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Stately Auburn residence poised for listing on National Register of Historic Places

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Civil War soldier, an adventurer in the strictest 19th century form of the word, and a wildly successful mine owner in Placer County, Col. Walter Scott Davis could be justly proud of the spacious and striking home he built in 1889 in Auburn. More than 120 years later, current owner Terri Bastel is keeping that pride in ownership of a unique house intact. And she’s on the verge of having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Brook Road home – an important local example of shingle-style architecture – was approved last month by the California State Historical Resources Commission for forwarding to the federal register’s keeper of records. The keeper of records will have 45 days to list the house, come back with more questions for the state commission, or reject it. Cindy Toffelmier, historian with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, said that the house – called El Toyon since its construction – was recognized as an example of an 1889 country home constructed in the shingle style and has a good chance of being approved. If the National Register of Historic Places designation does go through, it would join a select list of landmarks in the Auburn area that have already gained that status, including the Old Auburn Historic District that covers dozens of 19th century buildings in Old Town. Bastel, who has owned the house and its Robie Point-area acreage for 20 years, joked that Davis keeps an eye on the property from a photo of him she has hanging on one of El Toyon’s walls. Bastel spent two solid years between 1990 and 1992 doing major restoration work on the home, including shoring up crumbling foundations. But – with an eye on its historical context – she made no major alteration to the external footprint of the building. For Bastel and El Toyon, it was love at first sight. Bastel had just moved to Auburn from the Bay Area and El Toyon’s mixture of irregular shapes and multiple levels reminded her of the beautiful homes and tree-lined streets she grew up with in Richmond, Indiana. Two offers had already made on the property but both deals fell through and she was soon the owner of a home that is now, 20 years later, poised to being designated a local, nationally recognized treasure. El Toyon’s place on the registry is based on its embodiment as a distinctive type and period of construction and architecture. The registry designation for El Toyon means more than just a bronze plaque on the door. It also means potential eligibility for tax incentives on rehabilitation work and relaxation of some local building code regulations because of its historic status. The shingle style is reminiscent of many buildings constructed in the 19th century in the East. El Toyon refers to a small evergreen that grows in the Sierra. Bastel said the work – from keeping dry rot at bay to maintaining the grounds – continues under Col. Davis’ watchful eye. Davis was born in Boston in 1837, entered his family’s wool business at an early age and then served in the Civil War. Earning the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel, he retained the title “colonel” for the rest of his days. He moved his young family to Auburn in 1879 and bought the Mammoth Bar Mine, near the American River confluence. The gold mine proved a success and he would continue to oversee operations until his death in 1908. “There’s a spell this house casts on you,” Bastel said. ------------------------ Fast facts: What’s already on the National Register in the Auburn area -Old Auburn Historic District -Newcastle Portuguese Hall -Michigan Bluff-to-Last Chance Trail -Griffith Quarry in Penryn -Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge at the American River confluence -Griffith House in Penryn -Dutch Flat Historic District -Colfax Passenger Depot -Colfax Freight Depot