COARSEGOLD – Since his family purchased the once-popular Broken Bit earlier this month, Tanner Tweed has been on the move, making plans for the immediate future of the property, while making discoveries about its past. The public has been instrumental, helping to fill in the blanks on local lore.
“What is so interesting to us are the number of people who have a story to tell about the Broken Bit,” Tweed says. “Everyone you talk to seems to have some type of attachment to the Bit. Its history is fascinating.”
While the family business is a real estate development firm specializing in shopping centers, the Broken Bit is somewhat of a departure, and Tanner Tweed is managing the transformation, hands-on. He and father Kevin are fielding a long list of questions from a long line of curious onlookers.
Fortunately, the long-time real estate developers who operate as Pavilion Properties have an abundance of experience, and a realistic expectation of the process they face to reboot the beloved but dilapidated location.
“We purchased this property because we did not want to see it fall into a state of disrepair where it could not be revived,” says Tweed. “It seems like an important part of history for this community which we do not want to see destroyed. It is not our intent to ‘reopen’ and operate the Broken Bit. We are developers and landlords, not restaurant operators. If the right operator approached us and was capable of running a restaurant and bar in the existing building, we would love to talk to them.”
Since spending more time on the property, and hearing from the community, Tweed has become captivated by the Broken Bit stories of days gone by, even as he explores possibilities that may give the place a secure future. He reiterates that Pavilion’s goal is to preserve the integrity of the place, while dismissing any idea the family has plans for a quick turnaround. Pavilion Properties also recently purchased the Victorian Square shopping center in Oakhurst, where Alice’s Cookhouse (formerly Todd’s BBQ) is one of the tenants.
“We are not ‘flippers’ and intend to hold almost everything we develop,” Tweed assures, returning to the Broken Bit. Chief among concerns are traffic and road issues, building permits, and operating permits.
“As in every development project, by far the most difficult part is the ‘entitlement process’ and the ‘Conditions of Approval’ from the County and Caltrans,” Tweed acknowledges. “Meeting all applicable state and county building codes, zoning requirements, ADA compliancy, Title 24 energy requirements, Development Fees and the California Environmental Quality Act is what very quickly adds costs to the project.”
Tweed recognizes that public safety is the first concern for entities like the State, County and Caltrans.
“This is a work in process. Until you have a firm project to submit to these different agencies, they cannot respond to the conditions that will be required. We all know improvements need to be done to Highway 41. What we don’t know is the extent of these improvements. This is the inherent risk to being a real estate developer. Until the final City Council or Board of Supervisors vote on the Conditions of Approval, we as developers never know the exact extent of what improvements will be required with our proposed development.”
Since purchasing the property, the Tweeds have met with Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler.
“We did have the opportunity to meet with Supervisor Wheeler regarding our purchase and potential for future development. We were thoroughly impressed with him and his staff at our meeting. Although the entitlement process is my least favorite part of development, I do look forward to working with Mr. Wheeler.”
The new owners say they are open to any potential use that could be viable on the property and acceptable to the County.
“Although we don’t always agree on mitigation measures for each condition, we understand their plight. These however are the entities which can kill a project. One single onerous condition can end a potential development and dream which is apparently what happened to our predecessor.”
Tweed is referring to the people who owned the Broken Bit just before Pacifica First, the bank from whom Pavilion purchased the property. That local family helmed by Russ and Retha Crumpton made a valiant attempt to fully revive the Broken Bit in its most recent incarnation as an authentic miners’ camp for visitors who wanted a glimpse of what life was like back in the gold pannin’ days of the 49ers.
For a while, the operation appeared successful, as school children and tourists alike were entertained and educated. Ultimately their hard work was met with even harder times and the property fell into foreclosure. It was during the Crumpton’s reign that Gabby the Miner was moved onto the property, along with other treasured artifacts, large and small.
“The previous owners seemed to have had a unique vision for the property as a learning experience for gold mining and historical life in the Oakhurst/Coarsegold region. They are the ones who purchased the Gold Gulch Museum items such as the windmill, waterwheel and panning trays, and created the teaching area of the property. All of that area has been neglected for years with overgrown brush, trash and decaying wood.”
With a plan to bring the family tractor up and begin taking out a dense growth of vegetation around the grounds, Tweed will do some of the day-to-day labor himself, and hire help when needed.
“The Broken Bit is a unique project that requires unique local talent. We are in the midst of a similar remodel on a project in Shaver Lake next to our hotel,” Tweed explains, citing the Shaver Lake Village Hotel, a project in which he invested time after his family purchased the property more than two years ago.
“The building known as ‘Ken’s Market’ is a local landmark with much history, similar to the Broken Bit. We are utilizing all local people for this remodel as we did when we remodeled the hotel.”
Back in Coarsegold, Tweed says they are in no particular rush to develop the property at this time, since no tenant is knocking on the door.
“Our immediate goals are to secure the property against further vandals, create a water system sufficient to accommodate the existing structure, obtain safe power to the building, replace part of the roof over the kitchen, finish the siding and replace the windows. We would love to find a responsible caretaker for the property during this process.”
Cruising around the land on foot, Tweed points out that several areas could be venues for outdoor events, however, the old mine on the property is a point of contention with the County.
“The mine itself is really cool, but according to the County it is also potentially dangerous. The County would like to close it up. Our goal would be to make it an attraction that can only be viewed from the outside.” They’re working on plans to preserve the integrity of the feature, highlight the living history potential, and satisfy the County’s concern for safety.
The Tweed family is rooted in the Central Valley and, like just about anyone you talk to, family patriarch Kevin Tweed has a story about the Broken Bit, as well. Tanner explains the connection.
“My father happened to know some of the past owners of the Broken Bit. When he was in college at Fresno State, he had a carpet cleaning business with his roommate. They used Steamex Carpet Cleaning machines that they purchased from Dan Landon who owned the Bit in the 80s. Mr. Landon also owned the Steamex franchise.” A tour through the Broken Bit turned out to be a walk down memory lane.
“When we were going through the building for the first time, one of the rooms had several of the old machines in there,” recounts the younger Tweed. “My dad really liked finding these old machines!”
Inside the Broken Bit, the 14,000 square foot building is pretty much gutted down to the bones, with some projects semi-installed and others just plain stalled. It smells good, though, like old pine and new potential.
The structure is impressive, with the grand two-way stone fireplace, and the massive bar. Tweed says some of the ranch cattle brands still remain overhead from the old days. It didn’t take too long before the Tweeds, with the help of a contractor, located the old pool previously only rumored to be under the floor.
“The floor joists in the dining room over the swimming pool are about 6 inches thick by 18 inches wide set 24 inches on center. That floor is never going to move. It is essentially a post and beam type construction with huge structural support.”
The quality of construction of the original building far outweighs its dilapidated exterior, Tweed contends.
“From a distance, this building may appear as a teardown, but it is far from that. This is what intrigued us most about the property, and the fact it sits on 53 acres of gorgeous land with oaks and Coarsegold Creek.”
Always open to hearing from the public, Tanner Tweed is upbeat about the steps that will ideally result in the revival of the Broken Bit in some form or other.
“Our family has been developing real estate in the central valley for over 30 years. Although we do not have all the answers yet on how to properly develop this property, we are not naïve as to the potential problems and pitfalls. Since we do not have any preconceived notions on how this property will eventually develop, we would love to have input from the community as to what uses they would like to see.”
Photographs by Virginia Lazar. Click on images to enlarge.