prunes in the valley? Would grapes have taken the place of prunes sooner, I guess, if there was frost protection? And obviously prunes are not as damaged by frost. 

Ernie Butala: No.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, the prunes would be — it’d be a lot of blossom. Blossoms would be frosted. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, you’d have the blossoms. Rain would hurt them more, but not the frost as much or the walnuts.

George Vierra: When were prunes harvested generally? Much sooner than the grapes?

Petite Abruzzini: August.

George Vierra: So, you weren’t worried about the — like we do in the wine industry. We used to pray that the rain wasn’t going to come before we could get the grapes off. 

Ernie Butala: Because everybody figured the prunes were first, then the grapes, then the walnuts was always the end of September.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, they’re the end. We always did our walnuts at the end. 

Ernie Butala: We were always going into school in September when the walnuts got ripe.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. I understand. Let’s talk about what you may have heard about Prohibition. I told the one story that Everett Villani told me about. I think you told me some stories too about a still in your basement. 

Ernie Butala: I think everybody had a still. I mean, you’d go in any —

George Vierra: Did you have a still or know of some?

Petite Abruzzini: No, I don’t think so. 

Ernie Butala: Well, my grandmother Frankenstein had my dad’s still up there on Pritchard Hill, because he had the good spring water.

Petite Abruzzini: When we lived out on the ranch we might have. 

Ernie Butala: Back in the hill, and that was the only way you could get rid of your grape crop, because what in the hell can you do with your grapes? You’re only allowed so many gallons to drink each year.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right. 

Ernie Butala: So, you could store it and make it, but you couldn’t sell it, so everybody here in the valley had a still going somewhere making brandy. I mean, it was, I mean, the only reason why, like I say, my dad got out of the business was — and this is even after Prohibition was over — he got out of the business is because my uncle, Fred Sagina —

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. I knew Fred. 

Ernie Butala: He came over to hit my dad up for some brandy, and my dad said —

George Vierra: What year was this approximately? 

Ernie Butala: I would say ’38, ’39.

George Vierra: Okay. Before the second World War? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. But after Prohibition is over. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, before he moved into the ranch by the winery.

George Vierra: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: So anyway, my dad wouldn’t give him any. He was drunk and told him to go home, so he got mad, so the next day he called ABC boys. They came over and told him where the brandy was, where he had it hid in the basement and all that, and they nailed my dad, and I’ll never forget that. That must have been a drunk and a squirrel or a gopher. They took out all these little ten, five, ten-gallon barrels of brandy and started pouring it down that gopher hole.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, no. 

Ernie Butala: And my dad came out and he said, “That was the best stuff I ever made,” and he turned around and says, “All right. Can I have some with a pitcher?” And he said, “No. You can drink all you want right here, but you can’t carry it away from here.” So, he sat there and he said, “This is going to be the most expensive drunk I ever had.” He started whipping it down and got drunker than hell, and they turn around, and I don’t know how many thousands of dollars they fined him plus probation and jail. Everybody had a still and was making it. And that was the last time he made any brandy.

George Vierra: So, there was obviously — you could make, one could make wine for personal use. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: I’m sure everybody at least made enough for personal use, and like you say, many people had stills. 

Ernie Butala: Everybody had — I think it was 500 gallons you were allowed to make on your own.

George Vierra: I think it’s 250, but in any case, it’s not — you’re not going to get rich on that because you can’t sell it.

Petite Abruzzini: No, you couldn’t sell it.

George Vierra: And then people as you say on the side made stills too, and there was also religious wine that Christian Brothers did very well.

Petite Abruzzini: They always did it for the church.

George Vierra: They did very, very well selling to the churches. 

Ernie Butala: A lot of guys put it in rental cars and shipped it back to New York, and that was supposed to be for religious wine in New York because they couldn’t make wine back in the early ‘30s and all that, in the ‘20s because of the cold weather. California climate was good for making wine, growing grapes and making wine.

George Vierra: Yeah. Religion went up during the Prohibition time. 
Ernie Butala: They sold what’s called religion wine was sold, and they kept track wherever that went to.

George Vierra: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: I’m sure.

George Vierra: Of course, you were not here when World War I took place, but was there any remnant from World War I that stuck around as far as veterans who came home that either were in the family or friends or who had been injured or died, and there was festivities in town like at the cemetery, etc.? Was there any memory associated with World War I that you have?

Petite Abruzzini: No, I don’t. 

Ernie Butala: Well, the only thing I could say is that any holiday was a family or town gathering. They had something either at the Lyman Park or a parade down Main Street. Remember we used to have parades down Main?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. Great parades. 

Ernie Butala: And all that. 4th of July, any holiday was always a big town get together, something to happen. I say that before television.

George Vierra: The parades were very big in town? 

Ernie Butala: There were parades, bands.

George Vierra: All locally done?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah.

George Vierra: Whose band did they use? Did they have a town band or did they use the high school band? 

Ernie Butala: Well, it was town.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, they did. They had high school. Remember Jinx ? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: He had a banjo and Paulson. He was the weatherman then. He was the one that would [indiscernible]. Then who was the one on the piano? I remember him sitting on the back of a truck, and they’d go through town playing. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. And always had Jim Nicholini  on the accordion.

Petite Abruzzini: On the accordion, right, yeah. Yeah, he could play the accordion. 

Ernie Butala: Oh, he was good.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, their pieces. None of the classic pieces, but they were good. 

