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Go Down In History: Old Spaces, New Places

Buildings dating back to the Gold Rush dot our local landscape, and many of them are still used today. Ever enjoyed a meal or perused a shop in an old building and wondered about its past life? Here’s a then-and-now glimpse at 10 historic buildings.

Bubbling with History
Built in 1852, the stone structure that houses the Fountain & Tallman Museum is the oldest building on Main Street in Placerville. Formerly Fountain & Tallman Soda Works, it provided bottled spring water to miners (the river and creek water were undrinkable due to pollution from mining). The building, later owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, is now dubbed the “Biggest Little Museum in the West.” 524 Main Street, Placerville, 530-626-0773,

Fountain & Tallman Museum


Grillin’ & Chillin’
Have a hankering for BBQ? Head to Poor Red’s Bar-B-Que in El Dorado. The roadhouse along Highway 49 was built as a Wells Fargo weigh station in the mid-1800s, then served up drinks as Kelly’s Bar from 1927-1945. But since the 1950s, it’s been known for its BBQ and Gold Cadillac cocktail. As the story goes, “Poor Red” won the bar in a dice game and took over ownership with his wife “Rich Opal.” In 1952, the bartender created a special drink, the Gold Cadillac—Galliano liqueur, white crème de cacao, and cream—at the request of newlyweds passing through town in, you guessed it, a gold Cadillac. Poor Red’s, which reopened under new ownership in 2016, still has 1940s-era murals on its walls — and BBQ and Gold Cadillacs on its menu. 6221 Pleasant Valley Road, El Dorado, 530-622-2901,

Poor Red’s Bar-B-Que


A Golden Opportunity
Visit Smith Flat House in Placerville for a memorable meal in a stunning space. Constructed in 1853, the building, then known as “3 Mile House,” served as a stagecoach stop, general store, hotel, post office, and community hall for 135 years. The opening to the Blue Lead (Gold) Mine can be seen in the cellar. 2021 Smith Flat Road, Placerville, 530-621-1003,

Smith Flat House


Hammer Time
While much changes, some things remain the same. Placerville Hardware—the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi—has been a mainstay on Main Street since the 1850s (albeit under a few names). The store—where you can buy everything from tools and fishing poles to candles and cast iron pans—has been operating under its current moniker since 1907 and owned by the Fausel family since 1952. Notice the original hardwood floors, nail and screw bins, and rolling ladders. 441 Main Street, Placerville, 530-622-1151,

Placerville Hardware


Beer in the Block
Built in 1856, the Block Building in Auburn’s Old Town Plaza served as the American Hotel, a hub of social activity during the Gold Rush and construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. It then housed the beloved Shanghai Restaurant & Bar, which served townsfolk for over a century. The building, which barely survived numerous fires over the years, is now occupied by Auburn Alehouse, whose owners took great care during renovation to preserve its “original fabric and patina.” Fun fact: Disney filmed Phenomenon, starring John Travolta, in Auburn; the building was prominently featured as the Elkhorn Bar. 289 Washington Street, Auburn, 530-885-2537,

Auburn Alehouse


Dive In
Belly up to the oldest bar in Placer County at West House in Roseville. Built in 1907, the building was later leased and then sold to Avano Frediani as a hotel and tavern, and has been continuously operated by the Frediani family for over a century. The lively neighborhood dive bar boasts TVs, pool tables, and a jukebox. 347 Atlantic Street, Roseville, 916-783-5750,

West House


A High Note
For live music in a historic venue, visit Roseville’s Opera House Saloon. The nightclub is located in the McRae Building, built in 1908. In the 1920s, the second floor was the town’s main social hall, used for meetings, plays, and dances. In the 1930s, it was used as a movie house, roller rink, and for boxing matches, and later as the offices of the Press Tribune. The first floor has housed the McRae Insurance offices, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, the Roseville Register, and the post office. 411 Lincoln Street, Roseville, 916-970-9777,

Opera House Saloon


Hop Back in Time
Hop Sing Palace has been serving Chinese food on Sutter Street in Folsom since 1957, but the building that houses the restaurant has served the community since 1909. Originally Imhoff’s General Store, where locals could buy everything from kitchenware to hardware, it was later used as a sheet metal shop. Fun fact: Journalist Lisa Ling’s grandfather opened Hop Sing’s, the first Chinese restaurant in Folsom, and owned it until the mid-1980s. 805 Sutter Street, Folsom, 916-985-7309,

Hop Sing Palace


La Dolce Vita
Built in 1926, the Murer House brings a taste of Italy to Folsom with cooking and language classes, bocce ball tournaments, and special events. The pale pink home that backs up to Folsom Boulevard was designed and built by Giuseppie “Joe” Murer, a carpenter who immigrated to San Francisco and later found his way to Folsom. 1125 Joe Murer Court, Folsom, 916-413-9231,

Murer House


Raise the Curtain
Auburn State Theatre opened to an overflow crowd the day after Christmas in 1930 with an orchestra, balcony, and 1,350 seats. The iconic marquee and “State” sign were added in 1937. The building has undergone several renovations—and uses—over the years. The 350-seat theater now serves as a venue for live music, performing arts, film screenings, and educational experiences. Fun fact: The red velvet seats came from Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. 985 Lincoln Way, Auburn, 530-885-0156,

Auburn State Theatre


by Jennifer Maragoni
Smith Flat House main photo courtesy of Smith Flat House; other photos courtesy of Visit El Dorado. Auburn Alehouse photos by Keith Sutter. Main West House photo by Geneveve Topoll; others by Holly Klein. Opera House photos by Kevin Graft Photography. Hop Sing photos by Franco Canet. Murer House photo by Gabriela Gerlach. Auburn State Theatre photos by Jeff Farrell, Outpost Creative.