Mok’s Town Hall Enjoys a Renaissance
By Antoinette May Herndon
Are you old enough to remember “Gunsmoke”?
If that venerable TV classic sparks a responsive chord, you’ll recall that Matt Dillon, marshal of Dodge City, thought his job “chancey.” Sometimes it even made him “a little lonely.”
On the other hand, Matt’s main squeeze, Miss Kitty, found her true calling at the Long Branch Saloon where she reigned as bar maid. In the past couple of years I’ve been drafted several times to fill the “Miss Kitty” slot at various community functions held at the Mokelumne Hill Town Hall—a big barn of a building with historic ties to the village. Believe me, there’s nothing “lonely” about that job. I get to see and talk to everybody.
At the most recent event, an Enchilada Feed, sponsored by the Mok Hill Lions Club, I worked the bar with two other Kittys, Jane Canty and Julia Costello. All those hard drinking wine and beer drinkers kept us pretty busy.
Fortunately, Jane’s a real pro. She and her husband, Ron, own the Hotel Leger across the street. You can be certain that Jane’s put in plenty of Miss Kitty hours on her own.
As for Julia, an archaeologist and historian, she’s definitely used to digging into things. Reaching into the vast resources of the beer and wine cooler is nothing to her.
Al Pena, a Mokhillian from way back and president of the Lions Club, was the true hero of the evening. Al has been the master mind behind the enchilada dinners for the past 11 years. They’ve been successful
too. Last year’s feed netted enough to buy the town hall new tables and chairs, plus two respirators for the fire department. As of this writing, the 2011 receipts had not been tallied.
But I can tell you one of Al’s success secrets. “I fry the chili powder and flour for three hours,” he confided to me. “After that I let the gringos do the rest but still tell them how to do it.” At the most recent dinner Al had a crew of ten turning out some 800 enchilada dinners.
Once the bar crowd had smelled the enchiladas and begun to drift off in that direction, Julia filled me in on the town hall’s history.
The original building was put up by the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company in the 1870s. (About the time that Matt and Kitty were supposed to be cavorting in old Dodge City.) It was conceived as a combination firehouse and meeting hall. A noble idea, but over time the structure fell to ruin.
In 1903, the town salvaged floor joints and other lumber from the ruin and—after a series of fits and starts, bits and pieces—constructed the building as we see it today. The only addition has been a kitchen, located downstairs, which was added in 1936, as a PWA (Public Works Administration) project during the depression.
Through the years, the town hall has been owned by a number of Mokelumne Hill service clubs. Everyone meant well, but maintenance was a perennial challenge. Finally, in 1963, foreclosure for delinquent taxes was eminent. Historically, the town had always stepped in to bail the building out with bake sales, benefit
dinners and theatricals. This time the consensus was: “We can’t keep doing this.”
The old building appeared doomed. And then, like the old west heroes of old, the Veterans’ Memorial District blew the rescue bugle. The Vets saved the day by assuming ownership and have continued to save it ever since.
Recently the old meeting place got lucky again. First it received a Prop 40 grant which enabled the Vets to put in air conditioning and heating. Then they got a Caltrans grant to add handicapped access at the side and restore the original front of the building.
“We’re putting the historic windows back,” Julia says gleefully. “This looks like the year of the town hall.” And, with all the benefit events planned for the venue, it looks like a good year for Miss Kitty too.
VITALS: The Lions Club and chef Linda DaValle will host a steak and scampi dinner at the Mokelumne Hill Town Hall, 8293 Main St., on Feb. 14. The price is $25. Lila Moran is taking reservations at 286-1198. The event will benefit the Lions Club Scholarship fund. The town hall is available for rent. Call Patty Yocom for information at 286-1160.
The interior of the Mokelumne Hill Town Hall was filled to capacity at the recent Enchilada Feed sponsored by the Lions Club. (2 pictues)
Evan Garamendi (right) chats up barmaids, Jane Canty, Antoinette Herndon and Julia Costello.
The Mokelumne Hill town hall is loaded with history.