Ernie Butala: But they were the ones that played at the Firemen’s Ball and all that.

Petite Abruzzini: Makes you want to dance.

George Vierra: It was things the people of St. Helena went to and liked and enjoyed that was done locally.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, we did. 

Ernie Butala: It was a local, everything local.

George Vierra: And you knew all the people, and you appreciated what they did.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. 

Ernie Butala: Oh, definitely.

George Vierra: As a quick aside, we recently have been watching some of the high school drama do plays at the St. Helena High School. They’re fantastic, because you know they’re local kids. I just love it. They’re so entertaining.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, they’re so good.

George Vierra: They just did Thoroughly Modern Millie that just blew me away.

Petite Abruzzini: Me too.

George Vierra: I just could not believe how great they were.

Petite Abruzzini: They’ve got talent.

George Vierra: They’re talented, but they’re local kids, and you’re just so happy for them.

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh. You are happy for them.

George Vierra: Because they’re doing so well.

Petite Abruzzini: I know. I go to this little theater in Napa they call Penny Theater, and it’s just all local talent, all adults. Once in a while, I think they’re going to have Annie in a couple months, but oh my gosh, they are so good.

George Vierra: The Pretenders Palace used to be a pretty good theater company in Napa Valley for some years. [Indiscernible] were a part of it.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s right, yeah.

George Vierra: It was very, very nice. Nice locally, well-supported. It was very nice. Local stuff is probably the thing that we like and strive for the most.

Petite Abruzzini: I think it’s nice, and it’s nice to see those people put out that talent and go on too.

George Vierra: Okay. Let’s talk about — what was kind of the feeling and the reaction to World War II? First of all, what’s the reaction when that happened? First of all, do you think people were looking across the Atlantic Ocean prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor or were people conscious of it? World War II in those days. 

Ernie Butala: I was too young to remember all that.

Petite Abruzzini: Me too. I don’t remember that at all.

George Vierra: This would be 1939 or so.

Petite Abruzzini: Because that’s when my brother-in-law enlisted right now when that happened.

George Vierra: When Pearl Harbor happened are you saying?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, he enlisted. He was going to college. 

Ernie Butala: The only thing I can remember we were living in the new house next to the winery, and at Christmas time I remember coming back from church, going in there and getting the Sunday funnies, and my dad always stopped at the bakery and got some donuts, and we were sitting having donuts, and I turned the radio on and here come the news Pearl Harbor was bombed, and I’ll never forget that.

George Vierra: It was a Sunday morning? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, and I was ten years old, and I remember that, and I said, “What’s happening?” And you knew something was wrong, but you didn’t how bad it was. We could only hear it on the radio whatever they were broadcasting.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, sure. I like the radio.

George Vierra: Did you hear it as a result of a news broadcast or was it the result of broadcasting the president’s speech to congress, a day that will live in infamy? 

Ernie Butala: I’ll tell you with me now, Sunday morning you went to church, you come home and you got your donuts was the treat for going to church, got to sit and listen to the radio. Sunday you had the Green Hornet, that fairytale gal that used to be on there, and so you had your little fairytale. You got to listen to the radio and all that. So that was your thing, so I was listening to the radio one of these programs when they interrupted and said Pearl Harbor was bombed, and that’s how we found out.

George Vierra: And how do you remember it?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, I just remember it being Sunday too and come home from church and my father said, “Oh, my gosh,” you know. And I said, “What?” Because I didn’t hear it at first, and then they said that and then my sister was going with Ed Palmer at the time, and so he came right over too, and he said, “I’m going to go and enlist. I’m going to go,” but that’s all I remember. I mean, there was no —

George Vierra: And then, of course, so obviously many of your local guys went and enlisted or were drafted. Then what was life like during the war? You were both 10 to 15 years old.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, let’s see. My mother was on the board for rationing. She had a gal there that did the sugar. 

Ernie Butala: We went out looking for scrap metal and tires and stuff like that. We scrapped anything we could find.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. That’s the only thing I remember and pulling our shades down at night to make sure it was always dark and no lights shining through. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah. And had to turn the lights out, pull the shades down, all that. My dad was a warden up and down.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, sure. 

Ernie Butala: Then they had the local group of guys that were there, what’s called a militia or National Guard.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, that’s true, the National Guard. 

Ernie Butala: Local guys and they were just farmers that brought their guns from home. They weren’t any mission of the military, and they protected the town.

Petite Abruzzini: Just trying to put things together. 

Ernie Butala: If anything happened, they would call these guys and they would all come in and try to protect the town.

George Vierra: Kind of like the volunteer fire, but they didn’t have the horn. 

Ernie Butala: It was the National Guard, nothing but volunteers. I’ll give you the story my dad used to tell, and everybody says it’s the honest truth. They went out and they had their whatever, their practice, the marching and all that kind of stuff, and they were marching down Main Street, and anyway my dad gets out there, and they were marching, and he said, “All right, right face,” and he turned right straight into Angelo’s bar.

George Vierra: Best commander they ever had. 

Ernie Butala: And everybody tells that story and I remember that.

Petite Abruzzini: Good story.

George Vierra: Okay. Then the war that you probably do know because I think you were part of the Korean War. That was more significant probably because you were of age. Tell me about your experience with the Korean War. What happened first before you got involved? 

Ernie Butala: Well, actually, my brother, Bert, he graduated with you.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And so, he was drafted into the Army and so he went in in 1950.

Petite Abruzzini: 1950. Okay. 

