The French Gulch Hotel was clearly in the cards for Michael Smith. During the decision-making process to purchase the historic property, Michael brought his dad along for another opinion. His dad quickly recognized that Michael had been to French Gulch before as a boy, on one of many memorable family road trips.
It took at least a dozen more visits for Michael and his partner John Pearson to decide to be caretakers to the brick-and-mortar heart of a tiny Northern California town. Michael, a self-proclaimed city boy, admits that he has some trepidation about moving to French Gulch. “I’ve never lived in a small town,” he still says with a hint of metro withdrawal. But French Gulch has quickly changed Michael’s mind about living in a community where everyone sticks together.
Michael, right, and John, left, transplanted from urban life in Seattle and Tacoma, claiming the keys to the historic French Gulch Hotel just 18 months ago. “We make the payments, but the town owns the hotel,” Michael affectionately jokes. Sometimes he and John look outside to find the front porch or back yard mysteriously cleaned by a member of their new extended family, he said.
In their short tenure as guardians to this local landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, Michael and John have refurbished guest rooms, torn out and replaced a rotting deck, landscaped the back yard and repaired a collapsed walk-in refrigerator. Recently, they expanded their dining room to accommodate growing crowds at their weekday dinners, Saturday music events and Sunday brunches. Michael proudly proclaims that they are “starting to bring the hotel back to life again.”
The French Gulch Hotel, originally the Feeny Hotel, was built in 1885 by Richard Feeny. It is the only remaining hotel from the French Gulch gold-rush heyday. It has come a long way since its boarding house beginnings, when it offered outdoor bathrooms and no running water. Michael and John have maintained its historic charms and, in a nod to its past, named the rooms after members of the Feeny family and regional spots of historic interest.
Just as with any structure built over a century ago, the French Gulch Hotel is in constant need of repairs. Winter has wreaked havoc on an already strained roof. So, Michael and John are having a roof-raising of sorts. In French Gulch fashion, the community has mobilized to raise funds to replace the most sieve-like portion of the building’s metal covering — the only thing, Michael believes, that saved the hotel from the devastating fires of 2004.
This Saturday’s celebration includes an outdoor concert featuring Lewiston’s Porch Monkeys, the reunited Shasta Band and an indoor, end-of-the-evening party, featuring local musician, Weety. All musicians are donating their time and talents to support the building’s restoration.
The roof-fest will also include a barbeque, raffle, bake sale and a special guest appearance by Chris Lauer, great-great-grandson of hotel builder Richard Feeny. Chris (lower left) was a founding member of the Shasta Band, pictured below in 1980.
Join Michael and John, who “work harder now than they ever have,” and the town of French Gulch for the “Concert in the Gulch.” You’ll help maintain a piece of North State history and reassure Michael that it’s OK to be a little bit country.
What: “Concert in the Gulch,” featuring the reunited Shasta Band, Weety and the Porch Monkeys
When: Sat., May 22, beginning at 1 p.m.
Where: French Gulch Hotel, 14138 Main Street, French Gulch. (About 15 miles west of Redding, off Highway 299 West.)
Cost: A $5 donation is requested.
For more information about the historic French Gulch Hotel and the “Concert in the Gulf,” visit frenchgulchhotelbandb.com.
Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your North State news and events to firstname.lastname@example.org.