Remember This?

Keeping the Auburn Drug Company fountain light glowing

Traditions in Auburn started with an Irish Soda and an iconic fountain
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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For more than a century, one of the pleasures of life in Auburn was a visit to the Auburn Drug Company soda fountain.

Perhaps it was preceded by a haircut at a local barber shop or a perm at the beauty salon. Maybe it was a monthly or weekly tradition that carried with it the promise of something cold and sweet, particularly on a 100-plus-degree foothills summer day when the chores were done and there was change ready to be spent, jingling in a pocket or a purse.

And it was a glow of colored light that magnetized Auburnites — a stained-glass globe atop the gleaming metal and cool marble of a soda fountain that turned what could be passed off as a commercial transaction into an event worth remembering and perhaps even cherishing.

Auburn Drug company sits empty today on Lincoln Way but if you peer through the window, you’ll see the familiar luminescence of the soda fountain globe. Someone has honored the old store’s memory by keeping the light on — perhaps in the hope that one day, an enterprise that ran continually from 1896 to its closure on March 11, 2015, will be revived.

This week’s Remember This photo from the Auburn Journal “morgue” is a posed shot that was not published in the paper. Journal photographer Merv Doolittle took at least two different angles and the one that was published in the Jan. 25, 1974 edition is another one — from in front of the counter instead of behind it.

The photo we see today shows longtime Auburn Drug owner Clarence Reeves, in a traditional pharmacist’s lab coat, pulling on the soda fountain apparatus while Charlie Fink, who would take over ownership days later, sits at the counter.


Irish secret

The cutline suggests that Reeves is mixing Fink an Irish Soda — the “secret formula” fizzy concoction that Auburn Drug was known for. And who’s to doubt that the two didn’t subsequently sit down to quaff a glass of the Kelly green mixture, perhaps joined by a thirsty Journal photographer.

The change in ownership was worthy of some AJ ink. The business by 1974 had taken on iconic status as one of the oldest in town. Reeves added to its luster with some strong civic engagement over the years that included a stint as Auburn mayor. He was described in the article accompanying the photo as “one of the sparkplugs of the local business community.”

In its early years, Auburn Drug was a business looking for a permanent location. It took three moves before owner Henry Swanson found what would be its final stop at 815 Lincoln Way in 1927. Swanson was the druggist who concocted the secret lime-tinged Irish Soda recipe. Reeves and his wife, Amy, bought the business in 1941 and sold it to Fink in 1974.

Fink turned out to be the ideal successor to Reeves. He would keep the pharmacy — and the fountain — smoothly operating for the next 40 years. Reeves would die in 1983 at 73. Fink would die in 2014 at 1985.


Fountain origin?

The Journal article also casts light on the origin of the fountain, undoubtedly leaning on Reeves’ institutional knowledge.

“The marble fountain, with its tiffany lamp and brass fittings, is an Auburn landmark, dating back to the days when it graced the old Perry’s Ice Cream Parlor on the site now occupied by Fowler’s TV,” the story states.

A check with the “Placer and Nevada Counties Illustrated” reference work from the 1920s on area business people includes an entry for Frank Perry, who opened a candy and stationery store in Old Auburn in 1914 and moved it to Lincoln Way four years later.

“He carries in stock one of the most complete assortments of high-grade stationery and candies to be found in Northern California,” the entry states.

For the past three years, people have passed by the old drug store space and wondered what lies in the future for a building with such a rich past.

Time will tell. In the meantime, the light stays on the old soda fountain, keeping the memories alive.

“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson can be reached at Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.