Ernie Butala: And he was drafted just after the war started. And so anyway that’s how I got to know — mainly because he was drafted and what was going on, and then he spent two years, and he went to Korea and did all the stuff, and so that’s how come I didn’t go into the service right away, because I had to wait for him to get out, and so in ’52 I got my draft notice. I went down, had my physical and all that, and Bert wasn’t back from Korea so, they couldn’t draft me so they told me. So, Bert came home from Korea, went over to Camp Stoneman over there by Pittsburg.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: And he reported into there and then got a leave, and they says all right, anybody who had been in the service and you’ve been overseas you can get out three months early. So, they let him out, and he got out on Friday. Monday morning was my notice to go in the Army, so anyway, the St. Helena Star picked it up and wrote a story about it. One come out on Friday and one went in on Monday, so that’s how I went in on Monday morning, and I went off to San Francisco and then down to Fort Ord.

George Vierra: And then? 

Ernie Butala: Oh, God, you want to hear the dirty? Well, all right, down at Fort Ord I went through basic training, and did all that, so at the end of four months you’re getting through basic training. So, anyway, what it was that they had the company fall out, and then they would call out the names who was going to Germany, who was going to Korea, who was doing what. And there was something like 300 soldiers sitting in our company. By the end of the week, there was only 15 of us left, and so they came by and they says, “We don’t know what to do with you guys.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, because you have a brother overseas.” I said, “No, he’s out.” “No, no, according to this, you can’t,” so all 15 of us had a relative that had been over to Korea or Germany.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, you’re kidding me. 

Ernie Butala: And so, we couldn’t do, so anyway, they said, “We don’t know what to do with you.” So, he said, “Well, right now we have a position to ship you over to Fort Ord to work in the hospital as an ambulance driver.” So I went over there to be an ambulance driver and to make a long story long, I was there for three months driving ambulance and picking guys up on the mortar range, and every time somebody got hurt, whatever it is, and so then they put me on night duty, and I was on night duty for a while, and I got this call to go to Monterey to pick up this gal because she was pregnant and had a flat tire and needed to get to the hospital right away. So, I zapped on down there, and there she was parked on the side of the road, pulled over, and all we had was a van with a big X on the side. No red lights, no sirens, no nothing. Put her in the back, an aid man was sitting in the seat next to me. She was in the gurney attached to the wall, and then the mother was there, but what they had, they extended the rear bumper about 16, 18 inches up, so it would give you a place to stand. So, anyway came up and light turned. So, what can I do? I couldn’t run through the light, had to obey the laws, so I waited until the light turned green, popped the clutch, took off. The gurney latches broke loose. She rolled out of the back door.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, gee. Did you know it? 

Ernie Butala: So anyway, the wheels hit the bumper where it was extended, and the aid man grabbed it just about that time it hit, pulled her back in. I took her directly to maternity, wheeled her in there, and as they wheeled her in, I took her in there and I was just folding my blanket up and I heard, “Whaaaa.” It was that close.

George Vierra: So, you helped get the baby born earlier probably. 

Ernie Butala: Probably and that’s what she said. So, anyway, the next morning I turn around and told the master sergeant, who happened to be a young 21-year-old battlefield commissioned master sergeant. Came in, he was there, and I said, “Dammit. I’m tired of this. I put in these damn gurneys that need fixing. They’re not working right. We need to get these fixed. I damn near killed somebody last night.” And I wrote a big report on it. That afternoon, here come the MPs, and they arrested me for insubordination.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, gee. That’s terrible. 

Ernie Butala: And that’s basically — so they had me arrested, so they went to the lieutenant of the company and then told the story and then the captain and then the major and then the colonel and then the general of the hospital. They kept pushing me up telling the story, and he said, “Are you sure?” And I said, “Yes. That’s it. Go talk to anybody down there.” So, they did, but I was confined to the hospital. I couldn’t go nowhere. So, a week later they called me in for a hearing, and they said, “Yes, everything you said was true. No red lights. No nothing. Everything you said was true.” And according to what it was, he refused to drop charges against me, because he said that when I yelled and all that it was not military, so he refused to do it, so he said, “Well, we can’t do anything, so now since he won’t drop charges, the only thing we can do is not have him on the post anymore,” so the general turned around immediate orders within two days he had orders cut and he was shipped out. And he said, “Now you can’t stay here,” so he shipped me from Fort Ord to the Presidio of Monterey, and I spent my last —

George Vierra: So, you went across town. 

Ernie Butala: Which was 15 miles away to the Army Language School, and I spent my time at the Army Language School.

George Vierra: That’s not a bad place. 

Ernie Butala: I can’t believe the good — that was like a hotel. The only thing — the funny part about the whole thing over there, once you got into the Army Language School, your rank was left at the door. You were nobody no matter how much you had on your shoulder or what. You were just nobody. Here I am a little corporal called these guys out here with majors, colonels, everything else all down the line, Saturday detail for cleanup, and I maybe have 20, 25 of these military officers. “All right. Line up. We’re going to go clean the streets out here.” And here I am a little corporal telling these guys what to do, and I wasn’t the only one. Everybody was doing that because they had to report for cleaning up the deal. And they did, they did, and everyone had fun. It was a fun time, a lot of fun.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s good.

George Vierra: And, of course, the Korean War was over by then wasn’t it? 

Ernie Butala: No.

George Vierra: It was still going on? When did it finish? ’53 or so? 

Ernie Butala: It ended in I’d say early ’54.

