|Swan Levine House in Grass Valley|
I have fond memories of Thanksgivings spent visiting family in Grass Valley. The streets of this Northern California Gold Rush town is steeped in history, which comes alive each holiday season with its Cornish Christmas celebration. A tradition for nearly 50 years, Cornish Christmas started as a way to preserve Grass Valley’s Cornish heritage and holiday traditions. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and running each Friday night through Christmas, the streets of downtown Grass Valley are filled with the sights and sounds of an old-fashioned Christmas: carolers dressed in Victorian garb singing from the steps of historic buildings, chestnuts roasting over an open fire, and all of downtown trimmed in twinkling lights and holiday splendor.
For my family’s part, we always went to Cornish Christmas the night after Thanksgiving. We’d bundle up—and despite some eye rolling and mutterings of “Corny Christmas” from certain family members—we all went: the aunts, the uncles, the nieces, and the grandparents. We’d buy traditional Cornish pasties and cups of Mexican hot chocolate and wander through the streets and the crisp night air. We’d hum along to the music and peruse the multitude of crafts and gifts made by local artisans. When my nieces were small, we would keep our eye out for Santa.
|Deer sculptures in the front yard|
I no longer have family in Grass Valley, and almost a decade had passed since I last visited the town, but I had the chance to return this fall and meet the owners of that eye-catching Victorian: the Swan Levine House.
In the mid-1970s, two printmaking artists from San Francisco were looking for a place to build a printmaking studio, show their work, and accommodate guests. Friends had told them about the old Jones Hospital in Grass Valley, so Howard and Peggy Levine drove up in their orange Volkswagen Bus to take a look. Sharing a passion for history and historical preservation, they saw potential in the shuttered hospital with an eclectic past.
The house had originally been built in 1867 by John and Catherine Fahey, who were partners in the Alison Ranch Mine. They sold it to William Campbell, a local merchant who made his fortune selling general merchandise mining equipment. After a damaging fire in 1895, Campbell remodeled the house to its current Queen Anne style. Following Campbell’s death, two doctors who were also brothers, Doctors Carl and John Jones, acquired the house in 1906 and turned it into a hospital named for their father, Dr. W.C. Jones.
|The Surgery Room|
The original master bedroom of the house, called the Suite, is decorated in traditional Victorian style in soothing hues of pale blue and cream. Light streams in from the large turret windows surrounding an intimate seating area—perfect for curling up with a book. A separate sitting room features a beautiful antique-tiled fireplace trimmed with oak. The private bath offers an inviting claw foot tub with a shower.
|The Green Suite|
All through the house, the rooms and halls are brimming with art and antiques that reflect Howard and Peggy’s humor and eclectic tastes. “We don’t do the Hilton look,” said Peggy as she gave me the tour.
In addition to renovating the former hospital into a guesthouse, Howard and Peggy also converted the home’s former carriage house into their printmaking studio. The studio is equipped with one litho press and three etching presses. They also have silk screens, tools for wood engraving, and plates for monotype and monoprint. The studio can be rented for $50 per day plus materials; instruction is available by arrangement.
|Parlor and gallery of the Swan Levine House|
Howard and Peggy’s involvement in the local community runs deep. Howard is the vice mayor of Grass Valley and teaches drawing and printmaking at Sierra College. Peggy is on the Board for the Center for the Arts and is active in the restoration of The North Star House, which was designed by Julia Morgan. Both have volunteered or served on the boards for a number of local fine and performing arts organizations.
|Kitchen of the Swan Levine House|
|Wrap-around porch at the Swan Levine House|
Swan Levine House
328 S Church Street
Grass Valley, CA 94945