Tom Butt
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  Looking for a Few Good Volunteers for the Winehaven Trust
November 10, 2022

Figure 1 - Winehaven at Point Molate is a historical treasure

Winehaven at Point Molate in Richmond is perhaps the most iconic remnant of the pre-prohibition California wine industry, and it is in danger of being lost forever. I am looking for individuals who will join me in forming the Winehaven Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating, educating and fundraising to save Winehaven for future generations. If you are interested, reply via email with your contact information.

Many people are familiar with the red brick “castle” at Point Molate, but surprisingly few know the role it played in the California history, especially the history of California wine.

The economic panic of 1893 created a glut of grapes, severely depressing the price of fruit and wine alike, and the timing was right for someone to dominate the market in order to stabilize it.

A group of wealthy bankers, led by Isaias Hellman (the great-grandfather of Warren Hellman of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fame), stepped in with a plan. Isais Hellman, a Jewish immigrant, arrived in California in 1859 with very little money in his pocket and his brother Herman by his side. By the time he died, he had effectively transformed Los Angeles into the modern metropolis we see today. His influence, however, was not limited to Los Angeles. He controlled the California wine industry for almost twenty years and, after San Francisco's devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, calmed the financial markets there in order to help that great city rise from the ashes. With all these accomplishments, Isaias Hellman almost single-handedly brought California into modernity.

Founded in San Francisco in 1894, the California Wine Association (C.W.A.) was owned by the biggest and most successful wine merchants in the city, who had their hands in everything from the ownership of vineyards across the state to wineries and distributorships.

Figure 2 - Isias Hellman

Figure 3 - 1902 map touts C.W.A awards and geographic reach

Figure 4 - C.W.A Wineries and Warehouses in 1900

In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake destroyed 25 of 28 San Francisco wine warehouses, including the five owned by C.W.A. Being smart bankers, Hellman and the C.W.A. owners were insured to the hilt and prepared for a quick recovery. They didn’t even miss a dividend to shareholders, although the C.W.A battled its insurance companies all the way to the Supreme Court, eventually prevailing in 1910.

Because of the inefficiency of working from scattered infrastructure, C.W.A had already been searching for a location to consolidate its operations. The earthquake damage accelerated that that search, and in 1906, the C.W.A bought what is now known as Point Molate and began to quickly rebuild. The site had rail and water access to both suppliers and world’s markets.

Soon, Winehaven had become the world’s largest winery. “Winehaven was the largest and most up to date winery plant in existence” (Ernest P. Peninou and Gail G. Unzelman, The California Wine Association and Its Member Wineries 1894-1920 (Santa Rosa: Nomis Press, 2000) )

Figure 5 - Destruction of wine warehouses in the 1906 earthquake

Figure 6 - Buildings 1 and 6 at Winehaven

Figure 7 - Building 6 in foreground was the first constructed. Building 1 in the background is at the steel framing stage.

Figure 8 - Buildings 1 and 6 completed with wharf and hotel barge in foreground.

Figure 9 - Building 1 in all its glory

Figure 10 - The hotel on the hill burned in the 1960s

Figure 11 - Building 1 loading dock set up for a banquet that could probably seat 100

Figure 12 –“California Wine Association's Mammoth Establishment"

At its peak, Winehaven had a 10-million-gallon capacity, employed 400 workers, shipped 500,000 gallons of wine a month, including sending 40 ships annually to New York alone, and crushed 25,000 tons of grapes. It was a self-contained company town, with homes, a hotel, a school and a power plant.

In addition to producing wine, Winehaven became an excursion destination for the Bay Area, where people traveled for picnics, tours and recreation.

Figure 13 - "CALWA" advertisement

Figure 14 - Crushing equipment

Figure 15 - Excursion visitors

Figure 16 - Winehaven had its own baseball team

Figure 17 - American poet and frontiersman, Joaquin Miller, visited Winehaven in 1912.  Known as the "Poet of the Sierras" after the Sierra Nevada, Joaquin Miller wrote his Songs of the Sierras (1871).

Figure 18 - The "Winemaster's House" is the largest and best located residence.

Figure 19 - Interior of the "Winemaster's House."

