Yountville leaders were poised on Tuesday to order the founder of an Old Town restaurant to replace lettering that was removed from its historic storefront five months ago. But a last-minute letter to the town has put that demand on hold for at least two weeks.
The Town Council was scheduled to vote on a demand that Frank Altamura, co-creator of the Ciccio restaurant at 6770 Washington St., put back the word “MARKET” that once adorned the century-old building when it housed the Tonascia Market.
A vote in favor would have compelled Altamura to restore the six white block letters to the red wooden façade within 10 days, despite his assertion that the masthead was not original but a much later addition from as late as the 1970s.
However, the vote never took place. Instead, Mayor John Dunbar announced a postponement after a lawyer for Altamura sent the town an eight-page letter – two minutes before the meeting’s 6 p.m. opening – alleging legal roadblocks to a forced restoration of the grocery-themed signage at Ciccio, which has operated since 2012 as a dinner-only, table-service Italian eatery.
The council then voted to move back discussion of Ciccio’s future to Nov. 21, although Dunbar suggested those talks would take place in closed session, as state law allows for matters of litigation.
Altamura has fought Yountville’s efforts to return the “MARKET” lettering to the building, where Tonascia Market, which operated from 1916 to 1983, spent most of its existence.
In August, he convinced the town zoning board to accept the change after the fact after arguing not only that the masthead was added decades after the storefront’s opening but also that the signage had been taken down and replaced various times in the last 40 years – and that its continued existence still confuses visitors expecting to find a grocery where none exists. (The building has functioned exclusively as a restaurant since 2000.)
The dispute came to a head during a testy Oct. 17 Town Council meeting in which Altamura accused Yountville leaders of ignoring historical research to justify a popular, if inauthentic, symbol of the town’s past – a claim Dunbar angrily denied.
Councilmembers stood firm, saying the removal of the “MARKET” lettering violated the town permits Altamura had agreed to, whatever his justifications.
“I would have been open to that conversation had you been willing to follow the rules the way they are set out for everybody,” Dunbar told him last month. “I don’t feel like you did that.”