George Vierra: Early ’54. 
Ernie Butala: Because it was just ending by the time I got out. I got out in September of ’54.

George Vierra: Yeah. Okay. Now we’re going to go back to — you’ve lived your lives here. How has Napa Valley changed the most?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, my gosh. I don’t even want to talk about it.

George Vierra: I want you to talk about it. 

Ernie Butala: Well, I would say the best way I could say is big business moved in.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s it. I guess you might say that. You know, it’s progress. I mean, I guess it had to turn around. I don’t know. To me at my age I don’t care, but I always think of the young kids, you know, things like that. So, I don’t know. I don’t care for it, because we used to know everybody. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: You know, and it was homey and nice, and if you’re there somebody had to be helped, you’d get there to help. I don’t even know my neighbors. Batchelors across the street of course I do. They’ve been there long there, but my new neighbors are — I don’t know, they lived in San Diego.

George Vierra: Phil Backston ?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, Phil and Sandy, yeah.

George Vierra: Phil worked at Krug a few years before I did.

Petite Abruzzini: A long time ago, yeah. And, so, prices are horrible. I can’t shop in my own hometown, you know, no five and dime. You have to run to Napa or, you know.

George Vierra: To put it in perspective, when I came here in 1971, there was probably in the entire Napa Valley 15 wineries making cork finished wines, 15.

Petite Abruzzini: 15, yeah. What do we have now?

George Vierra: There’s now about 2500. I’m sorry, about 1700 or so brands. Not just wineries, brands. Because we have these places like Oakville Wine Company where they have alternating premise. You can have one winery that has a permit and you then have 60 different wines being made under that one specific facility. That is very, very common now.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh.

George Vierra: Where people are hiring their wines made under somebody else’s permit.

Petite Abruzzini: So, they’re not raising the grapes?

George Vierra: They buy the grapes primarily. Probably most wineries now the wines are not made by the people who grow the grapes. They’re probably purchased grapes, and in many cases they may result in premises locations, but there’s probably around 1500 brands in the Napa Valley now that exist, and maybe about 700 or 1000 over in Sonoma County. So maybe in the whole area is about 2500. When I started in ’71, there was about 35. So ,we’ve gone a long, long ways. Now that number of brands is going to obviously have an impact on what’s going on, and different people own them than used to. You’re not talking about — St. Helena and the whole Napa Valley used to be a farm community. The guys get up early, they go have breakfast at the diner in Yountville or other places, and then they’d go out in their vineyard. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Petite Abruzzini: No, I know it doesn’t.

George Vierra: That’s gone now. That’s completely gone. It’s a whole different type of a concept, and thanks to — not thanks, but your Mr. Abruzzini at Beringer’s was the first one to open up this concept of a tasting room.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, I know.

George Vierra: And people come here now. I think there’s a couple million people who come a year, and we all know what going up and down Highway 29 is like. It’s ghastly. It’s absolutely ghastly with the lights every place, and that’s not going to get better. That’s going to get worse and worse and worse.

Petite Abruzzini: No, it’s not going to get better, no. It’s sad.

George Vierra: So, you think primarily just the fact the big business came in and just modified the entire —

Petite Abruzzini: And, you know, like we used to have little like — well, Guigni’s is still existing.

George Vierra: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: You know, little stores like that. Keller’s is gone, of course. Buloti’s is gone.

George Vierra: Steves is still there.

Petite Abruzzini: Steves, yes, thank goodness.

George Vierra: And Menegon is still running that place.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, they do, yeah, right. 

Ernie Butala: Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you walked up and down Main Street?

Petite Abruzzini: I could not tell you, because I do not go down Main Street. I go to Vasconi’s and to Steves Hardware. I don’t even bother going down Main Street, because I know I can’t afford anything. 

Ernie Butala: I got Steves Hardware and Brown’s Auto Parts.

George Vierra: Well, you got to Model Bakery.

Petite Abruzzini: I go to Model Bakery once in a while and pick up something when the kids are coming, you know, things like that. And I go to Sunshine. I do some there.

George Vierra: You probably go to Anna’s Cantina to get a beer?

Petite Abruzzini: No. My father-in-law used to give me a bad time because if I drink wine, I have to have ice in it.

George Vierra: My wife drinks her wine with ice.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, in those days, I guess — that’s the only way I can drink wine.

George Vierra: What was the name of Anna’s Cantina a long time ago? It used to be a bar a long time ago.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, that’s Ghiringhelli. What was that called? Mike Ghiringhelli had it.

George Vierra: The Ghiringhelli who had the grocery store south of town?

Petite Abruzzini: No relation. What? 

Ernie Butala: It was Angelo’s originally.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. No. It was before that.

George Vierra: In the ‘70s. It was just a couple doors down from the St. Helena Hotel. I remember that was about the only —

Petite Abruzzini: It was right next to Buloti’s. 

Ernie Butala: Pastime.

George Vierra: No. Pastime was a little bit further north. Didn’t John Aquila own that? John –what was the mayor for a while?

Petite Abruzzini: Pastime? That’s Michael’s. Michael Micheli.

George Vierra: Micheli, okay.

Petite Abruzzini: Micheli and Oretta. 

Ernie Butala: Micheli and Henry.

George Vierra: Micheli owned Pastime?

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. But then — Ghiringhelli’s, what was the name of that bar? 

Ernie Butala: I’m terrible with names.

George Vierra: Now there used to be south of town the Tiger Meat Market, down there where —

Petite Abruzzini: Tripolis. 

