Along Main Street: Our Iconic Streetlights
St. Helena’s iconic streetlights are known as electroliers. The 1913 St. Helena Chamber of Commerce Vintage Festival Committee met and decided to investigate the cost of installing street lighting from Sulphur Creek to York Creek along both sides of Main Street. The City Council agreed to the installation of 12 lights between Adams and Pine and reimbursed $400 of the total $1000 cost.
The electroliers were installed in time to light up the pavilion for the Vintage Festival on September 6, 1913. In 1914, Napa Valley Electric Company won the bid for the installation of 37 more electroliers for $3,108. The Vintage Festival Committee donated $1,600 toward the cost.
In 1959, PG&E made an unpopular proposal to remove the electroliers and replace them with 20,000-lumen lamps. The electroliers would be delivered to the salvage yard where people could purchase them.
Irate citizens vehemently opposed this plan and, when John Aquila became mayor in 1962, he led a campaign to save, restore and modernize the beloved streetlamps. The light posts were moved 24 inches farther away from the curb to keep vehicles from damaging them. New mercury vapor bulbs in the top lamp doubled their brightness. Glass globes were replaced with plastic. Aquila located a foundry and casts were made to manufacture spare electrolier parts. John Aquila was named Citizen of the Year in 1981, largely due to these efforts.
The lights now use compact fluorescent spiral lights, which are more energy efficient. The city corporation yard stores old and replacement electrolier parts in case the streetlights need repairing. Modernization was achieved without giving up the unique illumination these electroliers give to our streetscape.