After 19 years as publisher, relocation of The Union and retirement, Moorhead still calls Nevada County home
While studying journalism at the University of Oklahoma, Jack Moorhead surely didn’t see himself in the construction business.
But after arriving in Grass Valley as the new publisher of The Union in 1975, Moorhead had quite a project on his hands in finding a new home for Nevada County’s daily newspaper.
He had taken on big projects, such as moving a weekly newspaper to daily publication in the Bay Area, and had served in a management role many times, including as advertising director for the Napa Valley Register prior to replacing the retiring Peter Ingram as publisher of The Union.
But wearing a white hat on a construction site, after finding a suitable home for a then 111-year-old newspaper, was a new experience.
The Union had been located in downtown Grass Valley since its inception in 1864. The paper was published at several locations, including its earliest operations out of the Holbrooke Hotel building, before owner William F. Prisk in 1903 constructed a building at 151 Mill St., which still bears “The Union” on its facade to this day.
By the time Moorhead arrived, though, the paper had essentially outgrown its home.
“We could only keep a week’s supply of newsprint there,” said Moorhead, who will celebrate his 85th birthday in October. “We used to store it at a warehouse up on East Bennett. We’d bring down 20 rolls at a time in a bobtail truck and lower them down that ramp with block and tackle. I always said if they ever lost one of those rolls of newsprint, they’d wipe out Mr. Charlie’s restaurant down on South Auburn.”
In addition to the tight storage space, as well as a lack of parking — The Union rented parking spots for employees from the nearby Del Oro Theatre — the building’s roof also leaked and had “terrible heating and air conditioning problems,” Moorhead said.
“So one of my first chores was to find a location for a new plant,” he said. “That took probably six months to a year before we finally settled on the property out on Sutton (Way).”
As planning and construction commenced, for the next three years Moorhead and his staff remained at 151 Mill St., where he said he was welcomed to town first by Dr. Bob Ross, an optometrist who had an office next door.
Wally Krill of Gold Cities Insurance, which was located just up the street at the former Nevada County Bank Building, was among the first business owners he met, as well as Downey Clinch, owner of the former Alpha Hardware Co. that had locations in both Grass Valley and Nevada City.
Moorhead said by the time they had made the move in 1978, The Union was among just a handful of businesses operating out of the Glenbrook Basin.
“Across the street, Fischer’s Firestone had one end, and Safeway was over there,” Moorhead said. “Thrifty drug store was now where Rite Aid is. The bank was in a mobile-home type of sub-bank … I think the pizza place was there, but that’s it. In fact, on the other side, there was nothing up on the other side.”
The Union bought just more than 11 acres on the east side of Sutton Way, from the north end where Flyer’s gas station is located all the way down to where a commercial building sits across the street from the paper’s current 464 Sutton Way location.
Eventually the property was split and sold, he said. As The Union’s new home was being constructed, a Lucky’s grocery store and a Longs Drugs were being built on the opposite side of Brunswick Road — where Safeway and CVS Pharmacy are located today.
Moorhead said that in addition to mitigating construction issues — like making sure the soil compaction was sufficient, considering the building was being erected in the “swampy” former bed of Lake Olympia — he also had to deal with members of the community concerned over development in the area. In fact, he said, the frequent “growth vs. no-growth” debate seen over development in western Nevada County is not exactly new.
“When I first came up here, half of Nevada City was boarded up,” Moorhead said.
“The hippies versus loggers thing was constant there, and that’s because people were looking for growth and jobs. Probably the most outspoken person was (Nevada City attorney) Harold Berliner … We never did agree too much. But on the day I retired, he came down to the paper and said even though we differed on a lot of things, I was always fair with him and he appreciated that.”
That retirement came in April 1994, after 19 years of leadership at The Union. But in between his arrival on Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley and his final day of work in the Glenbrook Basin, Moorhead thoroughly enjoyed producing a newspaper each day.
“You mean the ‘daily miracle?’” he said. “Somebody once described it as we started from scratch every day to create a new product for tomorrow.”
Of course that product, published in the hey days of the print newspaper industry and well before the advent of TheUnion.com, was quite a bit heavier for the carriers delivering it each afternoon.
“I remember we were averaging — without any supplements at all — well over 24 pages a day,” he said. “On Thursdays and Fridays, there would be 15-16 pages of Classifieds alone, with cars and real estate listings.”
One of the products he helped create as editor and publisher, and continues to be highly popular to this day, was The Union’s weekly Prospector.
“The Union had never had an entertainment tabloid before,” he said. “That was one of the things that has continued to hang around.”
Moorhead had not necessarily planned to stay in Nevada County after his retirement.
He and Beth, his wife of 35 years, had bought a house in west Texas and split their time between there and their Nevada City home. But after three years, “that got old in a hurry,” he said.
They eventually elected to stay here, where he became active in various community boards, such as Music in the Mountains, Hospice of the Foothills and the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation.
Over the years, even though he might have read something that he didn’t agree with in his “daily miracle,” Moorhead tried to stay above the fray and “out of the way.”
But in 2004, when an op-ed was printed in the paper seeking the ouster of former publisher Jeff Ackerman, Moorhead broke his self-imposed silence.
The short piece he penned provided some insight to what life is like behind the publisher’s desk:
“For 10 and half years, I’ve resisted in contributing an opinion to The Union,” Moorhead wrote. “The recent ‘Other Voices”’ calling for Jeff Ackerman to go … finally got to me!
“Jeff must be doing something right … He has both sides of the street hollering at him. The liberals and the conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, no-growthers and pro-growthers … all screaming for his head. From what I hear on my rounds, he is doing a good job in this community and he has not failed to serve it well. I don’t think there are any more ‘alienated’ folks than those who agree with him. Just look at the recent election.
“For almost 20 years, the very same vocal minority wrote the same letters and phoned, calling for my removal. Only my birth certificate and my wife finally succeeded in my decision to retire.
“A senior member of the Swift (Communications) family once told me, ‘As long as you are fair and consistent, don’t worry.’ Another old friend, Arlie Hanson, also told me, ‘Don’t let the turkeys (I paraphrase) grind you down.’”
To contact Editor Brian Hamilton, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4249.
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