Ernie Butala: Tripoli Market.

George Vierra: Tripoli Market. Wasn’t that the Ghiringhellis, the butchers? Who were the                    two butcher guys.

Petite Abruzzini: No. No. They were from Napa. 

Ernie Butala: That was —

George Vierra: They were wonderful guys.

Petite Abruzzini: Yes.

George Vierra: And the little mother. Used to give her a bad time.

Petite Abruzzini: Their meat was good.

George Vierra: They were really good butchers.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. It was nice. Tripoli Market.

George Vierra: It was a fun place.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, it was a good day. Those are good things.

George Vierra: They used to sell I think to every single Mexican camp in town in the valley. They always used to slice those steaks really thin.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, gosh. 

Ernie Butala: That was the last custom butcher we had in the valley I think.

George Vierra: Well, no Angelo Pardini [ph] where Foodland was after that and where Steves Hardware is now, Angelo was a great butcher too. He had a small shop across the street over near the barber on the other side of town for a while in the ‘70s. He was good, but those kind of butchers are hard to find. Cal Mart is still good in Calistoga, and Sunshine is doing a pretty good job. It’s different though. It’s changed. Okay. This is going to be hard, but give me an idea. How do you think the wines compare now with what they used to be like? Or do you have an opinion? Or do you think they’ve changed?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, that’s not a good question for me. I think they’re better myself. 

Ernie Butala: Well, the wines are definitely better, because for one, they have more body to it, because they let them hang a little longer.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And they definitely got more alcohol to it, but I don’t know. Back when you were picking grapes at 24, 25 sugar, you’d taste it. You got a better taste to it, better smell and better taste.

Petite Abruzzini: How do they taste it now? I mean, how do they check it now? 

Ernie Butala: Now it’s like mud. Real heavy and dark.

George Vierra: Let me remind you of something. Up until the ‘70s, in December before dormancy, almost all the vines in the valley were beautiful red or beautiful orange colored leaves.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay.

George Vierra: It was gorgeous. Well now there’s something called red leave virus, because of leaf roll.

Petite Abruzzini: Right. Yeah.

George Vierra: And because of that, we had trouble making sugars. We cut about three weeks off the growing season every single year. I remember every year we would pray we’d get the grapes in before the first rains would hit. We were having trouble making 21 sugar on Cabernets and Grenaches and Napa Gamays and Pinot Noirs even, because of the fact it was cooler, number one, but also we didn’t get the same amount of sun converting to photosynthesis because the leaves got red not green.

Petite Abruzzini: And was the planting different too?

George Vierra: No, the planting wasn’t different. What we did is we ended up cleaning up those vines by sending the University of California at Davis. They certified them, and they reintroduced those same varietal clones clean, nondiseased. So, they took care of the diseases, so red leaf virus never took place anymore. So, everybody struggled to make grape sugars in those days, and it was almost every year. ’74 was about the only year I can remember at Krug that we had enough sun. Other years we had — in ’72 we had 10 or 15 straight days of rain. We lost, I mean, over half the crop was destroyed because of the amount of rain we had in ’72, but most of it was a struggle to make 22, 23 sugar. We were elated to get that kind of sugar. Now you can get 26, 27 sugar and make 50% alcohol wines in a completely different style. So, we changed and altered completely what’s available to the winemaker and winemakers are now making those big style wines because most of the wineries like them, but my question is, when was the last time you sat down and tried to drink a bottle of 50% alcohol of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot or Pinot Noir? They are alcohol, no question, but the problem is that maybe they’re half alcohol. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Wow.

George Vierra: It has happened. It has happened for sure, and that’s part of maybe why the valley has changed.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, immensely.

George Vierra: Let’s talk about frosts. We talked about it before. Wasn’t there some years, I think ’68 — wasn’t there a really bad stretch in ’68 where umpteen number of days in a row and you had very little frost protection.

Petite Abruzzini: 29. Wasn’t it 29 days in a row that year? 

Ernie Butala: Yeah.

George Vierra: And it was basically smudge pots and a few wind machines.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, there was some water too, because I remember Nicholini, remember, his last day — it was his last day and he ran out of water and he got frosted.

George Vierra: Out towards Hennessey area?

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh. Yeah. 29 days he went, and the guy — I know Jack would help the guy hauling fuel to the vineyards, because all night long because that was still going and going and filling up with stuff. Oh my gosh. That was rough. 

Ernie Butala: Well, I always go back to I think it was ’68, ’69, in there when they had that real bad frost.

George Vierra: I heard it was ’68. 

Ernie Butala: It dropped down to something like 13 or 14.

Petite Abruzzini: I guess that was when Nicholini then. 

Ernie Butala: Then they had the — they turned around and had a fog in there and then the fog was freezing coming down, and that was the only thing that helped some of the grapes because it was freezing the fog, but after the frost was over you swore a fire went through the valley. There wasn’t one green leaf on any vine. Everything was black. The whole valley was black. Even higher on the hill, frost got so high on the hill it froze, which never froze on the hill. I think it was ’68.

George Vierra: So that must have destroyed a large portion of the crop. 

Ernie Butala: There was none.

George Vierra: None. 

Ernie Butala: None. You got a little second crop and that’s about it.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. It doesn’t come back.

