Crown Jewel

The Kraft in Red Bluff…

Real estate broker Nels Leen has been buying property and managing buildings for decades now and has a decidedly businesslike take on the ventures. “Most of our real estate is rental property,” he says. “Normally we don’t do a lot on a new property. We did on this building. It’s a whole different beast.”

The lovingly-referred-to “beast” is the Kraft Memorial Free Library building in Red Bluff, dedicated in 1909, and one of the city’s crown jewels of architecture and a cornerstone of its Victorian District. The building is now in its third iteration, having gone from a library to a beloved home décor business called the House of Design, and now to a wedding venue/event center called The Kraft.

Photo by Katelyn Parra Photography

“This is our first business venture,” says Leen, who has secured the services of Kate & Co.’s Kate Grissom to manage the venue. “We just felt like it was a perfect place for an event center. It didn’t need a lot of renovation, but we did a few things to enhance it.” Floors were redone and a bridal suite was added to the third floor. The basement was renovated to better serve guests. “It’s beautiful from top to bottom,” he adds. The renovation was somewhat of a pandemic project that has grown into a passion project. “The integrity of the building is so strong,” he says.

Grissom didn’t think twice about taking on the project. A long-time advocate for her community, she relishes the opportunity to breathe new life into a beloved building and create yet one more space where people can gather.

Photos courtesy of The Kraft

“It’s vintage,” says Courtny Abbassi, who handles day to day bookings and event management. “When you go into the building, you’re in a different era. It’s been beautified to become a wedding venue, but it’s still got the original touches. The intimacy of the building is just beautiful. The key is the same key from 1909.”

There’s a reverence to the use of the building felt by everyone involved. They are proud of its history and feel like guardians of its legacy. Seemingly no one could be more grateful than Kate Gleim, the former owner who oversaw an extensive renovation of the building in 2006 after she and her former husband bought the building from the heirs of philanthropist Elizabeth Kraft in 1997. Kraft constructed the library as a public service and cut no corners to make it state of the art for its time. It served as the city’s library for 78 years. “It’s been such a part of the community for over 100 years,” says Gleim. “I’m glad it’s in such good hands. They’ve honored the history.”

The Neoclassic building had been returned to the heirs by the State Supreme Court after the city violated the trust that it would always remain a library open to the community. In 1987, the city moved library services to an old Safeway building despite a plea from Kraft’s great- grandson to honor the wishes of his great-grandmother.

Photos courtesy of The Kraft

The building’s history has been written up by Gleim on a website she maintains. “I’ve had so many questions about it,” says Gleim. “People are very interested.” After Gleim became an owner in 1997, she underwent a lengthy process to have the building entered into the National Register of Historic Places that was successful in April 2000. She helps maintain the building’s extensive gardens and helps decorate for the seasons. She owned the House of Design, which made its home in the Kraft building for many years.

“It’s versatile,” says Abbassi, who was recently honored as Volunteer of the Year by the Tehama County Farm Bureau for her work as President of the Active 20/30 Club in Red Bluff.“ You can do a 90th birthday here and it’s not too much, but you can also do a wedding here and it’s just enough.” She notes that services come at a range of levels. “We can offer a fully coordinated wedding or just the bare bones of a building.”

Photos courtesy of The Kraft

“It’s been a fun project,” says Leen. “This property has so many places for photo opportunities. It is a charming place. Down the road it ought to make a lot of people very happy.”

“This building should be an event center,” says Abbassi. “People should be able to enjoy it so everyone can see what the Kraft Library was.”•

The Kraft Event Center • 909 Jefferson St., Red Bluff •

About Melissa Mendonca

Melissa is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.

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