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Closed Yountville theater in limbo

The interior of the Lincoln Theater, seen on September 20, 2023. | Photo by Danielle Wilde

YOUNTVILLE – State officials cannot say when or if Yountville’s Lincoln Theater will return to its previous use as a public entertainment venue.

The theater, a once-vibrant performing arts center on the Yountville Veterans Home campus, has been closed since 2020 and needs structural updates and servicing before it can be reopened to the public, state officials said this week.

However, a spokesman for the California Department of Veterans Affairs or CalVet, said that the theater has been used in recent months for staff training. 

State records show that the Veterans Home has more than $40 million in deferred maintenance, but the state Legislature has funded just $16 million of that work, some of which is to replace the theater’s leaking roof.

“CalVet plans to continue to maintain and update the theater as needed,” said Josh Kiser, CalVet spokesman. 

Founded in 1884, the Yountville Veterans Home is the largest such facility in the United States, and currently provides living quarters to nearly 600 veterans and spouses. In addition to the Lincoln Theater, the 615-acre campus has additional recreational features that include a golf course, a pool and a museum.

The 1,214-seat theater originally opened in 1957 but underwent a $23.5 million remodel in 2001, with virtually all the money used for the renovation coming from private Napa Valley donors. 

Since then, the venue has been operated by the Friends of Lincoln Theater, a nonprofit organization that hosted year-round events for the veterans and the surrounding community. 

Michael Madden, former executive director of Friends of Lincoln Theater, said the theater had its most successful seasons between 2013 and 2018. When it became time to renegotiate the lease in 2019, issues surfaced around building maintenance, he said. 

Madden said the state dragged its heels on its agreement to fix the theater’s leaking roof and to replace an outdated heating and air conditioning system. 

With the onset of COVID 19 in 2020, the theater was closed and has not reopened since.

Madden said that since 2020, the building has fallen into bad physical shape. 

“For a building we had built, and having lived through years of them not maintaining the things that were, by lease agreement, their responsibility, we just couldn't see how we could possibly sign a new lease until they had at least fixed the worst of the problems.”

Madden said that even if the theater was to be reopened, from what he saw, there was no way he would allow employees back into the building.

“It was no longer a safe place to work,” he said. “Our staff and a management team could only put so many buckets on top of their desks for so many years before we had to acknowledge it wasn't a working environment that was professional or reasonable.”

A full-access tour of the facility taken by a reporter and photographer this week revealed some stains on ceilings and repair work around piping that suggested prior water and mold damage. But other than the need for a good cleaning and the aforementioned repairs, long-standing concerns that the state has failed to maintain the theater were not obvious.

In 2022, when Friends of Lincoln Theater hired a company to run tests on the building’s damaged areas, lab results came back with high levels of black mold, Madden said.

“We spent two years trying to negotiate an extension of our lease with CalVet,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was so mired in red tape that we regrettably walked away.” 

Madden said the theater is an “absolutely stunning” facility.

“It's spectacular and it deserves to be used,” he said.

Kiser, the CalVet spokesman, denied mold was present in the theater but said that all mildew that resulted from the steam and water damage has been remediated and will continue to be monitored regularly and remediated as needed.

Additionally, CalVet said it would request funds to replace the building's chilled water system.

The lobby of the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, seen on September 20, 2023. | Photo by Danielle Wilde