Media Life: The Worst of Auburn

A guide that takes a walk on the negative side of A-Town
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountry media or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.


Thumbing through umpteen magazines or surfing the Web, you’re bound to find a plethora of ‘best of’ lists.

But the Media Life way of looking at the world also can’t resist turning that sunny propensity to create “Best Of” guides on its head.

So, as a counterpoint to all those positive lists, this column goes over to the dark side and presents a highly opinionated and not-necessarily conclusive list proclaiming the Worst of Auburn:


Worst Name for a Subdivision

Auburn Lake Trails was built on the El Dorado County side of the American River Canyon in the late 1960s on the premise that the edge of the development would be on the lip of a reservoir created by the construction of an Auburn dam. Nearly a half century later, there is no dam and thus no lake. And Auburn Lake Trails holds onto a misplaced moniker.


Worst Street Name

Auburn has some odd street names. Sutter Street has its baggage, given John Sutter’s treatment of Indians during Gold Rush times. Easy Way is kinda cute in a forced kinda way.

But Drive-In Way is a head-scratcher. The name made more sense when the Auburn Drive-In was at that location for a brief few years in the 1960s and 1970s. But the drive-in is gone and so should that puzzling name.


Worst Intersection

That would be the entrance and exit to Old Town Auburn off Interstate 80 traveling east, with its ‘What-do-we-do-now?’ crossroads for visitors to navigate. It’s a wonder more crashes haven’t occurred there.  


Worst Decision to Tear Down a Building

The Orleans Hotel that once graced Old Town Auburn in all its shabby splendor is gone but not forgotten by many. The roofed balcony and brick architecture dating back to the 1860s gave way to Shell Oil’s insistence in 1959 that the land was more suitable for a gas station. An effort by well-meaning locals couldn’t come up with the $10,000 needed to buy the old building - and the walls came tumbling down.  


Worst Made-In-Auburn Movie

Twenty-seven years ago, actor Peter DeLuise - who had gained some acting credibility on TV’s “21 Jump Street” as Johnny Depp’s sidekick - found himself ensnared in Auburn making a turkey of a movie called “Rescue Me.” The low-budget crime flick filmed in and around Auburn but then languished on the shelf for two years before its now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t theatrical release in a handful of movie houses to universally negative reviews. Perhaps thankfully, it never did play in Auburn.


Worst Time of Year to Go For a Swim

The American River is deadly but the toll continues to rise. Waters from snowmelt are the coldest and fastest in May and June. No one would consider swimming in the river during the winter rainy season but the late spring is enticing as weather warms. Stay out during those two months and wait until July, when the water is warmer and more tranquil.


Worst Name for a Neighboring Town

Colfax is named after U.S. vice president Schuyler Colfax, who was never convicted of wrongdoing but was strongly linked to taking bribes as part of the Credit Mobilier railroad scandal in the 1870s.   


Worst Tevis Cup Idea

Twenty soldiers from Fort Riley, Kan. marched the 100-mile Tevis Cup ride in 1972. Seven finished in times of 44 and 46 hours. Exhaustion did in the rest.


Worst Auburn Fire

“Auburn Totally Destroyed By Fire” was the headline in the Placer Press days after flames ravaged the city June 4, 1855. There have been other devastating fires since then but this one could be judged the worst.

A city made mostly of wood and big dreams back then, Auburn was reduced to cinders in 45 minutes.


Worst Day in Auburn

May 16, 1848, was a red-letter day in Auburn as part of the California Gold Rush. That was the day that Claude Chana found the nuggets in Auburn Ravine that would provide the foundation for establishment of what we know now as the city of Auburn.

But it also was the day that signaled the beginning of the end of a way of life for the Maidu-Miwok Indians who lived in the area as gold seekers trampled on property rights to find their fortune and rampaged over hunting grounds.


Worst Myth About Auburn

There are a few. Travel to Clipper Gap and you might catch a glimpse of the outline of a mythical dinosaur near the Union Pacific tracks, for instance. But the granddaddy of them all would have to be the lingering perception by visitors - based perhaps on the 1960s novel “The Late Great State of California” or a bogus 1859 legislative report or even an assumption that draws on similarities between the stately Placer County Courthouse to the state Capitol building - that Auburn was once California’s state capital. No so. Nuff said.


Worst-Kept Secret

The American River confluence was Auburn’s backyard playground for a century-and-a-half. But then along came something called the internet - and then social media. Over the past five years or so, the once-placid canyon hideaway has filled up with parked cars and people out for a taste of Mother Nature - and many are arriving from out of the area, lured by raves about the beauty of a spot that Auburn can no longer keep to itself.


Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountry media or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.