Clarin takes on Titus home reconstruction | SierraSun.com

Clarin takes on Titus home reconstruction

Alisha Wyman

Josh MillerMitch Clarin, owner of Blue Sky Homes in Truckee, stands on the steps of his company's next renovation project, the Titus home.

The black and white photo shows a little boy siting on the stoop of the Titus home. To his left, a round metal hose pipe sticks about a foot out of the ground, seemingly insignificant in its existence.

The pipe is still there today, after weathering about 70 years’ worth of snow storms. And while the pipe has remained unaltered over time, the house looming above it has not been so fortunate.

Mitch Clarin, the owner of Blue Sky Homes, has decided to restore the Titus home to the building it was in the old photos, using them as a “road map.”

“I did a lot of research on this,” he said. “We’ll get it back.”

Piecing it together

Clarin obtained pictures of the house from Frank Titus Jr., 82, the son of its original owner and the boy sitting on the steps in the picture. Using them and Titus Jr.’s descriptions, he has pieced together the architectural details, he said.

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Clarin is also trying to find the original plans. Doyle McGwinn, who bought the Brickelltown home from the Titus family in the ’60s, gave the plans as partial payment to his architect. The architect is currently out of the country, so Clarin has yet to make contact, he said.

“At least I’d like to get some copies of (the plans) to hang on the walls,” Clarin said. Some remnant of them belongs with the house, he said.

Titus Jr., who now lives in Reno, said he appreciates Clarin’s effort to restore the building to the house of his childhood memory.

“(Historic preservation) is very important for Truckee because some of those homes go back to when the railroad came through,” he said. “I was very upset the way Truckee was just going to develop and tear all the old places down.”

Clarin and his crew must remove asbestos from under the floorboards before they can receive a building permit from the Town of Truckee. He estimates renovation will begin in spring.

They will dismantle the building by hand, leaving the frame in tact. Using any parts they can salvage and modeling those they can’t after the original materials, they will restore the home as accurately as possible.

“It’s not economically feasible,” he said. “It has to be more than economics.”

So that it will be considered “officially historic,” Clarin will build it to the criteria of the National Historic Registry.

“The more buildings the town of Truckee has (on the registry), the better it is for Truckee, as far as federal funding,” Clarin said.

But this is not the only reason for the extra pains he is taking to reconstruct the home.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I like to keep the character of Truckee – that’s why I moved here – and I feel lucky to be able to add a small part to the community.”

Titus’s heyday

The Titus home is the setting of Titus Jr.’s childhood. He was born there Jan. 8, 1922.

It was the era of the railroad, before train engines were diesel. The railroad tracks proved to be a boisterous neighbor, as trains drove “full-throttle” through Truckee, Titus Jr. said.

“Every time (the trains) went by, that house shook,” he said. “But you got used to it. In fact, when they wouldn’t come through, you’d wake up in the middle of the night because there was no noise.”

His room on the second story of the Titus house is the only part that peaks above the mounds of snow in many of the old pictures. Those were the days Truckee got “real snow,” Titus Jr. said.

In the summer, because the house was built into the hill-side, it stayed cool. A stone cellar in the back served as a refrigerator before such an appliance existed. The springs running behind the house provided what was as close to running water as possible.

As a youngster, Titus roamed the neighbor hood with his cohorts, swimming in the Truckee River, guessing the model’s of the rare passing car and playing football in the street.

Titus Jr. lived within the walls of the home until 1938, when college brought him to Reno. He, his brother and sister inherited the house after his parents passed away, but after a few years, it was time to move on.

“I wanted to keep the house, but kids were getting into it and wrecking things,” Titus said. “So I realized I had to sell it.”

From a century ago

In the days before the Titus home stood on its plot in Brickelltown, fires ran largely unchecked in the area. It was common for houses to burn down in the flames, Frank Titus Jr. said. From the salvageable remnants left in the ashes, men would build new houses.

Titus Jr. guessed that is how the original building, or the Ohio house, came to be. The lumber company built it, and their crews used to reside there while they worked in the area.

Frank Titus Sr. bought the Ohio house from the lumber company, tore it down and hired famed architect William Bliss to draw the plans for a new house. Bliss, the son of a wealthy land owner and logger, was known for the hotels he designed in San Francisco.

Clarin attributes the unique design of the Titus home to Bliss’s talent.

“It’s got some shape and form to it – some architectural relief,” he said.

Following the practices of their time, Titus Sr. and his father used the materials from the Ohio home, Titus Jr. said. One such salvaged beam still supports the side of the house where the kitchen was.

“My dad told me, ‘If you ever sell this place, don’t tear this part down,'” he said.

He and his siblings sold the house to Doyle McGwinn, the owner of the house next door.

It was McGwinn’s renovations that significantly altered the face of the home. He transformed it into a duplex, changing the roofing, siding, windows and door placement, and adding rooms on the back, Clarin said.

McGwinn’s work is what remains today – and what Clarin seeks to undo, he said.

It follows the renovation of the McGwinn home next door, a project Clarin finished in October 2003. It will become an office building and showroom for Clarin’s business. Clarin hopes to finish the Titus home in the spring of 2005.