George Vierra: So ’68 was a bad — the last you can remember. This is a hard one to answer, but when did you start getting a feeling that the Napa Valley became “the wine country”? Let me put it this way. I went to San Jose State through 1968. We used to occasionally come to the Napa Valley. We lived down in Santa Clara Valley, and as I said, there was maybe 10 wineries, tasting room was Beringer’s, Louis Martini basically put up against the wall. On weekends you’d walk through the cellar, and there’d be a little table at the other end with a light and a guy there pouring a glass of wine. That was a “tasting room”. Beringer’s had at least a Rhinehouse, so they were just starting in the ‘60s, and there was still wineries down in Santa Clara Valley. There was Almaden, there was Paul Masson, there was Mirassou. There was a few down there too, so there was wineries in our location too, but there was no such thing as the wine country that we now think about where people want to go. When do you get a feeling of when that kind of started up here? And we were the ultimate wine country. Napa Valley is the —

Petite Abruzzini: It is.

George Vierra: I mean, Sonoma is a pretty close second, but almost everybody comes here now.

Petite Abruzzini: I don’t know really.

George Vierra: It’s been creeping.

Petite Abruzzini: I just don’t know. 

Ernie Butala: Myself I’d say the biggest contributor which turned into Napa Valley premium wine country was the tasting over there in France where —

George Vierra: ’76 in Paris.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, Paris. 

Ernie Butala: Wine tasting, that made Napa Valley where everybody wanted to come and move to the valley and have a piece of the action, and before that, you had — well I’d say the Mondavi, Bob Mondavi..

Petite Abruzzini: When they split. 

Ernie Butala: And they split, and he started saying because before that you didn’t advertise. You made your wines, you did this. Bob was out for TV advertising, the whole nine yards. That’s when the Napa Valley really got to be known, because of his advertising Napa Valley, and that’s what brought the big business and everybody else into it, and, you know, they wanted a piece of the valley. After the wine tasting, everybody wanted a piece of the valley.

George Vierra: Well the tasting was very important. What really made it important was the tasting was put on by some French experts, and they’re the ones that made the decision. All of a sudden the French experts say the Napa Valley makes the best Chardonnay and Cabernet, and that’s obviously — Napa Valley could not have asked for a better piece of information.

Petite Abruzzini: Gosh, no. 

Ernie Butala: Especially when they wanted to beat the top, top wines in Europe.

George Vierra: Right. Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And they beat that.

George Vierra: Now, was it your uncle Abruzzini who started the tasting room?

Petite Abruzzini: My father-in-law.

George Vierra: Your father-in-law.

Petite Abruzzini: Uh-huh.

George Vierra: Do you remember how many — was it open seven days a week or five days a week or weekends or what?

Petite Abruzzini: No, it was not open on weekends.

George Vierra: Not open on weekends?

Petite Abruzzini: No.

George Vierra: So just weekdays?

Petite Abruzzini: Just weekdays, yeah. I don’t know when he started the weekends.

George Vierra: And how many people usually would come up in a day in the taste room? Any idea?

Petite Abruzzini: Well, you know, a lot of times on weekends it would be a private thing and they’d bring a bus from wherever they had the busses come from, but otherwise it was — I don’t know when he started full time. I don’t know.

George Vierra: Was that in the ‘50s the first one that he did?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, no. It was earlier than that.

George Vierra: Was Myron Nightingale  the winemaker at Beringer’s then?

Petite Abruzzini: Yes, yeah.

George Vierra: Okay. So, Myron was there making his Sauvignon and other wines.

Petite Abruzzini: Right, right. Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: Didn’t they lease out the picnic area for big barbeques and big groups and all that?

Petite Abruzzini: Right. They did that. 

Ernie Butala: I remember that used to be —

Petite Abruzzini: You mean for other people? 
Ernie Butala: Yeah.

Petite Abruzzini: No, it would be like Fred. He would do the barbeque and invite all these people. He always had a huge —

Ernie Butala: Yeah, because I remember going up to the barbeques.

Petite Abruzzini: It’s all, you know, marketing is what it is, you know.

George Vierra: Well let me put this in perspective. We’ve got about maybe 7500 wineries in the United States now. In Europe including eastern Europe there’s a million wineries.

Petite Abruzzini: A million. Oh, my gosh.

George Vierra: So, we don’t have the competition they are facing. Of course, they have a lot longer history at it than we do. People have been drinking wine as part of their meals and part of their life for so long and it goes on, but it really does take —

Petite Abruzzini: Now they have them all over the place.

George Vierra: Okay. This is the last question. What is your most memorable event in your life? The most memorable event in your life?

Petite Abruzzini: Can you have more than one?

George Vierra: Of course. You can have 10 memorable events.

Petite Abruzzini: When I got married and when my children were born.

George Vierra: So purely in the house, in the family.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, in the family. Family is very important to me.

George Vierra: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: This sounds silly. My most memorable event in my life, the day I got my draft notice.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. Right. 

Ernie Butala: Because I got my draft notice, and I said, “Thank God I’m getting the hell out of here.” Because my brother was overseas. We had no money. Remember in ’47 everybody went bankrupt.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: The price of grapes, and I had to do all the ranch work.

George Vierra: Why is it in ’47 that the industry went bankrupt? What was the cause of ’47? 

Ernie Butala: ’47, all the way up through ’46 all the grapes in the valley got big prices, high prices. The European —

George Vierra: When you say high prices, what kind of numbers are you talking about? 

Ernie Butala: Well, like my dad had the winery there, and we were getting wholesale wine $1.30 a gallon, $1.25 to $1.30 was top dollar for wholesale wine, and they were taking all the wine from the valley here and shipping it to New York, because New York could not get any wine, because the European markets were frozen because of the war.

