With a little help from Hollywood, Angels Camp business promoters are hoping to attract some attention to the city’s colorful past and encourage investment in its future.
Just in time for this weekend’s celebration of the centennial anniversary of Angels’ incorporation, Destination Angels Camp, the city’s public-private economic development partnership organization, recruited a pair with Calaveras and Tinseltown ties to help liven up the empty windows of vacant buildings like the Utica Hotel downtown.
Destination Chairwoman Anne Forrest said Martin Huberty, producer of the Oscar-nominated film “Fried Green Tomatoes,” whose family has been in the county for generations, pulled together a lot of historical information in collaboration with the city museum.
Grant Armstrong, art director for films like “X-Men: First Class” and an adaptation of “Les Miserables” to open next year, designed the displays.
“To have Grant Armstrong, who has an imagination that the rest of us would only hope to get one-10th of 1 percent of, to want to be involved in something in Angels Camp, that’s exciting,” Forrest said.
The pair already gained notoriety locally in 2003 after purchasing the old Utica Powerhouse east of Murphys and renovating it. They were part of an investment group that fell short last year in an effort to buy the Utica and bring it back to the prominence it held in town before it closed decades ago. A rendering of what they hoped a refreshed hotel would look like is part of the new displays.
“The day the hotel actually sells will be the day this downtown goes ballistic,” Forrest said.
In the meantime, the displays which feature colorful characters of yore like Rasmus “Big Nels” Nielsen — a.k.a. “Tough Titty,” known for lifting 250-pound anvils with his nipples as a circus attraction — and Sam Gee, the dapper-dressed Chinese immigrant who acted as the mascot for the town’s 1900 baseball club, line the windows of what had been windows void of any signs of life.
“It’s what they do in shopping centers and everywhere else,” Forrest said. “Fill empty windows and make it look a little more interesting.”
She said the displays that went up last week have already attracted plenty of passers-by wanting to take in a little more of the town’s historic charm.
The displays will change at least every six months, Forrest said, and “we will continue to look for interesting people and items in Angels Camp history.”
If the empty commercial spaces are filled, the displays will move, too, “until, hopefully, we don’t need them,” she said.
Some of the displays also have promotional material for the Calaveras Visitors Bureau, the additional history to be seen at the Angels Camp Museum and helpful information about starting a business in Angels Camp provided by DAC.
The displays have been in the works since spring but the centennial celebration prompted their completion.
“Of course, having a deadline was helpful,” Forrest said.
The hotel’s display includes a short biography of Herb Bazinett, who opened the art deco building in 1937. Bazinett had been a Hudson Bay fur trapper and Alaska diamond driller before he came to Angels and his descendants remain in San Francisco.
There is also the tale of Rolleri family matriarch, Olivia, who sailed around Cape Horn in the 1850s from Genoa, Italy, and set up a legendary restaurant.