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Monday, April 23, 2018

Rock House Brews


Rock House Brews

Coffee and more in an historic setting

Story and photography by Lee Juillerat


The mystery is solved.        

For decades, people in the Klamath Basin have driven by a strange, wonderfully unique stone building and wondered when, why and how it was built, what it looked like inside. They wondered whether the story of what came to be known as the Rock House would ever be known.              

Wonder no more. The questions, at least most of them, have been answered.          

In 2016, two people curious to learn more about the Rock House located the building's owner and then went several steps further. After much needed upgrades to plumbing and electricity, and several coats of fresh paint, the business opened in January 2017 as Rock House Brews, a coffeehouse and restaurant. Since then, people lured by the chance to finally peek inside are making return visits to not only savor the atmosphere, but to devour freshly prepared pastries, pies, soups, scones, quiche, sandwiches, juices and, of course, varieties of freshly brewed coffee. It is become a meeting place for several groups, along with high teas, antique fairs, and birthday parties.            

"Our goal is to keep things really personal," explains Betty Miles of the atmosphere inside the one-of-a-kind building. She barely pauses before her sister, Earleen Lusby, adds, "We want it to feel like home," with Miles explaining, "A place you can come and enjoy yourself and relax with friends."              

In the months that Miles and Lusby have been brewing up tasty treats in their unique setting, they've also learned about and gained an appreciation for John S. Cardoza, the man who built the 1,200 square foot structure. Cardoza carefully cobbled together hundreds of mostly small hand-cut stones, opalized wood and several varieties of obsidian, most found within a 150-mile radius. Walls, shelves, two back-to-back fireplaces and even floors are formed from rocks, wood and mortar.          

There's no doubt who did the work. Inside one room, large gold letters on the wall declare, "Built in 1941 J.S. Cardoza."            

"That man must have been so busy it's no wonder he didn't marry," says Miles. Cardoza’s neighbors passed along stories of Cardoza spending hours cutting stones and wood into small slices, some the size and shape of Coke bottle bottoms.             

Little is known about Cardoza. Klamath County Museum Director Todd Kepple says research indicates he was born December 8, 1884 in Portugal, although he reportedly told friends he was born in Brazil. Old newspapers provide some clues. A 1944 photo of an automobile accident shows, in the background, "Johnny's Cottages," the name also used in a 1955 special section that lists Johnny's as offering cottages, sleeping rooms and furnished apartments at weekly rates.            

After Cardoza's death in June 1961 at age 76, Kepple says newspapers and county tax records indicate the business went through several name changes, including House of Rocks Motel, 4-5-6 Motel and, in 1965, the Rockwood Motel. When it closed is uncertain, but people who've lived in Klamath Falls for the past half-century had never been inside—until last year.

Miles had been among the curious. She had viewed the building from the outside for decades while working for the Klamath County School District as a paraprofessional and librarian and, later, while owning an antique/collectible shop. Those items have found a home inside Rock House Brews, and so has Lusby. After her husband died, she sold her cowboy bar in Arizona and moved to Klamath Falls, "So I could be closer to family."

Looking to open a coffeehouse, they were immediately attracted to the Rock House. "The uniqueness of the building. I'd always wanted to come in and see it. I knew this was 'it' the first time we came in," says Miles. "We said," echoes Lusby, "this is what we want."               

Thanks to members of the Rock and Arrowhead Society, one of several groups that routinely gather at the Rock House, and Kepple, who located a photo of Cardoza, the sisters have gained an appreciation of the building's creator and his work.     

"All the sweat, blood and tears. Cardoza had a vision to be able to create this," Miles says, her arms sweeping around the walls, floors and fireplaces checkered with complex patterns of stones and rocks. "I love this Johnny guy. You feel him in this building." Referring to a 1956 photo that was used with Cardoza’s obituary, Lusby says, "The picture kind of put it together. You can see him sitting here."          

Along with the food and selection of coffee, Rock and Arrowhead Club members are dazzled by the building's craftsmanship. During a recent museum-sponsored program, club spokesman Marshall Curran talked with admiration about the varieties of wood and rock used—yadonite, a type of opalite found in Klamath Falls, along with thundereggs, amethyst and nodules, which are small, irregular lumps of minerals with warty surfaces.               

"He was really creative. He went to a tremendous amount of work and gathered some amazing rock specimens," says Curran. He especially admires carefully sculpted inlays that combine wood found near present-day Bly and multiple varieties of obsidian, some probably from Glass Mountain, some from Davis Creek.              

Lusby and Miles enjoy the building's and Cardoza's history, which adds its own special flavor to their ever-changing daily menu. Whether it's the coffee or the building's still being uncovered history, there's always something brewing at the Rock House Brews.


Rock House Brews

2005 Biehn St, Klamath Falls



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