Saturday, August 8, 2009

Final Steps in a Walk Through Sonora

Continuing our stroll down the main street (Washington Street, also Highway 49) of Sonora (CA), we passed several stores that reflected the town's early days.

Sonora, one of the oldest cities in California, was incorporated on May 1, 1851. Only ten cities in the state have been incorporated longer.

Like so many Gold Rush towns, Sonora had a wild reputation in its early days. According to Frank Marryat, who wrote about his 1851 experiences in Sonora, “No church bells here usher in the Sabbath . . . every man carries arms, generally a Colt revolver, buckled behind, with no attempt at concealment.”

While not totally accurate as to the lack of church bells, it does give one a feeling that Sonora was a pretty wild place.

In 1986, Sonora was chosen as one of the first “Main Street” cities in the State of California. Working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the California Main Street program the City Council committed over a quarter of a million dollars in an effort to revitalize the city’s historic downtown.

The colors of the shops and restaurants reflected the character of their owners, from the serious, all business approach to the whimsical, inviting exterior of Talulah's.

Like many old mining towns, Sonora has had a number of disastrous fires. The worst of these occurred on June 18, 1852, consuming nearly every building along Washington Street.

Prior to the fire, wooden buildings along Washington Street were built close together without side streets. After the fire it was decided to create side streets as fire breaks, saving the City from total destruction during subsequent fires.

Sonora’s downtown configuration has changed very little since 1852. The City’s last major fire in the downtown occurred in 1970, destroying several businesses close to and over Sonora Creek on the west side of Washington Street. After the fire, instead of rebuilding the destroyed structures, the townspeople created a park.

In the two buildings pictured here (left and below), there is a difference in architectural design. The tile roof on each building show a distinct change from the design of the earlier buildings.

The Sonora Inn is now part of the Days Inn chain.

Walking led to hunger, and hunger led to the Miners (sic) Shack restaurant, which takes you back in time.

The rough wood walls are decorated with framed sheriffs’ badges, old mining implements, nails (or are they spikes?), and a plethora of movie cowboy and cowgirl photos.

This small restaurant is a place that relishes Sonora’s past. As I was scanning the photos, my eye was immediately drawn to the photo of George Francis Hayes, or “Gabby,” as he is known to those of us who are counted among his closest friends. I was always partial to his gruff demeanor hiding a marshmallow heart as I watched Hopalong Cassidy movies.

Now the Miners Shack is by no means a health food restaurant, although they do have a list of sandwiches that include some combination of sprouts and/or avocado. I was about to order one of these, and then I saw the pastrami Reuben on the menu and “dadgumit” I haven’t eating anything close to “deli” in a long time.

With this I chose the potato salad as my side dish (instead of fries or salad). The sandwich was a winner. Thin sliced pastrami had been warmed on the grill so that the fat rendered and made the meat moist and tender. Served on marble rye with melted cheese and a container of Thousand Island dressing on the side, my deli craving has been temporarily satisfied. “Yer darn tootin’.”

The “young whippersnapper” I was dining with chose two pieces of fried chicken, again with the potato salad. I think that the crunch from the thin batter coating the chicken could have been heard in the middle of the very busy street. While the pieces of chicken were small, they were moist, meaty, and grease-free.

But “consarnit,” the potato salad was not that good. It seemed that mashed potatoes were used as a binder for the chunks of potato, red bell pepper, and dill pickle. And you know that I am not fond of mashed potatoes. And the salad was bland. In addition to needing some salt or some chopped onion or some mustard, it needed some form of acid to give it some life.

Finally, they needed to crank the air conditioning up a bit. The day was warm and the AC barely made a dent in the heat. Not a bad place, not a great place, the Miners Shack earns a 3.5 Addie rating.

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