George Vierra: Right. 

Ernie Butala: In ’47, the wine buyer came out to California and was starting to buy wine. My dad had 85,000 gallons of wine in the winery. The buyer came over and offered him a contract. They talked about it, and he says, “All right. We’ll go to the notary public and sign the contract.” In the meantime, the buyer got a notice saying we just opened up the European market. We signed some contracts buying the European wines into New York. Remember they used to take all the wines down here to the railroad and put them in tank cars and ship it all to New York?

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: So, anyway, in ’47 the price went from $1.30 a gallon, which is what they offered my dad for that wine, for the whole thing, every drop of wine. We finally sold it three months later to the Beringer works up here for 24 cents a gallon, because there was no market — all the grape price went from 130 a ton to 140 a ton to $30.00 a ton for grapes.

Petite Abruzzini: This was in ’46 and ’47? 

Ernie Butala: ’47.

George Vierra: Why was that? 

Ernie Butala: Because nobody was buying the wine and so they couldn’t buy the grapes.

George Vierra: So, the shipments to New York were not paying off? They were not moving enough inventory? 

Ernie Butala: No. The shipments to New York was all coming from Europe, not from California.

George Vierra: But you said they couldn’t get the wines out of Europe. 

Ernie Butala: I said they opened up the market for Europe.

George Vierra: Okay. I see. 

Ernie Butala: In ’47.

George Vierra: And then all of a sudden the Europeans are shipping wine and that basically stopped the flow. 

Ernie Butala: So, they now signed all the contracts from European wine that these guys had been sitting there for umpteen years because of the war.

George Vierra: Yeah. I understand. 

Ernie Butala: So now they were buying that and sending it across the ocean in tankers to New York, and they were buying it cheaper than they could buy California wine.

George Vierra: And there’s no distribution network for California wines yet or know whether an interest in buying California wines yet. We were not a wine country yet for sure. 

Ernie Butala: No. And that’s why the grapes and prunes were still prominently the main thing in the valley, and so anyway like I said, in ’52 when I went in the Army I had to do all the work, everything doing, everybody went bankrupt, so we went from how many wineries, you know, I can name all them guys down there, dozens of little wineries. Everybody folded their doors.

George Vierra: You had a barn and you had a winery. 

Ernie Butala: My dad sold his in ’47, and it turned out to be — the only ones left was called the big seven with Beringer’s, Christian Brothers, Krug, Inglenook, BV. They were the only ones left in the valley, and they set the price, and that’s where the price went, and it wasn’t until probably ’50 when the grapes went up to about $60.00 a ton when you were able to sell them.

Petite Abruzzini: Just think what they are now. 

Ernie Butala: Now they’re what, $4,000.00 or $5,000.00 a ton?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, more than that. They’re $40,000.00 a ton over off of Pritchard Hill.

George Vierra: More than that. There are some that are —

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. It’s unreal. When I saw that —

George Vierra: It don’t make sense.

Petite Abruzzini: No, it doesn’t. I couldn’t believe when I saw that. 

Ernie Butala: And I hear that, and here I’m saying my grandmother owned 160 acres on Pritchard Hill.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Pritchard Hill. 

Ernie Butala: You know where the Chappellet Winery is?

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, sure. 

Ernie Butala: The old Bergendorf  ranch was there. My grandmother’s was right next to it, and they built the winery just not more than 100 yards from the property line.

Petite Abruzzini: I think Tim Augavy has a winery up there now. 

Ernie Butala: I don’t know.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, he does. I can’t think of the name of it right now.

George Vierra: Okay. What’s your last statement you’d like to make about your life in the Napa Valley, in St. Helena?

Petite Abruzzini: My life? Oh, I have no complaints really. I mean, I see changes, and I just hope they’re all for the good, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I don’t even know where would I want to live, so I don’t know. I’m happy here. There’s things that bother me, but I’m not going to dwell on it, because it’s not going to do any good.

George Vierra: Yeah. Ernie? 

Ernie Butala: The only thing that bothers me is the traffic.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, you know what on the traffic? I learned it’s going to take you 10 minutes longer to get to [indiscernible], that’s all, and you just go along with it. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, go with the flow.

Petite Abruzzini: People pass me, and there will be a car that’s passed me by Mondavi’s, and they will be two cars ahead of me or one car, and you know, they pass where they’re not supposed to pass and they could cause an accident, but you just have to take your time. Leave a little bit earlier and just go with the flow. 

Ernie Butala: Yeah, like in ’70 when big business moved in mainly because they start planting grapes on the valley floor, prunes and walnuts left. Big business moved in. The whole valley completely did a flop over. We went from a friendly town; you knew everybody to not knowing. It was very business-oriented valley after that, and you’d go uptown and you didn’t’ know anybody anymore. I don’t know anybody.

Petite Abruzzini: And they’re not as friendly now either. I walk in the morning. I go really early and pass new people I know, because they don’t say hi or anything. I don’t want to stop for a conversation, but just say, “Hi. Good morning.” “Good morning,” you know, and that’s changed. Oh, well. Like I say, can’t do anything about it.

George Vierra: It is an incredibly beautiful place, no question about it, and you both obviously were here for a huge change, probably as much change as ever happened in this valley during your lifetime. I don’t know how in the devil it’s going to go from here personally. 