The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on January 16, 1919, and spelled the end of the glory that was Winehaven. “Prohibition agents forced the winemakers, who were finding ingenious ways to skirt the law, to knock the stoppers off their barrels. More than 240,000 gallons of perfectly good wine flowed into the Bay ‘on that black day’ according to historical reports.” Shut down by Prohibition in 1919, C.W.A sold off its assets to avoid bankruptcy.

Winehaven went mostly unused from about 1920 until 1941, when the Navy bought the site and converted it into a Naval Fuel Depot. Thousands of drums of fuel were stored in huge buildings. The old Winehaven Hotel was pressed into service as barracks and mess hall The workers' houses were renovated for the use of naval personnel. The Commanding Officer was assigned the largest house on the bluff overlooking the others, which previously had been the home of the winery superintendent.


Figure 20 - Busting up barrels of wine

Figure 21 - Winehaven for sale

In 1978, Lucretia Edwards successfully nominated Winehaven to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district that includes 35 buildings, constructed between 1907 and 1919 that contribute to the historic district. Among these are the Winehaven Building (Building 1) with crenellated parapet and corner turrets, the Winemaster's House (Building 60), which became the Commanding Officer's residence and a row of turn-of-the-century cottages used to house Winehaven and military families.

Figure 22 - Winehaven Historic District

Sadly, the City of Richmond neglected the priceless historic buildings of Winehaven for the last 25 years, and even though the land in the historic district sold in 2022 to Upstream and Guidiville for $400, the Settlement Agreement that still binds the City makes the City responsible for security and maintenance.

Regardless of who the owner is, The Richmond Municipal Code includes prohibition of Demolition by Neglect (15.04.303.140.E), and the lack of maintenance at Point Molate constitutes Demolition by Neglect.

Prevention of Demolition by Neglect. 1. General Obligation. The owner, lessees and any other person in actual charge or possession of an historical resource shall prevent demolition by neglect.

There are consequences (15.04.303.150):

  1. Any person who violates a requirement of this article or fails to obey an order or permit issued pursuant thereto shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
  1. Any person who constructs, alters, removes or demolishes a historic resource or Landmark in violation of this article shall be required to restore the building, object, site or structure to its appearance or setting prior to the violation to the extent such restoration is physically possible. Any action to enforce this provision may be brought by the City or any other interested party. This civil remedy shall be in addition to, and not in lieu of, any criminal prosecution and the penalty or other remedy provided by law.

There is also a requirement for the Zoning Administrator to take a proactive role (15.04.303.140.D):

  1. Notice to Comply. If the Zoning Administrator determines that a historic resource or any other property in an -H District or any designated Landmark is being neglected and subject to damage from weather or vandalism, the Zoning Administrator shall meet with the owner or other person having legal custody and control of the historic resource or Landmark to discuss with them ways to improve the condition of the property. If no attempt or insufficient effort is made to correct any noted conditions thereafter, the Zoning Administrator may issue a Notice to Comply requiring the owner or other person having legal custody and control of the historic resource or Landmark to take action to require corrections of defects in the subject property in order that such historic resource or Landmark may be preserved in accordance with this section, except if the property owner can present clear and convincing evidence to the Zoning Administrator that his/her ability to improve the condition of the property is constrained by limited financial resources of other immediate and substantial hardship. If a financial or other hardship is found to exist, the Zoning Administrator shall make a written finding to that effect which specifies the facts relied upon in making such a finding and withdraw the order to comply until such time that the work needed can be accomplished.

At this time, no one is maintaining the buildings in the Winehaven Historic District, and they are in danger of destruction. There is no effective 24/7 security at Point Molate, and vandals and thieves roam at will. Roofs are leaking and falling. Vandalism is rampant as thieves seek to extract the last piece of copper from wires and plumbing. Wood siding is falling off and suffering from decay.

Even in the apparently sturdy brick Winehaven Building 1, roofs are leaking, endangering the concrete structure through reinforcing corrosion and concrete spalling.

Figure 23 - The decades old roofs are failing and collapsing

Figure 24 - The once proud Winemaster's Cottage has been vandalized

Figure 25 The roof rake overhang has rotted and led to interior water damage

Figure 26 - This front porch entry is completely gone

Figure 27 - When this porch column collapses, the entire front of the house will go along with it

The mission of the Winehaven Trust will be to educate people about the amazing history of this place, advocate for its preservation and adaptive reuse and help raise funds to pay for it. Please consider becoming a part of that effort.