The Twain Harte Mug, once an attraction for a defunct downtown restaurant, was refurbished and repurposed by the Twain Harte Homeowners Association this summer as part of an ongoing project to rejuvenate some of the mountain village’s aging local symbols.
“It's kind of an icon. It’s always been there, it's always been part of the town. I think everybody is thrilled to see it come back to its former glory and we’re thrilled to have been a part of it,” said John Kinsfather, president of the Twain Harte Homeowners Association. “We’re helping to keep Twain Harte a beautiful place to be. That’s our objective.”
The Twain Harte Mug is almost 60 years old, and to some longtime residents, it grew more dilapidated with time.
“I saw it almost every day,” said Tuolumne County artist Judy Grossman, who was hired to design a new image on the refurbished mug.
“I used to wish they would call me to do something with this so I was just thrilled when they contacted me,” she said. “Twain Harte has a piece of my heart so it was an honor to be asked to do it and it was lots of fun.”
To some newer residents, the mug on Fuller Road, held aloft some 20 feet in the air by a slender pole, was something of a mystery.
Kinsfather moved to the area in the 1990s, he said, and it already appeared the mug was beginning to deteriorate. Through an investigation into the history of the structure, Kinsfather learned that the mug was installed in 1960 by Carl and Lynn Farr to accompany a restaurant known as the “Frostop.”
The mug rotated and glowed with fluorescent lights, he said.
Lynn Farr’s parents lived across the street in a cabin, which was converted to The Rock of Twain Harte restaurant. The Farr family owned and lived in a cabin just next to the Frostop, which was closed in 1974 and eventually converted to Mary’s Diner, and now, the Caffe Blossom.
Over time, dirt and decay muddied the white handle, and the mug no longer rotated.
When Twain Harte Homeowners Association board member Jeff Sorensen suggested fixing the mug, an early evaluation determined that it would be cost prohibitive to install new mechanics for rotation or lights.
“Everybody said that it was a good idea, it was one of those things that's been sitting there and getting into bad shape,” Kinsfather said.
Kinsfather and the nine-member board of the homeowners association decided that a fresh coat of paint and an adjustment to the body of the mug would be enough to spruce it up.
The body was coated in canvas, Kinsfather said, so the framework of the bottom and top pieces were both rebuilt. An aluminum roof was installed to cover the open valves of the fluorescent lights, and a paint contractor then worked three days to replenish the root-beer brown of the body, the white base and handle, he said.
“They did a really nice job,” Kinsfather said.
Grossman was hired to design the mug itself, Kinsfather added, and though there were multiple ideas proposed, the board opted for Twain Harte, Heart of the Sierra, Established 1924. But in recognition of Grossman’s artistic talents, the board allowed for overflowing rivulets of root beer foam along the top of the mug.
“It should last for years and years. It’s all colors that don't fade quickly so it should hold up even in the Twain Harte weather really well,” Grossman said, and noted that the project was done in water-based acrylic paint with a clear coat to help preserve it.
The only obstacle was the use of a rented lift, which would only work if it was level. Struggling with the sloped hill the process was temporarily halted, but completed within two days.
“She did a beautiful job and everybody just loved it,” Kinsfather said.
Grossman is also the artist for the downtown Sonora farmers market mural near Theall Street, and the restoration of Engine #3 and the caboose in Railtown.
“I feel like I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to have a part in restoring Tuolumne County history and adding to its life. That's what makes my job special,” she said.
Kinsfather said the project would not have been possible without the support of the Zelinsky family, owners of the Lazy Z Resort in Twain Harte and the cabin property where the Twain Harte Mug stands.
“They gave us the go ahead to restore it. They couldn’t do it but they knew we could,” he said.
The cost was about $5,000, Kinsfather said.
Dues to the homeowners association as well as personal donations made up the funds, he said.
The restoration comes about a year after the homeowners association pursued another town refurbishment project: the reconstruction of the Welcome to Twain Harte sign at the west entrance to town.
In the aftermath of a downdraft microburst on March 21, 2017, homes, roads, and the iconic town sign were damaged by fallen trees and debris.
The homeowners association constructed a new and updated sign at a cost of $1,700.
“One of the things that the homeowners association tries to do is look at a little small community that needs help,” Kinsfather said. “We don't have any city government like Sonora. We are just a village and there’s nobody to do those things for us, so we try to look at them and do it ourselves.”