Ernie Butala: Well, to tell you the truth is with us now growing up, we had a future in the valley.

Petite Abruzzini: And we have good memories. 

Ernie Butala: Our kids don’t have a future, because they can’t afford it.

Petite Abruzzini: If they leave they can’t come back. 

Ernie Butala: They can’t come back. My son is trying to look into buying a partnership in a winery, and he says it’s out of sight, and he says whatever’s happening. It’s sad, because even to build a house in St. Helena or up the valley, in fact, like I said, I got another notice in the mail today. Some realtor wants to buy the vineyard over there. Got a buyer for you, top dollar and all that, and he said $900,000.00 an acre for the vineyard, and he said, “That’s cheap.” And the guy said, “Hell, I can get you more than that.”

Petite Abruzzini: Because of the government anyway. 

Ernie Butala: Why do I want to sell it and do something. Then you gotta, like you say, give it to the government. There’s no future, like I want to try to leave something for the kids, and the best thing to do is get the three of them together and say, “Make up your mind. Here it is. It’s all yours.” But my hard part now is with my brother, Bert.

Petite Abruzzini: Okay. 

Ernie Butala: He wants to hang onto it and rule everything from the grave, and I said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “You have to give it to your kids or do something,” and the kids today, and I told my brother and it pisses him off something terrible, I told my brother, I said, “I bet you you’re not going you be six months in the grave and they’re going to be looking for a buyer to sell that place, sell that vineyard.”

George Vierra: Well, they’re not in the business. They’re not in the industry. 

Ernie Butala: They’re not interested in the rent. They’re after the dollars.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, yeah. That’s true. That’s true. 

Ernie Butala: Like my sister Marge down there, she’s trying to do something to hold onto it, because it’s giving them an income and all that, but they’re not interested in a yearly income. They’re after big bucks where I can go out and buy something and spend it all and whatever. They’re after the big bucks.

Petite Abruzzini: I have a lot next to me that’s been there — well, we’ve been there 63 years, and it was forever before. It’s very narrow and long and it was just sold for $850,000.00, and now is a too huge house going up. I keep looking out the window and say, “Oh, my gosh.” Two story, you know, and it just — yeah. I don’t know what the house is going to cost.

George Vierra: It’s people who don’t care.

Petite Abruzzini: No, they don’t.

George Vierra: It’s going to be their second home probably or third home.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, it will be. I can remember back when we got our place and then if we have a good crop, then we can do something else or, you know, always had to wait for a good crop to do something or if the tractor needed work or something at the warehouse or something like that, but these come in and everything’s done for them. They don’t buy little trees; they buy huge trees.

George Vierra: But the gal who runs the Cameo about a month ago made an announcement that she’s going to be getting some special films from Disney, because the donor of Disney is building a house in St. Helena right now.

Petite Abruzzini: Now?

George Vierra: Now. So, one of those houses could be part of the Disney family that’s going in.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, wow.

George Vierra: They’ll be there a couple months a year probably.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah, I should worry then about next door. Oh, well. 

Ernie Butala: That is sad, because they’re buying up the property where somebody else could live in it just to say, “I’ve got a piece of the valley.”

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. 

Ernie Butala: And then they’re putting these big mansions on there for weekend homes.

Petite Abruzzini: Well, they want to live like on Scott Street. All the houses on the other side, the west side, is all vineyard houses and vineyard, and a lot of construction there, really a lot of construction, and finally it’s all done, and they said there’s six houses on two blocks that are permanent people. The rest are weekenders or summer.

George Vierra: Well, you lived through a time when it’s changed so much, not just the different types of people who are here who are running the business, but I think there’s a general feeling you have of how the philosophy, the spirit of the valley has changed.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, definitely.

George Vierra: Because a lot of it has to do with the fact that — and I’ve only been here since ’71, but everybody who ran a business owned a business, and everybody worked. Nobody came on weekends to run their business or came once every two months to run their business. This was a true farming community, and everybody worked hard, and everybody knew everybody and that’s gone now completely, and that’s never going to come back again.

Petite Abruzzini: No, it will never come back again.

George Vierra: So, you were the last generation who actually got to experience fully, not fully, because the last 20 or 30 years of your life, no, but before then. 

Ernie Butala: Well, the way I look at it, if you’re not a winery owner, you’re not part of the clique, and you just don’t know anybody. They got their own entertainment by invitation only at the winery here or this and that, and the local town people aren’t invited.

George Vierra: There’s a guy down in Napa who wants to put a helipad to bring the helicopter in.

Petite Abruzzini: Oh, I know. I hope that doesn’t go through, because that will be one more and then one more and then one more and one more.

George Vierra: And there will be helicopters all over the place then.

Petite Abruzzini: Yeah. Yeah. Can you believe that? I read that and I said, “Oh, my gosh.”

George Vierra: Okay. Great job unless you guys have other things to say.

Petite Abruzzini: No, I’m fine.

George Vierra: You’re going to take it home as a gift. Do you like port?

Petite Abruzzini: No, no, no, no. I’ll let you keep this. Is that port? Was that what it was? 

Ernie Butala: That’s terrible, George.

George Vierra: Okay. Yeah. You have to force it down. 

Ernie Butala: I have to force it down.

Petite Abruzzini: It’s not terrible port, but I’m not a good drinker. I’m sorry. I’ll taste a little bit more.

George Vierra: Growing the grapes are the hard part. He’s the one that does that.

Petite Abruzzini: That’s good. My father-in-law made good port too.