Auburn’s Firehouse No. 1 restoration nearing completion

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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An anonymous donor has provided a financial boost to the long-stalled Firehouse No. 1 restoration project in Downtown Auburn. Tim Busk, an Auburn painter and driving force behind saving the 122-year-old landmark from dry rot and neglect, said Monday that brickwork should be completed within two weeks with the new funding infusion. The distinctive red and white firehouse at the corner of Lincoln Way and El Dorado Street has been behind wire construction fencing since 2007. The fence, erected as a safety measure, is slated for removal within two weeks, Busk said. With landscaping also soon to be completed, Busk said that he’s targeting late spring for a ceremony to hand the keys to the building back to the city. The event will also be a way to thank all the volunteers and donors on what has been an effort that has lasted more than seven years. “Arnold Schwarzenegger was being sworn in the day I started,” Busk said. That would have been Nov. 17, 2003 and at a time when pigeons had taken up residence in the second story of the building and dry rot was seriously threatening the redwood frame of the firehouse. On Monday, Auburn masonry contractor John Brun was at work adding rows of “railroad blend” brick in front of a cinderblock retaining wall. Busk had initially envisioned a granite face on the wall but Brun held out for brick tumbled to look aged and red to match the firehouse. “Auburn is a brick town,” Brun said. Both Busk and Brun are Auburn residents and members of the Placer County Contractors Association, a major supporter of the project. When the economy soured, Busk said it became difficult to find funding for materials like the brick. That resulted in an unanticipated delay in getting it done, he said. Busk said that he pledged to city officials when he started out that he’d only charge $1 for the firehouse work and intends to collect that bill soon when he hands the key back. “They’ve been patient,” Busk said. “So has the community. They know it’s a volunteer project.” Combining materials and labor, Busk said the city is getting a bargain. Total costs are approaching $140,000, he said. Thirty-five percent of the framing, 50 percent of the siding and 80 percent of the trim was replaced. Missing doors had to be built to match existing ones. A front balcony was constructed to replace one on the original and the building has been given a new roof. Exacting details on paint and embellishments were overseen by Busk, who has worked on the Placer County Courthouse and other major historical restorations. The original price on the 1888 work – much of it volunteer – was $2,500. While the Old Town Firehouse No. 2 has become a magnet for tourists, given its tower-like shape, Firehouse No. 1 is less well known. But Busk noted that it’s at the entrance to the city from Highway 49 in the American River canyon. “It’s one of Auburn’s jewels,” Busk said. After seven years of off-again, off-again work on the project, no one can accuse it of being a slap-dash effort. ”That’s how I am,” Busk said. “When you do something, you’ve got to do it right.” Busk said that, because of Americans with Disabilities Act concerns, it’s doubtful the building would become a public building but could be a stop for visits. An early 20th century fire truck that once was housed in the building could eventually be displayed inside, he said. Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes said the fire truck is continuing to be restored by Placer High School auto shop students and could be displayed with hose reels and other artifacts at the firehouse. The city, which owns the building, would be working with the Auburn Hook & Ladder Company, a major donor to the restoration effort, to decide on how best to utilize the building in the future, Holmes said. Holmes said he’s hoping that the firehouse would display fire equipment and be opened from time to time for visitors.