The following four greater Bay Area B&B inns are a cut above the rest. All are in spectacular locations. All are operated by folks who not only oversee many weddings and receptions, but provide as much help planning and coordinating them as you wish. And all are historic landmarks built more than a century ago — before 1906. So even if there’s another Big One, you won’t have to worry about the inn falling down on your guests. A remote possibility, sure, but it’s one more thing you can cross off your list of wedding worries.
Churchill Manor, Napa
Napa banker and vineyard owner Edward Churchill parlayed his wealth and an appreciation for fine architecture into building his Napoleonic Second Empire manor house in 1889. Embellished by massive Ionic columns and a three-sided veranda, the 11,300-square-foot colossus reminds some of a Southern mansion — the influence of Churchill’s Nashville bride — and others of a wedding cake. But its full glory is revealed in its interior woodwork: ribbon-grained redwood columns, burled-redwood sliding pocket doors, and hand-carved mantels and ceiling moldings.
Nearly a century after it was built, Brian Jensen was scouting the Bay Area for a fixer-upper. When the construction engineer with a love for carpentry saw Churchill Manor, he fell hard. So did his wife, Joanna, a tax attorney and investment banker. Nineteen years, 1,000 weddings, 75,000 wedding guests and $2 million in renovations and antiques later, they’re still in love — with the building, each other and their role as wedding hosts.
“I have the wedding-day timeline down,” says Joanna. Brian and an assistant prepare gourmet food for as many as 150 in the basement kitchen — his signature dish is flambeed amaretto shrimp — and Joanna handles almost everything else. “I’ve coordinated Jewish, Indian, Japanese, Filipino and Hawaiian weddings,” she says. “Then there was the one when the bride carried her dachshund down the aisle to the song, ‘I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener.’ I love bringing people together. I still cry at some of our weddings.”
Guests typically arrive on Friday afternoon for the inn’s wine and cheese reception, followed by a rehearsal dinner at a Napa winery like Artesa or Andretti. After spending the night, they awaken to a full breakfast in the sunroom, then socialize in the parlors, visit wineries or pedal one of the inn’s tandem bikes along the Napa River. At 3 p.m. the ceremony commences, using the covered veranda and large lawn, which is framed by a tall hedge and 300 tree roses and Meidiland rosebushes. Next are the reception, buffet dinner, dancing, wine tasting and toasts. The couple finally exits through cafe doors carved into the hedge — or they spend the night, usually in the Stags Leap Room with its French bedroom set, wedding-gown closet, triple-mirrored French armoire, two chandeliers and gold-leaf-tiled, two-person pedestal tub.
Former San Franciscans Anne and Alan Carey flew in from Manhattan to wed at Churchill in October. “Many of our guests had never stayed in a place with museum-quality antiques,” says Anne. Michael Pieri, who also wedded there last year, likewise praised the inn’s uniqueness — and affordability. “To take over such a classy place for two days was amazing,” he says, “and it costs so much less than a big wedding that ends after a few hours.”
Location: Napa’s Abajo Historic District: 485 Brown St.
Reception capacity: 150 (outdoors), 60 (indoors/winter), 30 (elopements).
Cost: Weddings of 30-plus people: $4,250 site fee; $40/guest for food; $2,000-$6,000/all rooms for one to two nights. Midday elopement for as many as 30 people: $800-$1,900 for champagne reception, exclusive use of parlors and grounds, and one room rental.
Rooms: 10 rooms (all with private bathroom and fireplace, eight with antique tub, five with two-person shower).
Contact: (800) 799-7733, churchillmanor.com.
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Bob Cooper’s last piece for the Magazine, on Bay Area parkland wedding venues, was published in June 2005.