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Pope Valley treasures headed for auction block


It’s been more than 40 years since Brad Kirkpatrick closed the doors on the old Pope Valley store, saloon and gas stop.

He had run the ancient, all-purpose establishment on a little traveled back road between Lake Berryessa and Lake County in partnership with his father-in-law, Tom Neil, whose family bought the former stage coach stop in 1911. But when the elder man died in a car crash on nearby Howell Mountain Road in 1971, Kirkpatrick, who also had an auto repair shop nearby, walked away without removing anything. He has rarely ever gone back inside.

For 43 years, the weathered and sagging piece of Napa County history, built in 1875, has sat untouched, frozen in time. Kirkpatrick left everything pretty much as it was the day his father-in-law died, from the turn-of-the-last century furnishings and animal head trophies on the walls right down to the antique cash register and canned goods on the shelves. There’s even a working Model T Ford in the barn. Tin advertising signs, metal milk jugs, shotguns, new and old stock auto parts. The hotel upstairs still has the original furnishings, from iron beds to an oak potty chair with a chamber pot. It seems that once something was brought inside it never went out. Bakelite wall phones, an Art Deco jukebox that has sat in the “card room” since the 1950s, old post office boxes, even a vintage switchboard from the days when the local operator worked out of the Pope Valley store.

It is a picker’s dream and Kirkpatrick is ready to sell.

The whole 12-acre parcel, in a far corner of Napa County, is listed for $1.98 million. But the contents of the stage stop, which includes the remnants of a general store, gas station, saloon, post office, brewery, hardware store, card room and hotel — a whole downtown compressed under one roof — will be auctioned off on Sept. 6. Viewing is at 8 a.m. with the auction starting at 10:30 a.m. at 5875 Pope Valley Road. (For details, visit witherells.com.)

If you’re a collector, looking for bargain antiques that may need TLC, like to decorate your home or garden with old-timey objects of yore or thrill to repurposing things that outlived their original use, it might be worth the drive to this turn in the road a few miles beyond Angwin.

To comb through the chaotic jumble of disparate stuff and ready it for the gavel, Kirkpatrick’s real estate agent suggested Brian Witherell, whose Sacramento-based Witherell’s Antiques and Fine Arts specializes in the Old West.

“It’s an undisturbed archive. This is a hard thing to find anywhere, particularly in California,” Witherell marveled n a recent walk through the roadhouse that once offered rest and provisions to travelers and livestock on their way to the mines of Lake County. “I’ve never run across anything like this. They make TV shows about this.”

Witherell knows a little something about TV treasure hunts like “Storage Wars and “American Pickers.” For 17 years, he has been a regular appraiser on PBS’s popular “Antiques Roadshow.” A second-generation antique dealer and auctioneer, he grew up in Healdsburg and learned the business from his father, Brad. The family ran big auctions in the Bay Area, including many at the old Los Robles Lodge in Santa Rosa, before moving shop to Sacramento.

Witherell got a degree in criminal justice from Sonoma State University.

“This is detective work. That is what I do now. I just don’t have to deal with the riff-raff,” he said with a chuckle.

When he was called about the Pope Valley Store, he was overwhelmed by the volume, variety and randomness, like the Art Deco-era airplane seat sitting in a hotel room. There would have to be a few valuables to justify the time to sort it out. But once he spotted an extremely rare slot machine with Indian-head pennies still inside — one of only five known to exist — sitting under the saloon counter, he was in.

“It probably doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint, but it was too much of a fun project not to do,” he said with a grin. Witherell pulled the machine, which he estimated is worth at least $15,000, for a national auction targeting high-rolling collectors.

But the rest of the Pope Valley time capsule will go to the highest bidders in a live auction. Nothing will be featured online. There is simply too much to parse out and ship.

“The first time I walked in here it was crazy. It’s been like chipping away at a mountain,” said Conor McGowan, an auctioneer working with Witherell. He has spent two days a week for more than a month sifting through everything in the dusty place, which appears to have never been remodeled. The walls and floor are still the old Douglas fir and redwood planks. The original counters, shelves, cases and dry-good bins are all intact in the store, as are the 1870s bar and the stand-up counter in the saloon.

Witherell walked over to a wall in the dark saloon and points to an old tin sign from the ABC Beer Co. featuring an unfortunate bulldog with a bullet hole through his forehead. He lifted the sign to show a corresponding bullet hole in the wall.

“There was a man who had a few drinks who said he bet he could shoot that dog between the eyes. So he pulled out his pistol and went ‘Boom!’ Luckily no one was standing on the porch,” said Kirkpatrick, a septuagenarian relating a tale before his time.

Bidders must sign a waiver to ender the rickety building, which smells of rat urine.

But for the determined, there may be some intriguing finds. Most everything will be sold in one of 300 large lots, like a whole shelf or a whole roomful of stuff.

“This spot in the road is not something you forget,” Witherell said. “It’s the story. It took 100 some odd years to amass this and once it’s broken up, you don’t put it back together. Or if you try, it just won’t look like this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.