Charles Greenamyer leased the building from John Trabucco and opened the Gold Coin Club in the south half of the building complex. The name for the club came from a Greenamyer family owned mine located west of Bagby. It is rumored that much of the capital used to establish the original Gold Coin Bar came from Gold Coin mine and is how the Bar got it’s name.
Greenamyer took Don Turner on as a partner in the business. The remodeling of the building was significant in that only the south half of the main building and the back three story portion, plus the added building in the back was involved. The exterior bricks were stuccoed with the front door and window having cathedral arches installed and the ceiling coved and painted in the art deco style of the time. The hotel rooms in the back of the building complex were converted into a dining room with the downstairs, or basement rooms, becoming card rooms.
Gambling became the popular attraction at the “Coin” during this period. Card tables, slot machines and punch cards were all available. During that time partner, Don Turner was married to the daughter of Sheriff John Castagnetto. There was a casual attitude, throughout the Mother Lode, towards gambling. While the Gold Coin was the center of activity in Mariposa, punch cards and slot machines could be found at the Bear Creek Lodge in Midpines, the Jeffrey Hotel in Coulterville and even punch cards were available at the Mariposa Drug Co.
It was only after WWII that the State of California insisted on the end of gambling and after the death of Sheriff Castagnetto the new Sheriff, O.M. Whitley, instituted local program to end machine and punch card gambling in Mariposa County. Card games continued at the Gold Coin until the early 1960’s. Whitley was a well liked and respected Sheriff who gently but resolutely moved the slots machines to the County dump.
Eighteen year old Ed “Baggy” Greenamyer was a card dealer. He recalled the various local gentlemen who frequented the tables. After gambling was shut down, the same gentlemen continued their habits at private homes throughout town. Many of them were town leaders, merchants and ranchers.
The Gold Coin Dining Tradition
The old dining room of the Gold Coin was noted for it’s steak dinners. There was a private entrance to the dinning room so families would not have to pass through the bar. The bar, however, could be noisy and fun, even during the later years of the Depression. The Gold Coin Café was added to the original building around 1949 and was a favorite local eating place until the building was closed down in the late 1980s. The Gold Café also served meals to the “temporary” residents of the old Mariposa Jail just up the hill for many years. Many old timers remember the jailer marching the prisoners down the hill for their meals at the Café.
The End of the Depression and World War II
Business of all forms was very quiet during WWII. The patrons of the local bars were mostly old miners, loggers and workers from Yosemite. Most tourist travel ceased, and while the Park did not close, most facilities were shuttered. Caretakers watched over various locations and the Ahwahnee Hotel became a convalescent hospital for the Navy. The ending of the war brought the visiting public back to Mariposa, reviving local business. The returning servicemen and their young families brought a new energy to Mariposa. Saturday night was especially lively with dances at Bootjack, Hornitos, Acorn Inn, at the Liberty Hall in Mariposa, Timber Lodge and various community centers around the county. The young men worked in the re-opening sawmills, some mining, on the roads under construction, and Yosemite.
The Coin Becomes the Town’s Entertainment “Hot Spot”
Saturday night was the time to unwind and continue to celebrate having survived the war and working hard all week. The American Legion, VFW in Mariposa, the IOOF in Coulterville, and the Order of the Golden Stag provided outlets for exuberance. Young men and their girls danced the night away while the kids slept on the benches lining the hall.
When the dances were over, the participants retired to the Gold Coin for a night cap. In those days the Mariposa County Fair closed at 11:30 P.M. and everybody headed up town, the Gold Coin becoming packed with people. The natural result was often a bit of pushing and shoving with an occasional right knuckle. George Hanlin particularly would like to close on time at 2:00 A.M. and would put his heft behind the crowd, spilling participants out front on the sidewalk. Skinny cowboys were at a disadvantage and I was always grateful for mothers rich cooking.
The theater in downtown Mariposa showed two movies on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon. We kept the Drug Store open for the Soda Fountain. The weekend routine was that the wives attended the lodge in the evening, while the kids were at the show, and dad had a couple of beers at the Gold Coin, 49’er Bar or Capital Café. The Gold Coin always seemed the loudest and busiest establishment. During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, motorcycle clubs from the Valley would be part of the mix with the locals at the bars. The most outstanding was the Bar Hoppers from the Merced-Atwater area.
Busy Streets in the “Old Town”
Parking downtown was diagonal for some years and until there was enough money to buy a post war car, parked along the streets were Model “A”’s, Chevy’s, Plymouth’s, Hudson’s, all sorts of pickups and an occasional exotic prewar car like an Auburn, Cord or Hupmobile. Many of the men from the mines had Model “A” coupes with the lid from the rumble seat replaced by a wooden pickup box. It was not unusual to see a dead rattlesnake or bear in the back of the car. When an unusually interesting specimen was collared, the boys would head to town to celebrate their prize and have a toast to their good luck. Celebrations of the sort would always draw a crowd since the proud gentleman often had a gold nugget to buy a round or two.
Probably the most active and well known owner of the Gold Coin for many years was George Hamlin. He was a very large man with a bit of an attitude from many years of hard work in construction. George was big enough to be his own bouncer. His ownership in the Gold Coin was through his father-in-law, Bill Darnell. Bill purchased the Gold Coin after the fire in 1949, and then added a restaurant on the south side of the building called the Gold Coin Café. Noted for their big and greasy hamburgers, the restaurant offered three meals a day and was operated by various ladies of the community who are still fondly remembered today.
For many years the half of the building which contain the paintings were not part of the Gold Coin Club. During the 1930’s, Dan Kidder, a mining man, opened an assay office and sold Ingersol Rand mining equipment in that half of the building. The assay office closed about 1948 when the current owner, Elijah Phillips (whose daughter is Joan Phillips Radanovich) ceased operation and returned to Arizona. Sometime in the 1950’s a pool hall connected with the owners of the Gold Coin, was opened in that half of the building with the separating wall being completely removed (along with the two other paintings) about 1967.
A fire in 1949, thought to be linked to a defective furnace, destroyed the old dining room located in the old Union Hotel behind the Gold Coin on 5th Street and gutted the Bar space in the front. George Hanlin added the Gold Coin Café after the fire when he and father in law Bill Darnell bought the business. The Gold Coin Café was in a space covering the walkway on the south side of the building. It was well known for the best hamburgers and for the steak dinners grilled in the café and served in the bar.
by Leroy Radanovich
Read If These Walls Could Talk, about the Fremont Adobe, now Bett’s Gold Coin.