It was Jonathan Rowe’s interest in media and events that led him to purchase the historic Stonehouse Old Brewery on Sacramento Street in Nevada City. He closed escrow in late February.
“Ever since I went to that town, I loved the building and thought it would be a great space for a restaurant and event space,” Rowe said. He met his wife, who is from Nevada City, in the historic town.
Rowe, who owns Madrone Studios in San Francisco, said he wants to bring a “farm-to-table” restaurant in the space, as well as use it as an events center.
The 37-year-old said he is working with many local engineers, architects and craftsmen, although he acknowledges that finding local talent for the restaurant staff has been a challenge. He is currently interviewing potential hires for the space, which is expected to open in July.
So far Rowe has hired a chef, Ron Tanaka, who ran a successful restaurant in D.C. and moved here for family reasons.
“One of the challenges in a small town is to find talent, especially chefs. Most live in large cities,” he said.
The menu is under development, but Rowe said he knows “kind of what I want to do. It will be a surprise.”
The Stonehouse began as a brewery in 1852 and is now a historic landmark in Nevada City. The building was burned and rebuilt, mostly by Chinese laborers in 1857. The Nevada Brewery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 12, 1985.
A bronze plaque attached to the building states: “The Old Brewery was constructed of granite blocks from the Sierras about 1882 where Simon C. Hieronimus and family brewed and served lager beer to Nevada City, Queen of the Northern Mines and hydraulic mining communities. Dedicated April 21, 1985”
Throughout its storied history, the Stonehouse has been the center of spooky tales. Local ghost expert Mark Lyon said talk of spirits goes back to the mid-1800s, probably spun by the Chinese laborers or white residents who treated them poorly.
A series of tunnels were carved out underneath several sections of Nevada City. Those underneath the Stonehouse were used to store ale and age beer. Much of the network of tunnels under the town was filled in when Highway 49 freeway was built, although parts of the twisted Stonehouse tunnels still exist.
“The big story about the Stonehouse involves the tunnels,” Lyon said. “The story goes that those tunnels would lead all the way through town and end up in the Chinese quarter. The Chinese would walk the tunnels instead of the street because they found it safer, since they were often assaulted and tormented.”
According to Lyon, “It is said that at a time when the Brewery served as a restaurant, men dining there with their wives would excuse themselves, duck into the tunnel and make their way under Deer Creek to the tunnel’s opening out onto Spring Street, behind the National Hotel, where they enjoyed a brief interlude with the ‘soiled doves’ who plied their trade in the many brothels which then lined Spring Street.
“It is also possible that the tunnels originating behind the brewery were used for darker purposes,” he added. “In an era when the native Maidu Indians, Mexicans, Chileans and Chinese were treated with extreme cruelty in the mining camps, it is said by some that, at least once, a group of Chinese were confined in an offshoot of the main tunnel which was then dynamited, burying their victims alive. That may explain the fact that there have also been reports of Chinese ghosts haunting the old brewery.”
Lyon said that for many decades people claimed they saw Chinese ghosts coming out of the tunnel or could hear voices.
Ghosts or no ghosts, after 134 years the Stonehouse Brewery is about to stage its next act - this time as a trendy restaurant, meeting space and watering hole.
“I’m excited and thankful that I’m able to contribute to making this amazing landmark what it was always meant to be and to help it live up to its potential,” Rowe said. “The goal is to make it as special as the building.”