Submitted by Robin Davies
August 2017 Chamber Happenings
When the California Arts Council designated the Grass Valley-Nevada City Cultural District as one of the state’s official cultural entities, it represented a joint effort by five local agencies: Nevada County Arts Council, the City of Grass Valley, the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, the City of Nevada City and Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.
In being selected to participate in the inaugural state program, the CAC noted that Grass Valley and Nevada City have more than 100 arts and cultural organizations –– each offering something unique and important.
Diversity and quality of visual and performing arts were key elements in our application to the CAC, but the agency recognized that our history is also important. In fact, some would say that most first-time visitors come here because of our history and, while here, are exposed to the kind of cultural scene and outstanding restaurants and lodging that result in repeat visitors and a healthy local economy.
Grass Valley and Nevada City weren’t just mining camps. They were home to men and women who influenced California’s early growth and, in some cases, influenced United States history. That history is an important part of our local culture –– it’s a legacy that needs to be remembered by all of us.
So let’s take a short history walk through downtown Grass Valley.
The Golden Gate Saloon, located in what today is the Holbrooke Hotel on West Main Street was built in 1852 and later incorporated into the present-day hotel.
It was there, in 1854, that Lola Montez –– angry about an insulting article in the Grass Valley Telegraph –– walked from her Mill Street home to the saloon and proceeded to buggy whip the newspaper editor, who was standing at the bar with a smug smile. The editor later claimed he fended off her attack; Lola claimed she landed some solid blows!
When you leave the hotel bar and walk down Mill Street, take a look at the structure between what is now 110-116 Mill. It’s the 1855-built Odd Fellows Hall, where the town’s movers and shakers used to meet. A sturdy brick building, it withstood all major downtown fires and sometimes was put into service as a temporary City Hall.
As with many 19th century fraternal lodges and halls, the Odd Fellows Hall also housed retail shops, a custom tailor, bakery and other businesses. In 1864, the first issue of The Union newspaper was printed there, and Grass Valley Hardware operated on the ground floor until 1989.
When you reach the corner of Mill and Neal Streets, you’ll see the 1916-built Carnegie Library on the same site where Josiah Royce was born in 1855. Royce became one of this nation’s most renowned educators and authors –– a Harvard philosophy professor who influenced Helen Keller, Woodrow Wilson, and many others. It is only appropriate, then, that the library is now named for the Grass Valley native son.
If you walk a bit further down Mill Street to number 248, you will be standing at a location historically important for two reasons: It is where Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, better known by her stage name of Lola Montez, lived and also the place where, in the fall of 1850, Grass Valley conducted its first election. Although Lola’s house was razed in the late 1970s, the building located there now is a replica of the home where she held provocative evening soirées for local ladies, recounting her adventures in Europe and America.
The next door down is 238 Mill Street –– once a boardinghouse run by Mary Ann Crabtree. In 1853, Mrs. Crabtree’s daughter, six-year old Lotta, met her famous neighbor, Lola Montez, who became the child’s mentor.
Lotta became one of the most successful entertainers in the country, often called “The Nation’s Darling” and, upon her death in 1924, left a $4 million estate.
The short walk down Main and Mill Streets provides a mere glimpse into our local history, as every doorway holds a story of the past. I offer it as a reminder that our community’s history is an important part of the cultural district’s mission and complements everything that makes Grass Valley such a great place to live, work and raise a family.