By BEAU KISSLER | Moonshine Ink

The brick facade of 10072 Donner Pass Rd. holds a wealth of memories and has been known by several names, including Hurd’s Saloon and Hurd’s Opera House, but is officially known as the Capitol Building. The Capitol Building has had various uses over the last 134 years and was the spotlight of Truckee’s cultural, civic, and theatrical history.

H. W. Hurd, an Ohioan-born miner, sailed to California via Panama to work in the booming mining town of Rough and Ready, then Meadow Lake, in the 1850s and 1860s. Hurd arrived in Truckee in 1870 and built one of its first brick buildings — an intentional precaution to the frequent fires that had decimated the town, according to Chaun Owens-Mortier, a board member of the Truckee Donner Historical Society. The Capitol housed Truckee’s first saloon with electricity, complete with a beautifully hand-carved, mirror-backed bar that served many a brew and cocktail to patrons of the Western era. Shootouts peppered the scene, including one in 1891 between two Truckee constables — Jacob Teeter and James Reed — in which Teeter was killed. In the 20th century, this Wild West atmosphere seemed to allure many famous regulars, including John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Norma Talmadge, and Clark Gable.

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While an unruly atmosphere may have occurred downstairs, some delinquents were dragged upstairs to Hurd’s Hall for Truckee’s first district court in 1872; afterwards, fines were issued down at the saloon. However, this civic hall transformed by nightfall into a stage and dancehall that engaged the patrons with many well-received performances by groups such as the Templeton Theatrical Group and Georgia Minstrels. The building was known to quake with vigorous dancing.

Charlie Chaplin also briefly used the space as a backdrop to some of his silent film work, like his 1925 film, The Gold Rush. Chaplin filmed some scenes near Donner Summit. (Read more about The Gold Rush and other films shot in Tahoe on here.)   

The Capitol Building was a true Truckee hub for all western walks of life, be it the gritty and free vagabond with the law ever close behind, or the jubilant entertainer in front of herds of stomping boots. Awaiting its next tenant, these seasoned bricks continue to collect history.

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