Gone but never forgotten
‘Because of their background and the fact that they had not spent their entire lives here, they could see the beauty and potential of Nevada City that some of us as locals took for granted. They helped us move forward and glue ourselves back together following the scar that was created by the freeway. Much of what Nevada City offers today is a result of the vision and good works of Charles Woods and David Osborn.’ - Beryl Robinson, former Nevada City manager
By Paul Matson
In 1975, I had the good fortune to meet Charles Woods at his American Victorian Museum (AVM) on Spring Street in Nevada City. Having had the privilege of his friendship over these many years, a number of his unique qualities come to mind in the wake of his recent passing.
One was his incredibly generous, kind spirit. The AVM, now known as Miners Foundry, was a wide-open, rocking, happening place with a full bar and restaurant. Anyone that needed something to do (or eat) could find a mission there that would get you through the day.
This kindness was extended to anyone who cared to or needed to accept it. At Charles Woods’ AVM you could get a job, create a project or host a fundraiser with a zero degree of difficulty.
Another amazing thing about Charles (and his partner David Osborn)
was his almost total lack of concern with the practicality of a potential project. This quality combined with his substantial artistic capabilities allowed him to create a cultural center out of a factory, start a radio station, build a covered bridge on dry land, and convert a little house on Broad Street into a Teddy Bear Castle, complete with a moat and draw bridge. His vision, imagination and accompanying skill sets were almost without bounds. Lucky for us, he found his way to Nevada City.
“Charles Woods and David Osborn were lifelong partners in graphic design, art, architecture, historic preservation and countless other civic and artistic endeavors. Together they left behind many significant footprints in the community they came to love,” said Bob Wyckoff, a long-time friend.
Originally from Winona, Minn., Charles completed a Masters Degree in Art History at UC Berkeley while his friend, David, did the same. They then began working in San Francisco as Osborn/Woods, a graphic design team. They first came to Nevada City in October 1957. Mr. Woods died peacefully Jan. 20, 2011, following the loss of David in 2002.
Charles Woods’ professional background included working at the Henry J. Kaiser Corporation as Senior Chartist, doing graphic design for Cost Plus and the Berkeley Co-op and greeting-card design for the de Young, Crocker and Denver Art Museums. He was fascinated by the Attingham School’s study of the English Country Home, sponsored by the British National Trust. This interest resulted in trips to England and the beginning of his
Victorian Era Collection. He had a passion for the study of art and architecture.
These areas of expertise all began to merge with his arrival in Nevada City. Said Woods, it was “the dawning of our awareness that Nevada City itself was a truly unique relic of the Victorian Period, although damaged and neglected.”
When they arrived in Nevada City, they worked with printers Berliner and McGuinness, artists George, Jean and Carol Mathis and printers Allert and Bassett.
Charles Woods adamantly opposed the construction of a freeway though the center of town and he and Mr. Osborn retreated to the Bay Area as “refugees” during the freeway construction that created a gash through the city. Much of their work in Nevada City revolved around helping the city move forward following that event.
He was on the original committee supporting the Liberal Arts Commission’s (now the Nevada Theatre Commission) purchase of the Nevada Theatre to serve the community as a performing arts facility. Osborn/Woods designed the program for the grand opening of the Theatre, “Golden Days.”
They also designed the poster for the first Father’s Day Bike Race, now in its 51st year and today known as the Nevada City Classic.
Workshops were hosted at the “Loft,” their gift shop and home on Commercial Street, the present J.J. Jackson’s, to help the city create and secure passage of Nevada City’s Historical Ordinance to protect and preserve the historical buildings that survived the freeway project’s demolitions.
In the early 70’s with the guidance of Al Merrill, one of Nevada City’s few realtors of the time, Osborn/Woods became aware of plans to significantly alter the Miners Foundry to make it “more compatible with heavy-duty” steel fabrication. This precipitated their purchase of the building in 1972. They christened it the American Victorian Museum and it remained in their ownership until 1990, at which time it became the Miners Foundry Cultural Center.
Their extensive collection of Victoriana found a home at the AVM, including Vaseline Glass shades with iron fixtures in the Stone Hall salvaged from a demolished English church, an embossed steel ceiling in the Upper Gallery rescued from a plumber’s workshop in Colfax, as well as the last remaining organ created by Josef Mayer, California’s first professional organ builder.
They were extremely careful to be historically accurate. For example, siding for the exterior was milled to match the 1881 engraving from Thompson and West’s ‘History of Nevada County,’ which replaced the existing tin siding.
Although only a few hundred feet from Broad Street, Osborn/Woods wanted to connect the foundry to downtown Nevada City. A ramp from within and an entrance on Spring Street were constructed. Woods once wrote “the ramp as originally conceived, not only accomplished the essential connection to the Theatre and the town, but also furnished an ideal ceremonial, intermediate space from which, upon entering, visitors might view the whole of the building’s interior and activities…and also provided necessary group or individual shelter from the elements at the very entrance.”
The American Victorian Museum served as the hub of civic and cultural activity for nearly 30 years. A short list of those who appeared there includes Buffalo Springfield, Wings, Tower of Power, Kate Wolf, Gov. Jerry Brown, Gen. William Westmorland, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Burgess Meredith. The Teddy Bear Convention, Robbie Burns Night, the Foothill Theatre Company and Performing Arts Guild Children’s Theatre all had their beginnings at the American Victorian Museum.
Thirty-three years ago, Mr. Woods co-founded KVMR Community Radio, 89.5 FM. At the time one featured event was their weekly Sunday Brunch and KVMR (Victorian Museum Radio) broadcast 360 simulcast events during his tenure.
In addition to their own amazing contributions to cultural life in Nevada County, Osborn/Woods encouraged and inspired others to do the same. Paul Perry, who in 1975 stood in as pianist at a San Franciciso’s Community Music Center Chorus concert at the AVM, began making regular trips to perform in Nevada City and in 1982 became the first artistic director of Music in the Mountains.
Today, the AVM continues its outreach by sponsoring the annual 10-day Sierra Nevada Altar Show at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Said long-time City Manager and Nevada City native Beryl Robinson, “because of their background and the fact that they had not spent their entire lives here, they could see the beauty and potential of Nevada City that some of us as locals took for granted. They helped us move forward and glue ourselves back together following the scar that was created by the freeway. Much of what Nevada City offers today is a result of the vision and good works of Charles Woods and David Osborn.”
Charles Woods will be greatly missed by his community.