Preserving history with a vision for the future |

Preserving history with a vision for the future

I cannot look at a blank canvas and imagine the possibilities. Frequently, my husband stands in our yard, pointing out the perfect location for a tree or the line a retaining wall should take as it winds around the backyard. When he talks, he sees a lush, mature tree shading our house and a beautiful rock wall with plants behind it and ground cover cascading over it, defining the space.

I see dirt and an elevated mound of dirt. It makes for interesting conversations.

I have long been envious of those who can create a magical space or work of art from nothing.

Charles Woods and David Osborn were among those with true vision. In the 1970s, they didn’t see an old, run down factory. They saw a vibrant, creative community center for Nevada City. They saw Miners Foundry Cultural Center.

On a recent tour of the building with Dave Irons and Paul Matson, I saw the venue in a new light.

Osborn and Woods — for whom the main hall is now named —  moved from San Francisco to Nevada City for its historic 19th-century buildings. The graphic designers saw the potential housed within the walls of what was, at that time, a heavy-duty steel fabrication plant, according to Miners Foundry historical material.

In 1972, Osborn and Woods secured an option to purchase the building and formed the American Victorian Museum, a nonprofit. It was then that the “ramp” was created as a means to connect the industrial building to town.

More than 40 years later, their vision has become a reality. The building plays host to more than 200 events a year, attracting more than 50,000 people. However, it isn’t easy to convert an old gold rush-era factory to a community space, then evolve it into a state-of-the-art concert and event venue. Air conditioning and sound systems were a little different back then.

Matson got involved after meeting Osborn and Woods. He was struck by their intelligence and generosity to the community, he said.

It has taken the continued work of Matson, Irons, the Foundry staff and thousands of others not just to keep the building maintained, but make sure it is modernized as well. In January, a new wooden floor went into the Osborn/Woods Hall, covering the old cement factory floor and helping to improve concert sound.

“Miners Foundry is self-supporting, and that is a continuing challenge,” Matson said of the building.

The floor cost $58,000 to install, of which $44,000 has been raised to date. To help complete its campaign, the Foundry is now offering people the chance to have their names, personal or business, permanently inscribed along the perimeter of the floor.

I cannot recall the first event I attended at Miners Foundry. Nor can I count how many things have brought me to the historic building in the past 15 years. It has just become an ingrained part of life in Nevada County.

To learn more about Miners Foundry, go to, or call 530-265-5040.

Features Editor Brett Bentley can be contacted at

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