This building has been made from canvas, wood, soil and stone, burned to the ground, rebuilt, renamed, and gussied up for innumerable guests. It’s seen gambling, gunfights, good times and bad. Fortunes made and pure gold lost. Haunted by rough cowboys and Victorian Madames, their secrets forever safe within the storied walls. Legend tells us even Prohibition didn’t stop the whiskey from being served in the Saloon.
The original building was the Golden Gate Saloon, constructed in 1852 by Stephen and Clara Smith, some of the first to invest in the boomtown known today as Grass Valley. A year later, the single-story Exchange Hotel was added behind the saloon, named for its convenience to the local Gold Exchange. A fire in 1855 destroyed the popular drinkery and hotel, along with most of Grass Valley, but was quickly rebuilt. Yet the Exchange Hotel was caught in another blaze in 1862, after which it was renovated into the two-story structure we have today—at the time fortified against future fire damage like other local buildings with heavy iron doors and a roof covered with 12 inches of dirt and brick.
In 1879 the hotel was purchased by Ellen and Daniel Holbrooke and was given its current name. Daniel Holbrooke passed away in 1884, but Ellen continued to manage and operate the hotel until 1908.
Over the years, the Holbrooke has hosted many famous guests that include U.S. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and James Garfield, and prize fighters “Gentleman Jim” Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Authors Mark Twain and Bret Harte spent time here, surely watching the world go by from the Golden Gate Saloon. Rumor has it that the infamous highwayman Black Bart was a guest, sometime between stagecoach robberies and writing poems. On the right evening you might have encountered famous female entertainers Lola Montez, Lotta Crabtree or Emma Nevada in the lobby.
In 1974, The Holbrooke Hotel was declared a California State Landmark. Built to last through the decades, it has long been the social center of town. Recently, though, it’s age has begun to show, and some large-scale renovation, preservation and maintenance was in order.
Today, we celebrate the Holbrooke’s compelling past while maintaining a timeless aesthetic that will hold true for decades to come. Design decisions mix classic and modern touches with vintage furniture and fixtures, set against the building’s raw structural elements of brick, wood and stone. Local architects, designers and craftspeople have preserved the charm and history of this treasured property while revitalizing it into the modern day.
An hour from Sacramento and nestled in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, Grass Valley is truly a postcard town rich in history and outdoor adventure. Legend says that Grass Valley was named in 1848 by settlers whose cattle had wandered from their campsite to a pleasant “grassy valley” nearby, where the grazing was better…a beautiful, open, grassy valley, with flowing creeks and seasonal lake.
As the gold rush took hold, prospectors flooded the area to try their luck panning for the precious metal in those creeks. The small settlement in the grassy valley began looking more like a town. In 1850, a settler discovered gold locally and the real boom began. Four hundred million dollars worth of gold would be extracted from the mines that ringed Grass Valley, making it the richest mining area in all of California.
But there’s much more to Grass Valley than its history. Through the decades our town has grown to serve an expanding and increasingly diverse population. The “Support Local-Live Local” philosophy rings true here: we strive to be good custodians of our region and celebrate what makes us unique, as individuals and as a community.
We are home to a vibrant arts scene. Visit the galleries, enjoy theatrical performances, dance and sing to live music, attend our film and music festivals. Enjoy our farms, ranches, and vineyards, providing organic and locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, wines and more. Peruse the classic car shows. Go gift shopping in our locally-owned stores. Satisfy just about any food craving you may have at our many cafes and restaurants. Learn from the past by visiting the gold mines, old foundries, antique stores and museums. Explore our gorgeous natural surroundings: hike, cycle, swim, boat, ski, ride…or simply wander and enjoy the historic streets of downtown… Grass Valley will keep giving.
Visit these sites for more information:
Nevada County Gold | Grass Valley Chamber | City of Grass Valley