New sign for CIA at Copia

Illuminated lettering on the facade of CIA at Copia, the Napa food, wine and fine arts center owned by the Culinary Institute of America, will be installed at the First Street building by early March as part of a package of new signs at the center.

Submitted graphic

More than a year after awaking from an eight-year hibernation, Napa’s showcase to wine, fine food and the arts will soon – finally – bear its name on the building.

CIA at Copia, which the Culinary Institute of America began reopening late in 2016, will be adorned with a package of signs and markers calling attention to its new owner. The makeover will include striping the center’s name in 10 backlit aluminum letters across the metallic, wave-shaped façade in characters up to 45 inches high.

The labeling and signing of Copia should take place over the next 30 days and replace the temporary banners that had been hung at the center since its reopening before their recent removal, according to Thomas Bensel, manager of the institute’s California operations.

Napa’s city Planning Commission on Thursday approved the package, which also includes ground-mounted signs at Copia’s two First Street entrances as well as blade-style markers to be mounted over entrances.

Although city planning staff recommended making the façade lettering smaller to bring it in line with other downtown buildings, commissioners accepted the design as is, partly due to Copia’s setback from First Street, where gardens and a parking lot keep the center nearly 200 feet from the curb.

“The scale may look large but when you look at the scale of the entire building, it actually dwarfs (the letters),” Bensel explained to planners. “Anything smaller tends to disappear.”

Commissioner Paul Kelley agreed, recalling a visit last fall when he observed masses of visitors flocking next door to the Oxbow Public Market and only a trickle walking toward Copia, nearly a year after its reopening.

The original Copia center, burdened by $78 million in debt, closed in 2008 after seven years, and Kelley described its return to the public eye as still a work in progress – a task for which a more eye-catching look is needed.

“For this to be a success,” he said, “the public needs to be able to look at the building – with two seconds of face time – and try to understand what this place is. CIA is bigger than Copia, so that invites people to look and investigate.”

Elsewhere, two-sided driveway markers will be installed at each entrance to Copia – a 7-foot, 9-inch-tall panel beside the east entryway on First Street, and a 4-foot-tall sign at the west entrance.

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The larger sign will guide visitors not only to the property as a whole but also its restaurant, store and box office, according to plans filed with the city. Smaller panels hung from wall-mounted arms will mark the separate entrances to those three areas.

Copia’s new signage will put a decorative touch on the overhaul the property has received since CIA purchased the dormant site in 2015 to convert into an extension of CIA Greystone, the St. Helena branch of the academy.

Changes have included an updated interior, the terracing of its grass-lined amphitheater facing the Napa River, and the addition of the rooftop artwork “Is That Bob & Margrit?”, a likeness of Copia’s founding couple Robert and Margrit Mondavi. (Commissioner Gorden Huether, the Napa artist who created the Mondavi artwork as well as another Copia installation, “Fork,” recused himself from Thursday’s vote.)

Visitation resumed with an October 2016 concert in the Copia amphitheater followed by a grand reopening ceremony in February 2017, and the center has continued hosting cooking and wine seminars as well as film screenings, weddings and corporate events.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.