George Altamura has sold Napa’s historic Uptown Theatre to John Truchard, the music-loving vintner who also owns the Napa Valley Opera House and is a major sponsor of BottleRock.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Altamura, 90. “He is a great guy. He loves music and he loves Napa as much as I do. He will do a great job.”
“Other people were interested but they weren’t from Napa,” Altamura added. “This guy’s heart is in Napa.”
The new official owner is Truchard’s JaM Cellars Investments LLC, which is wholly owned by John and Michele Truchard.
Altamura said he had promised not to reveal the sale price.
He had bought and restored the Uptown as his gift to Napa. “This town has been good to me, and the people have been good to me.”
Altamura, who hitchhiked to Napa from Buffalo, New York when he was 17 and arrived with $9 in his pocket, said he remembered sitting in one particular seat in the Uptown, which opened in Napa in 1937 with a screening of “Ever Since Eve.”
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In the ensuing years, as he became a successful businessman in town, the Uptown became progressively shabbier, as it was divided into two and then four separate spaces.
“It was a mess,” said Altamura, who bought the theater in 2000. “There were rats and it was just so rundown.”
Staffing the merchandise window at the packed Uptown Theatre’s grand reopening Friday night, Cynthia Langlois-Yallop summed up the sentiment o…
As he set about restoring it to its Art Deco glory, he said he got help and support from other locals.
“Francis Coppola, he told me, ‘Now don’t be a cheapskate, George. Put in a good sound system.’ I’m glad I listened to him. Boz Scaggs told me it’s the best sound system in the west.”
Altamura is especially proud of restoring the paintings that had been on the ceiling of the original theater. When it reopened in 2010 as an 863-seat live entertainment venue, he said he liked to sit in the same seat in the loges where he had sat as a teenager “and look at the ceiling.”
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performed the first concert at the Uptown, followed by performers that included Willie Nelson, Boz Scaggs, Leon Russell, Rosanne Cash, George Thorogood, Merle Haggard, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker, Lily Tomlin, B.B. King, John Hiatt, Los Lonely Boys, Cyndi Lauper, Lyle Lovett and Robert Cray. The late Glen Campbell gave his last live concert at the Uptown in 2012.
“I’ve loved it,” said Altamura. “I’m proud of the reputation that the Uptown has earned and the entertainment it has brought the residents and visitors to Napa over the years.
“People would come up to me when I was in my seat and shake my hand and thank me. They came from out of town, too, just for the shows.”
Altamura restored the theater again after the August 2014 earthquake did extensive damage, and he later weathered the COVID-19 shutdown. But as his 90th birthday approached in November 2021, he decided it was time to find a new owner for the Uptown. He wanted to pass the Uptown on “to someone who would continue the vision to make Napa a destination for world-class entertainment alongside our world-class wines.”
In 2021, John and Michele purchased the Napa Valley Opera House, another restoration project in need of stewardship. The 1880 Opera House had been saved from the wrecking ball by a group of citizens and restored as a entertainment venue but had struggled financially since its 2003 reopening. It’s now home to the Blue Note Napa Jazz Club and the JaM Cellars Ballroom, and Truchard is in the process of taking care of much-needed and delayed maintenance.
“I’ve seen his commitment to Napa and live entertainment,” Altamura said. “He was the best choice for taking over stewardship of the Uptown.”
Truchard said when Altamura approached him about buying the Uptown, his answer was “an immediate yes.”
“I was honored when George approached me about acquiring the Uptown Theatre,” Truchard said. “I went to a Foreigner concert there in the summer of 2010 and remember thinking to myself what a cool venue it was, and that my future might one day be intertwined with the Uptown.
“Over the last six months I’ve gotten to know George a little and have gained tremendous respect for what he has accomplished with the Uptown and his other interests in the Napa Valley,” Truchard said. “He has been very generous with his time and is looking forward to passing the baton and being able to attend shows as a concertgoer with a glass of wine in his hand.”
Truchard said he plans to continue Altamura’s music and entertainment programming, bringing both rising stars and fan favorites to play in Napa.
“We want to continue the good work that George started,” Truchard said. “Right now he is booking about 50 shows a year. We hope to be able to increase that to 100.”
Truchard said he is excited about the potential synergy between the Opera House and the Uptown.
“The Opera House is leased to Ken Tesler, and he does the booking there. But George has been booking the Uptown and we plan to continue this, which will put us in the flow of booking.”
The “sweet spot” for capacity at the Uptown is 350-800, Truchard said; but the JaM Cellars Ballroom at the Opera House has the capacity for a larger audience and it may make sense to present that performance there and “help activate the ballroom.”
“Hospitality is at the core of our businesses and with the success of JaM Cellars, live music has become an important part of the mix,” said Truchard, whose parents founded Truchard Vineyards in 1974.
“Napa has become such a cool place,” said Truchard. “Michele is fourth-generation Napan, we live just down the road in Browns Valley, and we plan to live here all our lives. I look at what is happening in Napa — the restaurants, the chefs, the hotels — and think, ‘This is so awesome.’ If there is anything we can do to help, we are happy to do it.”