Rocklin debates fate of historic quarry shed

11/26/2012 12:00 AM

11/26/2012 12:35 AM

The Big Gun Shed in Rocklin isn't much to look at.

There is little left of the roof, walls or floor – it's mostly just wooden framing. A chain-link fence holds back the curious from an adjacent rock quarry and the lattice-like structure left from a bygone era.

The quarry and shed were purchased by the city's now shuttered redevelopment agency. The 2012 state budget action dissolving redevelopment authorities requires surplus property be sold off, with an exception for land expressly for public use.

The city's current plan is to split the property. Under a proposal discussed at a recent City Council meeting, the city would keep the quarry and a small amount of land for an interpretive center but sell the bulk of the property, including that under the shed, for commercial development.

While many within Rocklin's strong preservationist community have accepted the city's position, others want the city to pursue an option that preserves the shed.

Near collapse or not, the shed is one of the city's last links to its past, said Rocklin resident Gene Johnson. He would like to see the shed reborn as a historic site and farmers market. Johnson noted that Rocklin once had 61 rock mining pits.

"This is the last structure. If we can't save it, all we'll have left is the pits," Johnson said. "It's really the essence of Rocklin. It's the name of our town."

The first Rocklin granite quarry was believed to have opened in 1855. Historians credit Rocklin's quarries with contributing to several California landmarks.

"The first railroad shipment of Rocklin granite was used to create the state Capitol," said local historian Dan DeFoe, a recent Rocklin City Council candidate.

"I would like to preserve it," said DeFoe, who teaches at Sierra College and produced a documentary, "Gold, Granite and Grit," on Rocklin mining and the quarry. "We need to build on what we have, not scrape it clean and build another strip mall."

The shed was built in 1906 as a work building for the mining operation. The redevelopment agency purchased the property in December 2010.

City Manager Rick Horst doesn't see that the city has much of a choice about selling most of the shed property. He noted that when the redevelopment agency purchased the 7-acre property it did so under the banner of economic development.

"The state is going to want every dollar it can get," Horst said.

The property, in the heart of the city near the corner of Pacific Street and Rocklin Road, could have commercial value. But what to do with the shed? Horst said a buyer would not be forced to preserve it.

"The shed would go with the property that is sold. It's not something that can be salvaged, in my opinion. I can't imagine an investor wanting to buy it," Horst said. "I'm not sure we can put any strings on it because it's not our property – it's the state's; we are just tasked with selling it."

Johnson says he's talked to folks who say it can be saved.

"We would like to see the structures refurbished," said Johnson, who is working with an ad hoc group calling itself the Rocklin Heritage Committee, a spinoff of the Rocklin Historical Society, which has moved to a neutral position.

Unlike some of its Placer County neighbors, Rocklin doesn't have much of a defined downtown. Johnson and others say a refurbished shed could be the centerpiece of something special.

Horst envisions a historic district with coffee, antique and craft shops around the Big Gun Quarry and the nearby Quinn Quarry.

Johnson likes the dream, but his dream includes the Big Gun Shed.

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