Mountain Home Gifts Journal
Soap Box Derby Days (Note Gem Cafe sign, upper right of center)
Gem Cafe, (Serving Sonora until 1950s)
Advertisement (Union Democrat, 1905)
Over a Century and a Half of Varied and Memorable Uses
Changes in transportation in Tuolumne county likely brought conversions and different uses for our building at 87 S. Washington. The Sierra Railroad brought passenger service to Sonora from the central valley in 1900. At some time around the turn of the century Wells Fargo must have relocated and our building became the home of the Gem Saloon.
The proprietor of the Gem Saloon, T. F. McGovern will decide to expand and in 1905 adds a restaurant to his saloon business at 87 S. Washington. An advertisement (see photograph left below) from the Sonora Union Democrat from November 1905 shows that the Gem Oyster House and Grill brought dining of a high standard to downtown Sonora.
This begins nearly 50 years of Sonora residents being served great food at the corner of Washington and Linoberg. There are still signs today of these years of food service in the building. There are still marks on the floor where the counter was and where some of the kitchen equipment was placed.
Over the years the Gem Saloon and the Gem Oyster House and Grill will become known as the Gem Cafe. We occasionally have customers from Sonora who fondly remember eating at the Gem Cafe (see photograph top left, note Cafe sign building just right of center); the Gem Cafe stayed in business until the late 1950s.
A photo of the interior (see top right) that was given to us by a customer a number of years ago shows a different ceiling and finished painted walls. The cafe looks clean, homey and with a staff ready to serve. The Gem Cafe was certainly well liked by the people of Sonora and became an institution in downtown Sonora.
Eye Doctor’s Office (through the 70s and 80s)
Born in1959, Mountain Home Gifts owner John Williams' earliest memories are of downtown Sonora. He tells us of these memories,"My father had gotten a job as a pharmacist with Brady’s Rexall Drug which was right next door at 81 S. Washington. I remember visiting my dad at work at the pharmacy yet I have no memory of what occupied the space at 87 S. Washington.
“My parents tell me that there was a men’s clothing store there in the early 1960s. After that the building became the office of an eye doctor (see photograph above, lower right), Dr. Charles Taylor. I remember that this doctor extensively remodeled the space.
The finish was removed from one wall exposing the original rock wall you can still see today in the store. I remember while I was in the seventh grade at Sonora Elementary that I had an eye exam in this very building. This exam discovered I would need eyeglasses which I thought at the time was most traumatic. Yet by high school I had saved enough of my own money to trade out my eye glasses for contacts.
“After Dr Taylor left the space, the building housed a number of different antique and gift stores. Some time in the 1990s the ceiling was redone using the decorative compressed stone tiles you see today.
A year after I opened Mountain Home Gifts in another space along Washington street, I saw a For Rent sign on the building here at 87 S. Washington street. That was in 2012. I thought our cabin decor and gifts would look good displayed along side of the stone wall and the old wood floor. I also liked the idea of being close the the Diamondback Grill thinking I would get people on the way to and coming back from eating at that great restaurant. It feels great to have our business in a building with so much Sonora history.”