History for sale – Nevada City’s Ott House is on the market for $2 million
One of Nevada City’s best preserved Victorian houses is on the market for the first time in 90 years. When it sells, the house’s equally valuable contents could leave the county for good.
Ott House, a 3,700-square-foot mansion that stands atop Nabob Hill on Broad Street, has been placed on the market for $2 million by owner Stuart Shepse.
Maps, deeds, and other historic documents the family has been accumulating since James J. Ott arrived in Nevada County in 1849 have been promised to the Oakland Museum of California.
Museum-quality examples of Gold Rush era life – an 1848 dresser set, a gas and wood stove that’s been in use since 1903, a clock that was made in Europe about 1830, and dishes that are 100 years old – will probably go on the auction block.
Shepse and his real estate agent, Lee Good of Good and Company, would like to see the house become a city museum that everybody can enjoy, an outcome that requires a benefactor with deep pockets.
“It would be a perfect thing for the city because it’s just a remarkable, remarkable property,” Good said. “I’ve been selling real estate for 30 years, and I’ve never seen a house like it.”
The house, built in 1902 or ’03 and named for its third owner, Emil J. Ott, is one of the city’s best-preserved monuments. The original woodwork is still in place, as are all but three of the gas and electrical light fixtures.
“The more I see it, the more I think it’s like a museum and should be treated that way,” Good said.
Emil Ott purchased the house in 1914, and it has remained in the family since then. Shepse acquired the house in 1994 from the estate of his late wife, Theresa, Emil’s great-granddaughter.
Shepse said the house was structurally sound but needed cosmetic work when he acquired it, and he has devoted much of the past 10 years to restoring the house’s interior.
But as he nears his 62nd birthday, Shepse said the house is too much for one person and that he wants to downsize.
“It’s a large house that really needs somebody who can be here full time,” he said Wednesday. “It’s perfect for someone who wants a handmade antique.”
Shepse said he is in no hurry to sell the house, and he is willing to work with any group or individual who wants to acquire the building for the city.
“I think the ideal use is as a museum,” he said. “It’s an irreplaceable object and a part of history that would be lost.”
Emil’s father, James J. Ott, assayed the famous Comstock Lode in 1859 and is the namesake of Ott’s Assay Office on Main Street in Nevada City. Assaying was the process of determining the precious-metal content of ore.
The Ott family apparently saved everything – Shepse has checks written in 1861, a wedding quilt from 1897, and the 1914 bill of sale for the house (it cost $10,000) – as they actively engaged in mining, real estate, and other ventures.
“They just didn’t come here to live,” Shepse said. “They participated in life.”
The treasure trove has attracted museums and collectors.
The interior of the assay office was sold to the Oakland museum in the 1960s and is now a centerpiece of the museum’s display of California history.
Good and Shepse said Christiaan Klieger, senior curator of history at the museum, will take anything Shepse is willing to donate. “When I showed him what we had, he was blown away,” he said. Klieger couldn’t be reached for comment.
Shepse said historic documents will go to the museum when the house is sold, but furniture, appliances and other items will be appraised and auctioned by Sotheby’s auction house.
While Shepse said he plans to approach some wealthy individuals about purchasing the house for the city, Good said she would like to see the city and downtown businesses get involved in acquiring the house at 450 Broad St.
“It’s time for a spark downtown,” she said. “The Gold Rush has significance all over the world, and if there would be a way of financing something at the top of Broad Street that would bring people to town … it really could be wonderful.
“It seems big enough that I don’t know how possible it is.”
Mark Miller, city manager of Nevada City, said grants are available for historic preservation, and the city has been aggressive in pursuing funding for the transportation museum, the historical museum, and other projects.
“I think the city certainly would consider taking on the challenge of owning and maintaining it, if we could get the funding together,” Miller said. “It’s quite an intriguing idea.”
Miller said there is plenty of competition for the state money and it could take up to a year to be awarded a grant, “but I think (the Ott House) would fare well because it is in such original condition.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User