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By Tom Durkin
Architect rescuing Tinnery

After 122 years, it is getting an overhaul
For the last three years, the Tinnery – the rusting, three-story monstrosity hulking next to the New Moon Café in Nevada City – looked like it just might collapse on itself.

First opened as a horse stable in the 1895, the rickety building last hosted The Fix, a raw food restaurant.

Looking like a candidate for a wrecking crew, the Tinnery is being rescued from oblivion by Nevada City architect Rebecca Coffman.

“This building sat there for sale for many, many years and no one would buy it because it was it was falling over,” Coffman told the Advocate.

“It had a creek running underneath it, and it was 10 inches leaning,” she explained. “I finally decided OK if no one else is going to do it, I’m going to get it and fix it up.”

That meant hiring custom building contractor James Nugent of Epic Builders, Inc. of Chicago Park, who already has spent many hours on the renovation.

“I’ve been on this thing a little over thirty-something weeks,” Nugent revealed April 20. “It’s fun.”

There’s nothing simple, however, about reconstructing an historic building from the inside out.

While designing around a 56-degree angle in one corner of the building was an obvious challenge, Nugent said that “jacking the thing up and putting a new foundation in and getting it all square again was very tricky.

“There really hasn’t been a part of this building that hasn’t been tricky,” he observed with a smile.

Both Coffman and Nugent are no strangers to custom design work.
“Somehow, I always end up with think-outside-the-box clients. They push me a lot. It’s fun,” Nugent said with a grin.

“(The Tinnery) is another good challenge for me. I like it,” he said.
Coffman likes what he brings to the project.

“I’m a very involved architect, so I have to have a team player,” she emphasized. “Jim’s got an eye for quality. He is special. I like contractors that actually work on the project.”

Although Coffman is committed to excellence on every job, the Tinnery is special to her since it will be the new home of her architectural firm. And as a showcase office, she has very specific ideas as to how she wants it to look.

“It’s very important to me to retain the historic value of the building,” she stressed. “That’s why I’m doing the outside so carefully to make it go back, as much as possible, to its original, sort of weathered self.”

“The ‘tin’ is all off of the building,” she continued, “and now it’s going back on the building.”

Coffman said she has no plans to seal, paint or otherwise weatherize the rusting sheet metal siding.

“It’s been there some 120 some years, so I think it will be fine,” she said.
Actually, the siding is not made of tin. That metal alone is too soft. Tin may have been used as either an alloy or a semi-corrosion resistant coating.

Nugent acknowledged that he did not exactly know the metallic nature of the siding other than to say, “It’s corrugated, galvanized sheet metal.”
Although the building is three stories high, it only has two stories inside. The second floor will thus feature a high-peaked ceiling.

Required in the 1800s, roofs had to have a steep “twelve-and-twelve” pitch so snow would slide off.

“Remember, it used to snow here,” Coffman noted wryly.
While Coffman’s firm will be the anchor tenant in the back half of the lower floor of the building, she is leasing out the front of the Tinnery to Treats, an artisan ice emporium now located a block away down York Street.

“We needed a larger space, and we wanted to combine the ice cream making and the ice cream selling (in the same place),” said Peggy Wright, co-owner with her husband, Bob.

Treats plans a July 1 move-in.

Coffman called it a drop-dead deadline and Nugent noted there’s still a lot of work to do, but both expressed confidence they’d be eating ice cream there by July 1.

Not so much with the rest of the building, however. Nugent said there will still work to be done.

Coffman is purposefully vague about what will be upstairs other than to say there will be two live/work units. “It’s an artistic space,” she said, seeing beyond the bare plywood and 2x4 framing.

“I have a lot of interest, but I haven’t lined up anything yet,” she said. “I’m not worried about renting it. It’s so sweet up there.”

And speaking of sweets, Coffman noted she’s given Treats an ultimatum.
“One thing I had to do was make them promise only to sell me one ice cream cone a week,” she laughed. “The ice cream is so good. It’s the best!”

Photo by Tom Durkin
The Tinnery in downtown Nevada City will be getting a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of architect Rebecca Coffman and contractor James Nugent.