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‘Energy of the past’

Only one brass star of the Big Dipper constellation remains embedded in the concrete terrace of the North Star House.

A hundred years ago, dignitaries from around the world gathered on the North Star terrace to talk mining business and sip cocktails while the sun set behind the distant Sutter Buttes.

The North Star Historic Conservancy hopes to bring the community back to that terrace for outdoor performances and evening celebrations.



The nonprofit group is declaring 2007 its founding year and is getting closer to obtaining the architectural direction it needs to start restoring the 1905 arts and crafts-style building designed by California’s first woman architect, Julia Morgan.

Columns of stone made of mine tailings boldly hold up the house and traces of cedar shakes continue to cling to the walls, but it will take millions of dollars to bring the historic building back from years of neglect.




The conservancy has nearly completed its application to the National Register of Historic Places through the National Park Service. Once the site is recognized it will be easier for the conservancy to get the state and federal grants needed for a $50,000 architectural report that will lay out the correct path toward preservation.

“It saves making a mistake. We don’t want to do much more until we have a game plan,” said conservancy member Peggy Levine. The group has enough money in reserves to sustain the property and says the estimated $6 million of needed repairs will have to be done in increments.

The conservancy is also pushing for greater community involvement this summer and continues to hold docent-led tours through the Nevada County Land Trust. Developer Sandy Sanderson gave the North Star Historic District to the Land Trust in 2003.

“The focus is to turn it into a venue so we can get the public out here,” said Marty Coleman-Hunt, executive director of the Land Trust. The grounds can be used for events like outdoor concerts before the house is restored, Coleman-Hunt said.

Soon, a restroom with flushing toilet and sinks with running water will be built on the property, Levine said. An outdoor pavilion kitchen is another idea the group has.

Since 2003, more than 350 volunteers have removed “tons” of garbage and dismantled rooms added on when the North Star was used as a Christian school in the 1980s.

Rotting walls continue to bear graffiti from a time when the building was used by vagrants and experimental adolescents.

Swallows fly erratically through the musty rooms.

The group is hoping a non-profit group such as the Historical Society will adopt and relocate to the much smaller 3,800 square foot Hague House.

Hikers will soon get to walk from the North Star property on county funded trails that will connect with the Glenn Jones Park and Wolf Creek.

The grounds encircled by pines are “wild” compared to the manicured gardens of nearby Empire Mine. Visitors will see century-old rose bushes being nurtured back into bloom after years of dormancy.

“You can feel the energy of the past. That’s what you want to preserve,” Levine said.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

History of the North Star House

1905 – Architect Julia Morgan was hired by James D. Hague, owner of the North Star Mine, to build a home for mine superintendent Arthur De Wint Foote. The 10,700 square foot home was designed to entertain stockholders from New York.

Source: Nevada County Historical Society July 1999 Bulletin

Julia Morgan was the first woman to become a licensed architect in California and the North Star was one of her early commissions. She would later spend 28 years supervising construction at Hearst Castle.

Source: http://www.hearstcastle.org/history/julia_morgan.asp

Mary Hallock Foote (Arthur’s wife) was an American author and illustrator known for her portrayals of the rough, picturesque life of the West.

Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1971 novel, “Angle of Repose” is directly based on Foote’s letters, later published as the memoir “A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Mary_Hallock_Foote

For more information about the North Star Historic Conservancy visit: http://www.northstarconservancy.org

To set up a docent-led tour of the property call the Nevada County Land Trust at 272-5994.

– Laura Brown


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