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Paul Matson: Who were Osborn/Woods?

Paul Matson
Nevada City is fortunate that David Osborn and Charles Woods chose to live in, and embrace, the western Nevada County community.
Bob Wyckoff collection |

David Osborn (1932-2002) and Charles Woods (1931-2011) were business, design and life partners for 49 years.

David’s hometown was Columbus, Ohio and Charles’ was Winona, Minnesota. They earned master’s degrees in art history from the University of California, Berkeley, both specializing in public art.

When photographer-journalist Bob Wyckoff listed the top 10 most important people in Nevada City, he had 11 names on his list. Said Wyckoff, “They were one person.”

In 1957, prominent Nevada County District Attorney and printer Harold Berliner met them at an art fair in Berkeley. They moved to Nevada City from San Francisco to set up shop doing printing and design work with Mr. Berliner. Together they produced books, cards and posters. The town boasted a wealth of Victorian buildings in various states of disrepair. It was a perfect home for the two men who shared a passion for the Victorian Era.

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Nevada City was then a slumbering little place following the general demise of gold mining. However, things were about to change.

Osborn/Woods purchased 244 Commercial Street, now home to J.J. Jackson’s. The second floor was reworked and it became The Loft; a place to live, work and host community gatherings.

One big eye-opener was the construction of the freeway through the middle of town. Many buildings were lost. Concurrent with that “The Ice House at the base of Boulder Street, the Reed Building next to the Nevada Theatre, and the Hot Mill on Union Street were demolished” said longtime City Manager Beryl Robinson.

People of diverse backgrounds were highly concerned and began working together to stop the bleeding. People like Lon Cooper, Bob Paine, John Rankin, Arch McPherson, Joe Day, City Attorney Bill Wetherall, Osborn/Woods, Beryl Robinson, Harold Berliner and Sally Lewis to name a few.

Osborn/Woods offered up The Loft as a workshop. From snippets of paper and notes at those meetings Bill Wetherall crafted Nevada City Ordinance #338, the Historical Ordinance, adopted in 1968. It saved our bacon.

Other things were happening. The Ott’s Assay Office and the South Yuba Canal Building (now home to the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce) were to be destroyed for a freeway ramp. Together Osborn/Woods with many of the same players campaigned to move that ramp farther up Coyote Street and save those two all-important buildings.

They, with 15 other community leaders, joined Sally Lewis’ effort to reopen the Nevada Theatre as two founding members of the newly formed Liberal Arts Commission, now known as the Nevada Theatre Commission. To celebrate the city’s centennial and the opening of the theatre, a community-based production, “Golden Days” was presented in 1965. School music teacher Marian Libbey produced and directed the show. The late Jack Beggs once told me that “reopening the Nevada Theatre was the first time Nevada City ever agreed on anything.”

The program, a huge, magnificent photo-filled foldout was designed and produced by Osborn/Woods. They did the same with a poster for the first Father’s Day bike race, chamber of commerce and fire department events, parades, and whatever else was needed.

In 1972 the Miners Foundry, no longer in operation, became available. They bought it. Said David Osborn, “Since we’re not going to have any children to pass things on to, this will serve as a great place to house our collection of Victoriana.”

The building was dubbed The American Victorian Museum (AVM). They transformed the gritty, grubby industrial space into a happening cultural center, known today as The Miners Foundry.

They encouraged fellow San Franciscans to come on up here. Sibling artists Howard and Cassandra Wahlstrom did so immediately and worked closely with them at the AVM. When the old Jones Hospital came up for sale in Grass Valley, they asked artists and friends Howard and Peggy (Swan) Levine to buy it and move their operation here. Pianist-conductor Paul Perry and vocalist Terry Brown appeared from City Opera, performed at the AVM and went on to help found Music in the Mountains. Multiple events that Osborn/Woods started, like Robbie Burns Night and Fright Night, continue on today.

They secured a grant from the California Arts Council for $2,800 to launch a community radio station. KVMR was licensed and began broadcasting, resulting in our giant local asset, KVMR, 89.5 FM.

Their lack of concern for financial realities was key to allowing them to accomplish so much. While it caused some big bumps along the road, they were dreamers to the end.

We are so fortunate they chose to live in and embrace our community.

Paul Matson, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not represent the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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