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The History of the American Block Building,
Home to the Auburn Alehouse Since 2007

The Auburn Alehouse occupies one of the most historically significant structures in Auburn, and, arguably, in all of Placer County. The need to serve as a custodian of such a significant building was a driving force during renovation, as was an intense sensitivity to maintaining as much of the original fabric and patina as possible.

Construction of the building first known as the “American Block” was completed in 1856, in the aftermath of a horrific blaze in 1855 in what has long been referred to as “Old Town” and “Lower Town.” Home to the American Hotel, the building was for decades the center of social activity in Auburn as well as what was considered at the time, a luxury accommodation.

What follows is a chronology of important events in the history of this venerable structure. . .recognizing that most of the significant events occurred in the 19th century:

June 9, 1855: A huge blaze swept through the Auburn Ravine, a transformed gold mining site, starting below the Methodist Church and consuming some 80 structures valued at more than $200,000. Among the buildings destroyed were the Empire Hotel, the Orleans Hotel, Kinzie’s Drug Store, Keehner’s Bakery, Stephens’ Livery Stable and the office of Placer Press. Also lost was Diana Bowling Saloon, from whose ashes would rise the American Hotel, future home to both the Shanghai Restaurant & Bar and the Auburn Alehouse.

The fire started at 2 p.m. and the blaze was extinguished in less than 90 minutes. Said the Placer Herald: “The town has gone, what of that! In twelve months we will have a prettier and much better one.” (PH)

September 22, 1855: “Mr. Stevens (note: this is actually George H. Stephens) is also about to build a large brick edifice on the site of the old Diana Bowling Saloon, which is to be 40 feet front and 112 feet deep. The first story intended for a billiard saloon, and the upper story for a theatre. It is the intention of the builder to make it the most handsome building in the place.

“Auburn may now be considered as well secured from a general conflagration in future. Many improvements have been made, numerous brick buildings erected, and our streets are now being filled and graded—by winter we shall have a more pleasant town than ever before. ‘Loveliest village.’” (PH)

Instead of a bowling saloon and theater, a new hotel would soon be constructed—The American Block building housing the American Hotel.

March 1, 1856: The Placer Herald reports that George Stephens builds the American Hotel, with first floor bar and dining room, second floor parlors and 16 sleeping rooms, plus a rear frame addition to be used as a kitchen. The hotel would pass through Stephens’ hands many times in the future.

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