Imagine a time when horse drawn carriages and covered wagons carried hopeful pioneers to the gold country and dreams of striking gold became a reality for many. The vision of that Victorian Era was for a life of rustic elegance and ease surrounded by majestic pine trees, raging rivers, wide open spaces and picturesque ponds.
The path to such a life wasn’t always paved with the gold they dreamed of, but rather with the vision and leadership of many hard working pioneers. Stephen and Clara Smith were among the first to invest in this boomtown known today as Grass Valley. They built the Adams Express Office and the Golden Gate Saloon which sadly, were destroyed by fire in 1855 along with most of Grass Valley. The Smiths rebuilt the popular saloon as a one story fieldstone building with a brick façade, making it safer from the threat of another fire. The Golden Gate Saloon is the oldest, continuously operated saloon west of the Mississippi River.
In 1862 a relative, Charles Smith, built the current structure and named it the Exchange Hotel. It was noted for its convenience to the local Gold Exchange. When the Gold Exchange closed, 18 ounces of pure gold were found in the carpeting. Like other local buildings that were constructed, the hotel was fortified against fire damage with heavy iron doors and the roof was covered with a 12 inch layer 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.
In 1971, while working on a downtown Grass Valley beautification project for the business community, longtime resident Arletta Douglas, inspected the neglected hotel and realized that The Holbrooke Hotel was indeed the hidden treasure of Main Street and eagerly sought help from local citizens to begin restoration. In 1982, hotel guest rooms were restored and in 1983, the adjacent historic Purcell House was acquired and 11 additional rooms were added there. While continuing to be a vital center for local residents, the hotel was sold to Howard and Peggy Levine in 1991. The hotel was owned and managed by them until 2002, when it was sold to the Weaver Family. The new hotel proprietors are Ian and Susan Garfinkel.
Over the years, the Hotel has hosted many famous guests that included Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield and prize fighters, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Famous authors Mark Twain and Bret Harte were also guests of the Holbrooke Hotel. The hotel was frequented by entertainers Lola Montez, Lotta Crabtree , and Emma Nevada. Rumor has it that the infamous highwayman, Black Bart was also a guest of the hotel.
In 1974 The Holbrooke Hotel was declared a California State Landmark and proudly displays a plaque at the entrance to the hotel, commemorating that declaration.