A Compleat History of Old Town’s Union Saloon

For me, the building occupied by Carpe Vino in Old Town Auburn is not an inanimate thing; a simple brick vessel relegated to serving the needs of whatever retailer holds the lease. I know it is not alive, but I often need to be convinced because there has been so much living done in this structure over the course of 150 years.

In an attempt to sketch the roots of the Union Saloon, I’ve spent days hunched over the stacks in the Auburn Public Library and the Placer County Archives, searching for links to the old bar and the people who frequented it. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine them in here now, sitting at our bar, kibitzing, joking and laughing–just as our regulars do today–the lawyers, judges, county employees and the people who simply call Auburn home.

Old Town Auburn about 1957

Researching the archived copies of the Placer Herald and Auburn Journal has taken me on a scholarly trek, one far more pleasurable than surfing the net. The fragile broadsheet newspaper pages present a remarkable view of life in 19th and 20th century Auburn, which struggled then with many of the same problems that confront us today. Most compelling, however, is the portrait of day-to-day living; the simple legacy of births, marriages and deaths that sustain our culture.

Observations of a Lifetime on the Plaza

Here is a collection of stories about the Union Saloon, which in total, create a vivid slice of life in Old Town Auburn. You’ll be introduced two former proprietors: Frank “Big Dip” Dependener, a six-foot, seven-inch Placer County Deputy sheriff and Thomas Patrick, who died at age 38 in 1912. You’ll learn about the mystery behind the old stone building behind the Union Saloon, and you’ll find out who spirited away the original mahogany bar. There’s lots more, plus links to the history of the American Block Hotel across the Plaza. Click on the links below.

I’ve got more stories to write before this history lesson is complete: Someday I hope to find time to ell the gruesome tale of Adolph Weber, the 20-year-old who robbed the Placer County Bank in 1904, and then murdered his entire family five months later in a bid to conceal his crime. And we’re always learning more about the history of this place, so check back for more!

For now, I hope you enjoy this compelling glimpse into the past.

Gary Moffat, April 2003; updated March 2013

Surviving 150 Years in Old Town: The Story of the Union Saloon Building

Here’s what we know about the long history of the round corner building in Old Town that now houses Carpe Vino. We trace building ownership from 1855. Click here to read more.

The Story of Deputy “Big Dip,” The Paul Bunyan of Placer Law Enforcement

Big Dip and ShortyThe one-time operator of a bar housed in the former Union Saloon is a legendary peace officer who served for 37 years. Here’s the story of his famous Courthouse shootout and his untimely death and connection to Carpe Vino. Click here to read more.

How Our Saloon was “Discovered” by Hollywood

The original bar was removed by movie legend Mary Pickford as a 1932 Christmas gift for her husband, Douglas Fairbanks. Here’s the story behind this luminous couple and how they acquired the bar. Click here to read more.

The Good They Die Young: The Life of Thomas Patrick

The story of Thomas Patrick, a young transplant from Ohio who purchased the Union Saloon in 1908, was told to us by his grandson on a visit to Old Town to “revisit family ghosts”. Here’s a profile of a pioneer who narrowly escaped death in a bridge collapse only to die deeply in debt after less than four years as a saloonkeeper. (Click here to read more.)

Homage to Shanghai Hangs in Carpe Vino

The Shanghai—a restaurant and bar founded in 1896—was a virtual institution in Old Town until it was shuttered in 2005. In 2011 as an entry in the annual “Think Outside the Box” competition sponsored by PlacerArts, Sierra Moon co-owner Linda Pierce created a piece composed of tin ceiling tiles salvaged from the Shanghai. This story about how Carpe Vino acquired this stunning piece of art that now hangs in our Mary Pickford bar. (Click here to read more.)

More Old Town History from Gary Moffat

I was happy to work for Brian and Lisa Ford to help write about the history of the building housing their Auburn Alehouse, the former American Hotel and home to the Shanghai Restaurant and Bar. Click on these links to learn about this colorful institution in Old Town, about the Auburn Brewery as well as a glimpse of life in the pioneer West.

The American Block Building (Click here to read more)

The Auburn Brewery (Click here to read more)

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Much of the information developed for these stories was taken from the archives of local newspapers, most notably the Placer Herald and Auburn Journal. There are few published works about Auburn, but several titles were valuable in my research: Auburn, by M.E. Gilberg; The Story and Trials of Adolph Julius Weber, by Lewis J. Swindle; and Placer County, an Illustrated History, by Chuck Meyer. I conducted personal interviews and my research was pointed in the right direction by Donna Howell and Carmel Barry-Schweyer of the Placer County Department of Museums. Our thanks to the same organization for use of many of the period photos that illustrate this site. My thanks to Doug Patrick of Santa Cruz for introducing us to his grandfather, Thomas Patrick, owner of the Union Saloon from 1908 to his death in 1912.