COARSEGOLD — Gabby the Miner has not had a lot of company lately — or attention.
The 10-foot-tall statue that greets motorists on Highway 41 just north of Coarsegold is perched next to the Broken Bit, a restaurant and one-time tourist attraction that’s been closed and boarded up for years now.
In January 2015, the Broken Bit was purchased by Pavillion Properties, which is owned by the Tweed family, who also own and operate a number of eastern Madera County properties including the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds.
While Gabby the Miner appears to be in relatively good shape, still gazing skyward at his huge gold nugget, the 14,000-square-foot building that once housed the Broken Bit is in need of some significant attention.
“We purchased this property because we did not want to see it fall into a state of disrepair where it could not be revived,” Tanner Tweed told SNO in 2015.
Tanner currently manages the Coarsegold Rodeo Grounds and the family’s other area commercial property, Victorian Square in Oakhurst. The Tweeds also own and operate the Shaver Lake Village Hotel in Shaver.
Tanner’s father Kevin, a successful developer and commercial real estate landlord who grew up in the area, said he remembers when the Peckinpah family used to own the Broken Bit.
“It seems like everybody’s got a story about the Bit,” Kevin Tweed said. “I’ve never owned a property where I’ve gotten so many phone calls.”
Tweed said he liked the Bit property “the first time I ever saw it. It’s such a cool building inside. We just want to preserve it now.”
The Bit is currently not for sale or even being actively marketed, Tweed said.
“We just want to fix it up right now so we can use it for Rodeo Grounds meetings or private family functions, at least until the right opportunity” comes along.
The building’s roof is scheduled to be repaired next week, Tweed reported. “And we’ve got an electrician whose going to go through the entire building” in October.
“I don’t want to say that we’ve neglected the Broken Bit but since we bought the Rodeo Grounds, we’ve been putting most of our attention there,” Kevin Tweed said Monday morning from his office in Fresno.
Tweed’s company, Pavillion Properties, develops shopping centers across the San Joaquin Valley.
Tweed sees the Bit’s future as “a bit unclear” — at least at this moment. “We’re just trying to stabilize the building right now, fix the leaks in the roof, clean up the code violations.”
Tweed said that while the facility might someday open again as an eatery, “our family is never going to operate a restaurant in the Broken Bit. I am a developer and landlord,” Tweed added. He said he can visualize the property being redeveloped as a destination-like tourist attraction.
“There’s about 15 acres (on the 53-acre property) that could be used for a business like Casa de Fruta” he said, singling out the popular tourist stop outside Hollister. “Think of all the traffic that passes by [the Broken Bit] on the way to Yosemite.”
The Tweeds purchased the Broken Bit from Pacifica First Bank, which had taken over the property after its former owners went out of business.
The Broken Bit property was originally home to a small inn built in the 1950’s called The Bit of Bavaria.
“The inn was a success but then the inn’s owners added a restaurant,” Tweed said. “Then they went broke. That’s why the next owners called it the Broken Bit.”
Before the Tweed family purchased the property, Russ and Retha Crumpton revived the Bit as an authentic miners’ camp, open for paying customers to get a glimpse of what life was like back in the days of the gold panning 49ers. That’s when Gabby the Miner, along with other treasured mining artifacts, large and small, were first put on display at the property.
But when the Crumpton’s attempted to change the property’s use, according to Tweed, the process triggered a lengthy and potentially expensive review by Cal Trans and the County.
Turning into the Broken Bit is one of the hardest turns to make off Highway 41 — which is likely why Gabby the Miner was placed where he was along the roadside, to serve as a visual landmark.
The Broken Bit building itself is located down the hillside from Highway 41. Motorists in both directions have little visual warning before having to turn in to the property’s driveway, which slopes downhill almost immediately.
And adding to the traffic difficulties, northbound drivers on Highway 41 have to turn across 50-mile-per-hour traffic just to enter the Broken Bit driveway.
Kevin Tweed estimates it would cost at least a half million dollars to add deceleration lanes to Highway 41. He said Monday he’s not ready to spend that much — at least not until he has a solid tenant.
“In my business, everything is designed around tenant demand,” he said.
Transforming the Broken Bit into a Casa de Fruta-style development would likely cost “at least a million dollars,” Tweed estimates.
So for now, Gabby the Miner remains on lonely sentry duty just off Highway 41. But things are looking up — next week, some roofers will be there to keep him company.