Memories of Nevada City Past

It’s said that once you reach a certain age your sleeping habits tend to rearrange themselves. That’s certainly true with me. I wake up in the wee hours tossing and turning, ready to face a day which is still hours from arriving. Fortunately, I have this blog to kill a few hours and spin a few stories when the phone isn’t ringing or some other daytime chore demands my attention.

This morning I’ve been thinking about my first summer living in Nevada City. (I was a Grass Valley boy until I was old enough to fall out of the nest.) In those days, there were many small grocery stores in the downtown area. In addition to the Bonanza Market there was the Plaza at the bottom of Broad Street, Dilley’s where the Blue Moon is today on York, and the City Market which is now occupied by the Indian Springs Vineyards wine tasting room on Broad Street.

My first job on this side of the hill was at City Market, working for Ralph and Gladys Buchanan. As you might imagine, there was some competition for business with so many food outlets in such a small town. City’s advantage was a delivery service. Every day, folks would call in their order and it was my job to collect the items, box them up, and then make my rounds in the afternoon.

Nevada City has always been an eccentric little town, with an odd mix of unlikely neighbors. In 1970, the town was experiencing the same sort of recession we see today. Commercial Street was mostly empty storefronts, until the coming of the Rainbow Mountain Inn and Grimblefingers book store. There were old miners who spent their days passed out on barstools in Duffy’s Success, the Bank Club and Pete’s Place, redneck loggers, bohemian artists, and a small but openly gay contingent led by Osborne and Wood and the Jacks. Somehow, they all managed to get along. 

Some of my customers made me a little nervous. In particular, an old lawyer and his wife. As the story goes, and my memory is a little hazy on the details, (Steve Cottrell, where are you when I need you) the wife had committed a murder and the lawyer had successfully defended her, marrying her afterward. She had the look of a crazy person, long stringy hair, wild eyes, and a malevolent smile. She would always invite me in when I made my delivery, but I was always careful to make sure she was in front of me so she couldn’t stab me in the back with a kitchen knife.

Another delivery I always dreaded was over on Adams Street. The house belonged to an elderly couple, but was overrun by cats. The odor was toxic, to put it mildly. I remember one instance when I knocked on the door and the old lady asked me to come in while she got the money for the bill. They had been eating dinner, that canned day-glo orange spaghetti. There were cats all over the table, and every time the old man looked up at me, the felines would swarm over his plate, devouring as much food as they could before he waved them away like flies. He would then look up at me again with a silly smile on his face, and the cats would return to their momentary feast.

One of my other duties was to make a daily dump run. This was when Nevada City still had an open dump, run by the Kellys over off American Hill Road. Since I was still underage, I would sometimes sneak a six pack of beer into the trash and stash it in the bushes, to be retrieved after I got off work. I think the Buchanans caught on, because they let me go after I’d been there a few months.

The only other vivid memory I have of my time at City Market was the day of the first draft lottery. Like many others of my generation, I was opposed to the war in Vietnam. I had already seen what the experience had done to some of my friends. Many returned haunted by their memories. Some became violent, while others turned to drugs to dull their senses. The Buchanans were staunch Republicans, and Ralph was the sitting district one supervisor. They had an 8″x10″ photo of Richard Nixon next to the cash register. I was very nervous that day, worrying that I might have to be shuttled off to that forsaken jungle to fight people that had never done anything to me or my country. When the Union arrived in the afternoon, I nervously fumbled through the pages until I found my number. It was 336, way below the government estimation of needed recruits. I let out a shriek of relief, which startled Gladys. That probably helped them decide that I wasn’t a fit employee for their establishment.

I didn’t care. I was free to take my life in a different direction.

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25 Responses to Memories of Nevada City Past

  1. Greg Goodknight says:

    Sounds like fodder for some graphic novel…

    Forget Sin City… Nevada City!

  2. rlcrabb says:

    It’s on my bucket list, two other projects ahead of it.

    • SR Jones says:

      How about a serial novel, like the original “Tales of the City?” You could call it “Tales of the Village.”
      BTW, Bob, I have a hazy recollection that Dilley’s grocery store was located on Zion, where the Hospice thrift store is now, and that the New (not Blue) Moon building used to house a grocery called Food Bowl. And wasn’t the Magic Theater (or a previous version thereof) originally located upstairs over Rainbow Mountain Inn?

