The Old Diamond Bar in Yreka
By Jon Lewis
Diamond in the Rough
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
IF THE BAR COULD TALK, it would have one heck of a tale to tell.
The 30-foot-long mahogany bar could start with its manufacture, at the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. in Chicago in the 1850s. The backbar, made with rich cherrywood, could spin a yarn about how, as legend has it, it was brought around Cape Horn aboard a sailing ship, making the long journey from Bristol, England, to the prosperous copper mining town of Kennett in the late 1800s.
In Kennett, the story picks up even more steam. The bar and ornate, triple-arched backbar combined to become the centerpiece of the Diamond Saloon, a wildly popular watering hole that had become the centerpiece of a bustling town packed full of saloons.
The Diamond was the pride and joy of proprietor Victor “Slim” Warrens, an astute entrepreneur with a penchant for diamonds. A fashionable dresser, Slim was always seen wearing an ascot accented with a large diamond stickpin. As the story goes, he would occasionally use the stickpin as collateral when starting a new business. One of those businesses was a second Diamond Saloon in the small town of Hilt near the Oregon border.
Alas, sparkling diamonds weren’t enough to keep Kennett going. The end of World War I reduced the market for copper and environmental concerns took their toll on the copper smelting industry; in 1923, Kennett’s largest employer, the Mammoth Mine, closed.
By 1944 and the completion of Shasta Dam, the remains of Kennett were under 400 feet of Shasta Lake’s cool green water. Well before that watery demise, however, Warrens relocated a section of the bar to his saloon in Hilt.
Hilt, too, was a hopping place during its heyday. The Fruit Growers Supply Co. operated a lumber mill that produced wooden crates used to ship Sunkist oranges on railcars before the advent of cardboard boxes. It was a company town and the sawmill workers would slake their thirst at the Diamond.
And just like Kennett, Hilt’s fortunes eventually faded. During Prohibition, the Diamond limped along as a soda fountain and general store and by the early 1950s it was shuttered. The saloon’s beautiful bar was stored in a barn. The sawmill shut down in 1973 and burned in a fire the following year.
The bar’s story doesn’t end there, however, thanks to members of the Yreka Elks Lodge No. 1980. In 1957, two years after the lodge was established, the Elks acquired the Diamond Saloon bar and installed it in their historic lodge building at the corner of Miner and Oregon streets in downtown Yreka.
Locating the bar was easy, says Brian Favero, the lodge’s exalted ruler. His grandfather Angelo was the maintenance man at the Diamond Saloon in Hilt and knew all about the bar. Favero’s father, Dominic, worked around the club as a boy.
Installing the bar wasn’t as easy. Favero said the backbar is composed of three sections that fit together with finely crafted mortise and tenon joints. “You have to really know what you’re doing,” he says. The Elks weren’t quite up to the task when it came to putting in the 30-foot-long front bar. “They brought the front bar in backwards and the foot rail was on bartender’s side. They had to pick it up, take it out on the street and march it all the way back in again.”
The Elks paid $2,500 for the bar and backbar. Some oil paintings, lighting fixtures and a partition – complete with a bullet hole from when a couple of robbers made off with two of Slim’s diamond rings in 1914 – were included in the deal.
Antique dealers offered as much as $50,000 for the bar and backbar in the 1960s and in the 1970s it was appraised at $70,000. Byran Duncan, a member of the Yreka Elks’ board of officers, says the membership has its own appraised value: priceless.
Duncan is not a drinking man himself, but he says he still enjoys sitting at the bar, having a soda and savoring the fact that he’s looking “at the same mirrors the miners and dancehall girls would look into.”
For Favero, the bar is the backbone of the lodge, a resplendent link to North State history and a personal tie to an idyllic youth in Hilt and fond memories of his grandfather. •
Yreka Elks Lodge No. 1980 • 332 W. Miner St., Yreka • (530) 842-1980
The Siskiyou County Historical Society will lead a tour of the Yreka
Elks Lodge at 5 pm Nov. 3. Call (530) 710-4882 for details.