(Excerpts from the book "Then and Now: An Anderson Valley Journey" by Wes Smoot & Steve Sparks. Available at local stores. All proceeds go to the AV Museum and Historical Society.)
The photo below, taken in 1906, shows the main downtown Navarro business area, or Wendling as it was called at the time. This, and the mill town nearby, is where the majority of the people lived during the early boom days of the sawmills and logging industry. These buildings were built around the early 1900s or so. It was the Valley’s main town, connected to the ocean by the railway to Albion, providing everything from lodging (four hotels), restaurants, bars, and perhaps inevitably, a brothel and a jail.
To the extreme far left in the old photo is the corner of the Twin Hotels. Next, to the right, is the ‘Toscano Hotel and Saloon,’ owned and operated by the Pasero Family.
In the center of the photo is the third hotel called “The Hotel D’Italia.” The Stearns Lumber Company constructed this building intending to use it as a hospital for their workers, however it never was used for this purpose. Soon afterwards, Mr. Alciede Bacci, of Vinegar Hill, remodeled and converted it to a restaurant, bar and hotel. In 1907, Joe and Sabatina (Mama) Pardini purchased it and it became known as “The Pardini Hotel.” For the next 50 years, Mama, the paternal grandmother of current Valley Pardini residents — Donald, Eva (Holcomb), and Robert, and great-grandmother to their offspring etc — and her sister Beppa served the finest Italian food that could be found in this part of the state. Later on, around 1962, there was some major remodeling done to the building and it became the Navarro Inn. Then, in 1974, it burned to the ground. To the far right of the photo is the fourth hotel, the Ainslie Hotel, owned by Joe Ainslie. There is not much that could be discovered about this building’s history.
There has been much talk over the years of there being five hotels in the heart of Wendling/Navarro. Our research has found this to be unreliable information and it appears that there were just four. The fifth hotel was thought to be called the Navarro Hotel, located at a building a little to the south, but this turned out to be the Pasero family home and was never a hotel. Perhaps the confusion came from the fact that the Pasero family owned the Toscano Hotel. Or perhaps it was because in later years, as mentioned above, there was the Navarro Inn (not Navarro Hotel), but this was not a fifth hotel, it was one of the original four, formerly the Pardini Hotel.
The little town of Wendling had its name changed to Navarro during the year 1913. The town originally took the name of a gentleman by the name of George X. Wendling. Mr. Wendling started up a shingle mill here on the banks of Soda Creek sometime around 1903. About 1906, or shortly thereafter, the Wendling shingle mill was purchased by a Mr. A.G. Stearns and the mill became known as Stearns’ shingle mill. Stearns was a good businessman and expanded the shipping of shingles all over the country. Once a firm in San Francisco sent a very large order for shingles to Stearns in Wendling but the order was mistakenly sent to Wendling, Oregon, located about 50 miles northeast of Springfield, Oregon. This meant that Stearns missed out on a very large order that amounted to a lot of money lost. When he found out about the error he was heard to say, “We must change the name of Wendling.” He contacted the United States Postmaster General in Washington DC and requested permission to use the postal stamp from Navarro-by-the-Sea, which was located at the mouth of the Navarro River and was by now an abandoned ghost town with its postal stamp no longer in use. As a result, in 1913, thanks to A.G. Stearns, the town of Wendling was officially renamed Navarro and remains as such today.
By the late 1930s, the demand for lumber slowed significantly and the Wendling/Navarro boom came to an end. All of those big old buildings have either burned down or have been torn down over time. Clearly today Navarro is a very different place to what it once was.
Hwy 128: 14.20 mile marker
In the early years of Wendling, there was a company store run by the mill that served all of Wendling with food and supplies. During that time, a little to the south of the mill town, there was a brickhouse manufacturing the bricks needed for the mill’s furnace—as shown in the photograph below.
At this location, in 1908, a second store was built that was owned and operated by Jumbo and Betty Zannoni. Many years later it also housed the Navarro Post Office after the closure of the mill. The Zannoni’s home can be seen on the rise in the background of the first photograph (this is the Navarro Mill guest house today), and the store was operated by the family for many, many years. It then stood empty for several years until it was sold to Mr. Dave Evans in the early 2000s and he continues to run a remodeled version to this day.
This store is located where it has always been, on the bank of Soda Creek just at the north entrance of Wendling Street, next to a beautiful grove of redwood trees, and it remains a gathering spot and the hub of activity in the “Deep End.”
Hwy 128: 13.88 mile marker
The photograph above, taken in 1915, shows an overlook of the mill town of Navarro. The superintendent at the mill was James Reilly — original owner of the majestic red house on Hwy 128 between Navarro and Philo: Reilly Heights. The mill finally closed in 1929 and, apart from the residence that was the former Laurel schoolhouse and the Navarro Mill guesthouse mentioned above, all of these buildings are gone. In fact, many of the shacks were moved to Caspar on the coast. In a remarkable transformation, the vegetation has grown back completely—as seen below — that shows the area on the east side of Highway 128 just northwest of ‘central’ Navarro as it is today.