      • rl Crabb says:

        Yes, SR, you’re correct. The store on York was the Palace Grocery. (That’s what happens when you post at 2am.) Also, my wife reminded me that Scotch Broom was one of the early businesses on Commercial Street. She used to do sewing for them back in those days.

        • TD Pittsford says:

          If you’re going to mention the Scotch Broom, you’ve got to acknowledge Tom & Dinks Boot and Jewelry store and Sitting Bull Leather Co, started by Jesse Connor and later run one of our favorite grouches, Chuck St. Lewis. Pete’s Place was across the street where Sophie and Tito kept the customers in line. During that time, some enterprising hippies, the SCOBYS, tried to get a theater & beer bar started upstairs from Grimblefinger’s (I think) but they couldn’t get the ABC to sign off on a license because of the liability of drunk movie goers having to negotiate the stairs. There’s a few more but I can’t think of them right now…senility you know.

      • Michael Anderson says:

        I moved to NC in 1988, and saw the end tail of all these stories Bob.

        Things changed rapidly from 1988 to 1992 in Nevada City, the biggest change being the Alpha Hardware turning into a furniture store. I bought a house on N. Pine St., a fixer-upper, and started to fix it up (I quit a job at Apple Computer to move here, and upon arrival was hired by GVG at a much better job for half the pay).

        I made an almost daily pilgrimage to the Alpha Hardware, and when I found out that the guy in the back could sell me some dynamite, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. My daily commute in the 1980s was from S.F. to Cupertino and back on I-280 every day, and then suddenly I was commuting to Bitney Springs from NC on Newtown Road. Lots of mental adjustments were needed!

        As SR Jones notes, the Magic Theatre was located on the second floor of what is now known as the JJ Jackson Building. When the Magic moved to Argyle Way, my then wife Lynne Collins and I, along with Karen Leigh and Bill Snell, started the City Theatre Company. Our first show, “Steel Magnolias” was done in conjunction with Jan & John @ the Broadstreet Theatre, but with our next show, Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” we decided to find another venue. The old Magic Theater on Commercial Street, 2nd floor, became our new venue.

        Steve Cottrell was running the Nevada City News at the time, giving the City Theatre Company some great press, particularly during an original play, “The Dolly.” Thanks Steve.

        And thanks for the memories, Bob.

        • steve cottrell says:

          Michael:

          Thanks for remembering. The Nevada City News was a journalistic joy, but an economic failure. Starting a weekly newspaper in Nevada City in 1990 was not exactly a sound business decision. But it was fun, and we very much enjoyed shining the light on local theater.

          And fortunately we had the best political cartoonist in the business — R.L. Crabb. I seem to recall that we paid him a ton of money for his weekly contribution. Something like $10? Wow! No wonder we went out of business.

          And, Bob, judging from a comment you made later on this posting, I guess you don’t need my help in identifying the attorney who married his former client. But if you do, I’ll be happy to mention his name.

          • Michael Anderson says:

            Steve,

            I loved the Nevada City News. Your column was always great, the news was timely–pointing things out that others weren’t, and the letters in the Letters to the Editor were always poignant and thought-provoking. I also liked the “picture of something odd” – you had to figure out where it was located in Nevada City, which I even got right some of the time.

            I squirreled away some back issues somewhere around the house here. If I ever come across them I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon taking a little trip back in time. Thanks again.

            Michael A.

  3. San French says:

    I’d love to hear your rendition of the High Street house days. I believe you lived up in the attic? There was a bit of Carrie Nation lore connected there and I believe you and I penned an early version of Silver Shells at the old upright in the living room. That’s all I’ll say on that. But please, do continue:-).

    (Note to San: I edited out the names of the lawyer’s family, as I don’t want to embarrass the dead or provoke the living. In other words, I’d rather keep these personal stories somewhat ambiguous for legal reasons. Don’t be offended. -RL)

    • TD Pittsford says:

      San. I didn’t know you were still around. Good to know you’re alive and kicking. Jack & Delia Vaughan, their two kids and I moved into the High Street House just after all you folks moved out and later opened Uncle Rumple’s Attic in half of the old post office on Main street. I thought Bill Smart lived in the attic, probably because he was the only one I could picture standing up in there, but I could, and probably am, mistaken. Nonetheless it was during that time that Carrie Nation moved back here from Georgia, all except for our host, RL Crabb, who was lazing around some posh hospital room while he mended from a broken body. In any case that was the beginning of my adventures in NC and it all started at 232 High Street where you could ski down the living room floor. Good times. Good times.

