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Grass Valley: Good Living at Your Doorstep

Tired of complaining about gas prices? Wish you could get a good cup of coffee without driving on a freeway? Not a problem, residents of downtown Grass Valley will tell you. Those who choose to live in the heart of Grass Valley leave their cars behind and walk to cafes, restaurants and merchants within minutes of leaving their doorstep.

At least 5,000 people live in the immediate downtown area, says Howard Levine, executive director of Grass Valley Downtown Association and owner, with his wife Peggy Swan, of the Swan Levine House bed and breakfast inn on Church Street. Levine describes the downtown as bordered by Walsh Street to the south, Richardson Street to the north and Colfax Highway on up to School Street.

“We’ve lived here for 30 years,” says Levine. “Living downtown is the best place in the world to live. It’s convenient. You can walk everywhere, any time of the day, for stress relief.”



Downtown has the Center for the Arts, the Del Oro movie theatre, 25 places to eat, great coffee and dessert places, the Safeway grocery store and many interesting retail merchants, says Levine.

Like many areas in Nevada County, there is mixed zoning in downtown Grass Valley, from single family, residential structures, to bed and breakfast inns to multi-family, commercial and retail operations. The residential housing stock reflects the downtown’s lineage back to Gold Rush days, with homes ranging from small, original miners’ cabins that have been upgraded, to “grand lady” Victorians and a little bit of everything in between. Many homes are small in square footage compared to the several thousand- square foot homes being built today.




John Odell, founder of the Odell Realty Group, and a member of the Realty World franchise organization, has operated his business downtown at 123 Mill Street for the past five years. According to Odell, prices in the downtown range from $215,000 for a 600-square foot, one-bedroom, one-bath residence built in 1935 to more than a million dollars for a bed and breakfast inn. Homes with a historical pedigree command higher prices. A three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,676-square foot home on High Street is listed for $575,000.

Buyers have the benefit of a mix of inventory and prices being available in the downtown. Within a half mile of the downtown there are 17 residential listings, says Odell. “There is more inventory now around the downtown than last year,” he says.

Victorians converted into multi-family dwellings are one of the popular type of residences. An 1870 Victorian, converted into three separate living areas, lists for $425,000.

After working on Mill Street for five years, Odell, who is also a licensed civil engineer and general contractor, says, “I love the downtown, just the very character of it, the historical gas lights, the new landscaping at the street corners. All the shop owners are real friendly and nice.”

One of the reasons the downtown is thriving, says Levine, is that it is home to varied generations and has ethnic diversity. “We are seeing some older folks moving in. They want to be closer in, and they want a smaller, quaint house with some history, plus they only need one car.” The downtown also has a growing Hispanic population which is making the area more diverse, “like a real downtown,” says Levine.

The Grass Valley Historical Commission is another group working to keep the downtown community thriving. It gives heritage awards to owners for fixing up historical buildings in five downtown neighborhoods it has identified.

Levine says the Downtown Association and other community groups are working to expand the designated historical district on Mill Street to include Main Street. A new event celebrating the downtown’s history will occur this year. On Saturday and Sunday, June 10 and 11, there will be the 1872 Grass Valley Town Site Peddler’s Market and Community Art Sale. According to Levine, 1872 is the year the original one-square-mile town was surveyed.

“We’ve been working for over 20 years to keep the downtown vibrant and economically viable,” says Levine. One objective is to find more parking solutions since downtown parking can get pretty sparse, particularly during popular events such as the Friday Night Market, held during the summer and featuring food, entertainment and fresh produce.

Residents in downtown Grass Valley also enjoy picturesque vistas from the hilly streets that make up the downtown district. “Looking over the valley it is reminiscent of the many Victorian communities on the East Coast. When the snow falls it is absolute picture postcard perfect,” says Levine. “We can see all the seasons, the evergreens, the maples and liquidambars changing color.”

Real estate buyers ready for a change might want to consider becoming downtown Grass Valley residents, with entertainment and food venues and shopping all just a pleasant walk from their homes.

Grass Valley – 4.1 Sq. Miles {land area}

Zip code: 95945, 95949

Elevation: 2,411ft.

Location: Northern California, Nevada County; Off Hwy 49 between Tahoe and Sacramento.

Population: 10,922

Public Schools: Nevada Union High School: 9-12

Grass Valley Charter School: K-8

Henessy School: K-5

Margaret G. Scotten School: K-5

Lyman Gilmore School: 6 -8

Colleges/Universities nearest to Grass Valley:

Yuba College (About 34 Miles)

Sierra College (Nevada County Campus,-About 3 Miles, Rocklin Campus- About 33 Miles)

American River college (About 44 miles)

California State University-Sacramento (About 52 Miles)


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