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Without fanfare, the landmark neon Fagiani’s bar sign on Main Street was taken down early Wednesday morning and hauled off for repair and storage.

The marker, which dated from the 1940s, had evoked memories of old Napa, before the tourists and chi-chi restaurants, and had marked the spot of one of the city’s most notorious murders.

For almost 40 years, following the 1974 homicide, the sign had hung unlit over Main Street, marking an empty building caught in a ghostly time warp while downtown changed all around it.

It glowed again in 2012 when AvroKO, a New York-based restaurant firm, reopened the building with an upscale eatery/bar that paid homage to the building’s history: The Thomas and Fagiani’s Bar.

Now AvroKO is changing concepts for the restaurant which will briefly close at the end of July, then reopen in early August as Ninebark, the company announced.

The Fagiani name is being dropped from the revamped business, thus the decision to strip the sign from the building, said Steve Hasty, the building owner who leases to AvroKO.

“It’s a rebranding,” said Hasty. “A new concept for a new chef.”

“I’m going to miss that sign front,” Hasty admitted. “It’s a sad feeling.”

The sign had gone dark in the mid-1970s, when one of the building’s owners, Anita Andrews, was murdered inside the bar.

A year before the reopening in 2012 as The Thomas, there had been an improbable break in the nearly 40-year-old homicide case. A Colorado man, 74-year-old Roy Melanson, was sentenced to life in prison in Napa Superior Court for the Andrews murder.

Napa Police had tied Melanson to the 1970s murder using DNA from a cigarette butt left at the crime scene. Only later did DNA technology allow police to analyze the butt for Melanson’s saliva.

Hasty said the Fagiani’s sign had been battered several times by trucks over the past three years. The most recent incident occurred during last weekend’s Fourth of July festivities in downtown when it was damaged again to the tune of about $6,000, he said.

“The sign has been an expensive proposition,” said Hasty, who noted that AvroKO’s insurance will be paying for the latest repair, before handing the sign back to him.

Why this streak of damaging incidents to a sign that had stood unscathed over the Main Street sidewalk for decades?

Hasty blames the hump in the middle of Main Street — the result, he thinks, of many coats of asphalt — which causes trucks that park in front of the bar to tilt a foot and a half toward the sign.

Hasty said he already had a treasure trove of memorabilia from the old Fagiani’s bar. With the transformation of The Thomas and Fagiani’s Bar into Ninebark, he will get more.

He will reclaim bar stools, deer heads and other Fagiani paraphernalia that AvroKO had used to enhance the ambiance of their operation.

AvroKO promises an “airy, garden-driven design over Ninebark’s three floors … (including ) a rooftop garden style dining and bar experience with central lounge gliders and banquettes covered in vintage plaids.”

The partners at AvroKO announced they had formed a new partnership with lauded chef Matthew Lightner, formerly of the two Michelin-starred Atera in New York City. Lightner is heading up all of AvroKO’s West Coast culinary operations under the banner AvroKO Hospitality Group West, with Ninebark being their first new venture together.

The new collaboration is named for a popular California garden plant, commonly called Pacific ninebark. The name comes from the appearance of the bark, which is flaky and peels away in many layers.

Under Lightner’s direction, the new restaurant, bar and rooftop lounge will feature California market-driven cuisine utilizing innovative preparation techniques – smoking with local hardwood and shrubs, charcoal grilling and marinating in herbal, fruit and floral broths.

The new partnership also has plans to open an eatery in Calistoga next year.

The stone building at 813 Main St. was built in 1909, with The Thomas restaurant as its first ground-floor tenant. A boarding house operated above.

In 1945, Nick Fagiani bought the property and opened the bar that bears his name. His daughter, Anita Andrews and Muriel Fagiani, were operating it at the time of the 1974 murder.

Hasty said he doesn’t know what he will do with his collection of Fagiani’s paraphernalia. It doesn’t seem right to keep it all for himself, away from the public’s view, he said.

“If somebody cared about the history of it, I’d probably move some (objects) along,” he said. “If they cared about them for the right reason.”

Reporter L. Pierce Carson contributed to this story.

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.

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