Tour Sherlock Holmes' 'private rooms' in Jackson
Welcome to Baker Street West, where all things Sherlock Holmes seem possible.
Over lunch, Mrs. Hudson and Irene Adler (a.k.a. "the woman") concocted this idea to give their old friend his own space. It started with a former storage area above a massive used bookstore, then just grew.
And grew. And grew. Almost five years later, their little corner of Sherlock heaven had become a warren of Victorian-era shops and themed rooms, all drawn from details in Holmes' fictitious cases (and connected by hidden doors).
"This is where the game is always afoot," said Beth Barnard, who regularly portrays Adler, the woman from "A Scandal in Bohemia."
Now, Baker Street West has become a haven for all things Holmes. It occupies most of the second floor above Hein & Company bookstore on Main Street in the Gold Rush town of Jackson.
"We have people come from all over – even England," said Linda Hein, who embodies Mrs. Hudson, Holmes' housekeeper.
"They love it because it's alive," Barnard said. "It's like walking into Sherlock's home."
That's among the reasons it will be featured Saturday during the 46th annual AAUW Amador home tour, one of the special events hosted by Baker Street West.
"We're mainly an events venue with dinner mysteries, Victorian teas and Sherlock plays," explained Hein. "We're very experiential."
In appropriate Victorian dress, the women host a wide variety of "experiences," tailored to fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation. They regularly draw 60 Sherlock fans for Mrs. Hudson's teas (served with a side of detective work) or a mystery dinner theater performance by their Baker Street Players. Kneading Dough Bakery in Volcano creates the scones and other tea treats. The National Hotel in Jackson caters the beefy English-style dinners.
"The guests work with Sherlock to investigate a case," said Barnard, who writes and directs original scripts as well as adaptations. "It's immersion theater. 'Suspects' can disappear in and out of the shops because they're all interconnected. We have nine secret passageways."
With clues and mementos scattered everywhere, Sherlock's private rooms of 221B Baker Street started the project. But first they had to convince Wolf Hein, Linda's husband.
"We wanted to create a sitting room for Sherlock and Dr. Watson," Barnard said. "Wolf thought we were crazy."
At that time, the second floor above the Hein bookstore was home to about 700,000 used volumes.
"We were the state's largest used bookstore," said Wolf Hein, who now doubles as Inspector Lestrade. "Like everything, I took it to the extreme. But the book business has changed. This was something different and creative."
His own love of Sherlock and antiques brought Hein into the fold. Soon, he and Linda were combing the country for appropriate furnishings. He gradually gave away the upstairs books and turned the storage area's pine shelving into framework for the "shops," inspirational windows into the Holmes' universe.
Mrs. Hudson's Tea Shoppe (which sells more than 40 blends) came first. It was followed by Dr. Watson's Apothecary, a museum of 19th century concoctions (and home to Professor Moriarty, the skeleton). The Wolf and Bear Pub (with a deerstalker-wearing grizzly) soon followed. Other shops feature honey (since Holmes became a beekeeper), period clothing, toys, books, scientific equipment and much more. (Every shop also has a cat door for Edgar, the resident feline and chief mouser.)
"More has been written about Holmes than any character in literature," Wolf Hein said. "We've had a lot to work with."
Their idea became a surprising success, Barnard said. "Sherlock is cross-generational; all ages know and love Sherlock. When people come here, they get the whole experience. Our guests say this place is like Disneyland for grown-ups."
Of course, Baker Street West has its own Sherlock, portrayed by Brad Loffswold, and Dr. Watson (Joe Svec). They turn up for most special events as part of the Baker Street Players, which has about 40 members. Baker Street West is also home to Holmes' Hounds, a Sherlockian scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, and has more than 80 members, ages 9 to 88.
"These two ladies saved my retirement," said Melinda Rosselli, a Baker Street Player since its beginnings. "I was planning to put (theater) behind me and just read the rest of my life. Now, we have so much fun."
Rosselli, known as Elizabeth Burnet ("The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge") at Baker Street West, also serves as a docent.
"I love the physicalness of this place," she said. "There's not much you can't touch. It's very tangible. It really does bring Sherlock to life."
The final step in this transformation arrived last summer.
"We got our first call for Sherlock Holmes," Hudson said. "The Amador County Fairgrounds needed a consulting detective."
Bob the Minion (actually a yellow propane tank made up to look like the movie character) had disappeared from the fairgrounds parking lot in Plymouth.
"I called Mr. Holmes and relayed the request," Mrs. Hudson added. "He said, 'I was hoping this would happen!'
"(Fair staff) had a wonderful consultation with Sherlock and Dr. Watson," she continued. "Bob was eventually found; case solved."
Visit Baker Street West
- Where: Upstairs at Hein & Company Used and Rare Books, 204 Main St., Jackson
- When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays-Mondays; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
- Admission: Free tours, but donation requested; varies for other events.
- Details: 209-223-2215, www.bakerstreetwest.com
Upcoming special events:
- AAUW tour: The Amador Branch of the American Association of University Women will feature Baker Street West on its 46th annual tour ($25), set for 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 21. This year's tour explores "Jackson: Tour Through Time" featuring several homes and historic buildings. Docents at Baker Street West will take guests through Sherlock Holmes' private rooms and themed shops, decorated with Victorian furnishings. For tickets, go to amador-ca.aauw.net/home-tour.
- Dinner Mystery Theatre: The Baker Street Players present "A Study in Sherlock: The Bitter Nemesis," 6 p.m. April 28 and May 5; tickets, $70 including English-style dinner and performance. Reservations required.
- Mrs. Hudson's Afternoon Tea Mystery: "Without a Clue at West Baker Manor," inspired by the board game Clue with a Sherlockian twist, features eight suspects with eight murder weapons in eight shops at Baker Street West at 12:30 p.m. June 3; tickets, $50 including tea and refreshments. Reservations required.