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Fall/Winter 2010

Uptown Rises

Napa’s art deco theater reopens as Wine Country’s coolest music venue.

by Peter Crooks

Longtime Napa residents remember Napa’s Uptown Theatre as a neighborhood cinema that screened everything from Casablanca to Ben-Hur to Sling Blade. Hollywood legends Clark Gable and Carole Lombard even visited this art deco jewel while passing through Northern California. Alas, by the 1990s, the theater had been split into four tiny screening rooms and slid into disrepair. It went dark in 1999.

But like a feel-good Hollywood tale, this story has a hero. Napa businessman George Altamura purchased the building and spent five years restoring it to its original glory. Early in the process, construction workers peeled back paint and were astonished to find original art deco murals—still in very good shape—on the ceiling and walls.

“We were just going to paint the ceiling gold, but we saw that beautiful hand-painted mural and were stunned,” says Altamura. “Once we started to restore the theater, we couldn’t stop. Napa has been so good to me; I’m thrilled to do this for this town. The theater is a masterpiece.”

When the Uptown reopened as a concert hall in May, the vintage venue was the toast of the town: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy kicked things off at the sold-out grand opening. Music legends Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, and Lyle Lovett soon packed the 860-seat house, night after night. Blues luminary B.B. King will play a Halloween bash, and country crooners Randy Travis, Rosanne Cash, and Clint Black are scheduled to headline shows in October, November, and December, respectively.

“We’ve been getting a great reception from the artists,” says Mindi Levine, marketing director for the Uptown. “Ani DiFranco came in and played a fantastic show—and told us it is one of her favorite venues anywhere. It’s a pleasure to have a theater that the artists love to play in and music fans can enjoy again and again.”

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a happier ending.

Uptown Theatre, 1350 Third St., Napa, (707) 259-0123, uptowntheatrenapa.com.

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