In present-day Napa, there are many local residents who have no historical understanding of “the Big Shutdown of 1977.”
In 1977, specific municipal codes were enacted that I viewed then and still do now as restrictive: Title Codes Section 8, Section 9 and redefinition of the commercial zoning codes. The battle started with a very successful restaurant, bar and nightclub, the Rainbow Bridge, which was located on Pueblo Avenue to the west side of Jefferson Street, on the south side of the block near the railroad tracks. It is now a Western wear store.
The battle began over excessive noise and the disturbance of two senior residents in the Rexford Mobile Home Park, which at that time was a senior park. There were continuing complaints of music and crowds in the parking lot. Under Title 9, the Napa Police Department would respond to the nonemergency complaint. The Bridge was found to be in violation of the Title 8 noise regulation. After a lengthy battle with city hall and the planning department, the owners were prohibited from hosting live entertainment. Patronage fell off, and eventually the Rainbow Bridge went out of business.
Other establishments would soon follow in the Bridge’s footsteps: Harry O’Shortals, Tom Foolery, Thumpers, Zapata’s, Alfriedo’s, Marlowe’s, the Palamino, Saketini’s, HAPS and others. I know most of the stories behind the closing of these establishments; each case is different but not unique. In the process of the Big Shutdown, what also disappeared were the record and CD stores—Eucalyptus Records, Rainbow Records, Insane Johns and Looney Tunes; again, each case is different but not unique. The common denominator was music. Each supported the music industry. With the continued enforcement of municipal codes, the local industry diminished, forcing supportive music stores to close, including the longtime Napa Music and Blumer Bros. Music.
What has and is occurring with our music industry and the businesses that support it is becoming historically the Eighth Wonder of the World. What happened with Michael and Jackie Mendez of Napa’s recently closed Cafe Revolution (previously known as the Smoking Cat) was devastating. It clearly sends the wrong message to the music supporters in our community. Michael and Jackie, while being rookie business owners, saw a opportunity, took the risk and were successful. And when challenged by the city in concern of following the rules, they choose to make a very strong effort to comply and were successful to the detriment of their own business.
The Mendezes saw a need in the community that would benefit a culture, that of our young people who want and desire to experience music and all the social exchanges that occur with going somewhere to hear or play music. The opportunity of the business owners and their cultural vision was defeated by the Big Shutdown, which continues to impact our music industry. The Mendezes suffered an impact to their patronage from which they never recovered.
On the very last night of my time directing the free music concerts for the Napa County Recreation Department, our concert ran 10 minutes past shutdown time. Never before had we had any complaints, yet the police appeared claiming there had been 32 complaints. Possible? Yes. Probable? Yes. The police appearing? You can put money on it. Because under Title 9 of the municipal code, should there be a complaint, the police have to respond.
Before the Big Shutdown of 1977, Napa city had a vibrant music industry. Yes, it had problems, but there are many different solutions to those problems; other cities have done well for the same. Somehow, the city of Napa and its departments—the police department, the planning commission and the city manager—developed an aggressive strategy in 1977 to detour the growth of a music culture and community that would support it. However I believe that the heart for it is still beating, thirty some years later.
As a community, we can change the way the system works. The city of Napa government is a different creature today. If you would like to support an effort to change the system, please email your thoughts and experiences to the Napa Musicians Performance Guild at [ mailto:[email protected] ][email protected]
Dalton Piercey is the executive director of the Napa Musicians Performance Guild.