      • rlcrabb says:

        Yes I did live in the attic on High Street. It wasn’t much of a room, as the only furniture you could adorn it with had to be fitted through a small hole in the ceiling where the ladder was located. The stovepipe from the wood stove in the living room was a few feet away from where I slept, and when you got a good fire going the pipe sometimes popped loose, spewing sparks into the bone-dry attic.
        On one occasion this happened and it was up to me to straddle the two-by-fours to rejoin the pipes. As I was trying to balance myself and handle the hot pipes with my bare hands, I slipped and one leg fell through the ceiling. Below, I could hear our roommate Julie laughing from the chair she was sitting in in front of the stove. She had to climb up to the attic to help free me from my predicament.
        It’s a miracle we never burned that place down.

      • San French says:

        Yes TD, I’m still here. Every time I try to leave this damn town, it drags me back into its clutches. I finally quit trying to ‘escape’ and have been here ever since. Came here in late ’69 ~ left to Sac in ’81 ~ married, had two beautiful kids and then we all came back home (my ex is born & bred NC) in ’91.
        It’s nice to hear from you. I love your comments. The High St. house was reputed to be haunted. I had a few experiences and so did others (RL??). That place was one of the ‘good ole good ones’ to be sure. I think we paid under a hundred bucks/mo rent!

    • San French says:

      Not offended RL. Quite the opposite. I thank you for the heads up on ‘blog protocol’. Old men who spend too much time alone tend to be a bit dusty on these things ;-)

  4. Todd juvinall says:

    We from Grass Valley had nothing to do with the Nevada City scofflaws when I was growing up. Then we all got tossed into the junior high school together on Park Avenue in GV and all hell broke loose. I have many friends to this day from Nevada City.

  5. Paul Emery says:

    And then there was Duffy’s Saloon…..

    “You’d have to be a fool or a loon if you didn’t want to drink at Duffy’s Saloon”

    T Pitsford

  6. Todd juvinall says:

    The Bank Club wet t-shirt contests were kinda fun too!

  7. Paul Cogley says:

    Thank you TD for recalling those enterprising hippies, the Scobys. The name combined the first letters of the last names of three friends from Santa Barbara who tried to make a go of it on Commercial St.: Paul Schwartz, Paul Cogley, and Rod Byers. Our fourth partner Bob Austin joined us a little later. Scoby’s productions had a few shows at the Nevada Theater and other venues. But our theater that-never-was would’ve been above Tom and Dink’s, Grimblefinger’s, Rainbow Mountain Inn, Sitting Bull and lastly, but by no means least, Nevada City’s first natural foods store Good Morning, owned and operated by the two Mikes, Faulkenberry and Snegg. Later the Mikes moved Good Morning to the City Market space when Ralph and Gladys retired.

  8. Paul Emery says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Todd. That’s classy entertainment for sure..

  9. Doc Halstead says:

    Well, now I know where the old farts hang out. No one of good reputation would hang out at Duffy’s. I here that there was a lot of tom foolery in that establishment.

    • Todd juvinall says:

      I recall the scandal of a city council person being accused of a affair with a tavern owners spouse and the resultant flyers posted all over town. Just like the wild west days!

      • MountainViewMike says:

        Interesting history of Nevada City, ca. My uncle owned Duffy’s Success in the 70’s till ???. Does anyone know of the gold that was found while Uncle Jim was having a construction crew put in a parking lot behind the saloon. I believe it did reach the local papers, would love to read it. I remember he showed us a piece bigger than a softball. The scandal is hilarious! Probably true! lol

        • rlcrabb says:

          Yes, I remember the “gold Strike” at Duffy’s. While digging out the back parking lot, the work crew uncovered the remains of an old outhouse. Probably more than a few inebriated miners got sloppy and dropped more than their drawers in that pit. I also remember that Jim was out there immediately after the discovery, to make sure no one pocketed the treasure, mostly nineteenth century coins. Maybe Steve Cottrell could recall a more exact account of the incident. Are you out there, Steve?

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