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Encinitas volunteer spearheads Teten House restoration

Dave Oakley, 87, stands in front of the nearly finished Teten House. Oakley has received praise for overseeing the rehab of the roughly 130-year-old house.
Dave Oakley, 87, stands in front of the nearly finished Teten House. Oakley has received praise for overseeing the rehab of the roughly 130-year-old house.
( / Jared Whitlock)

A historical Encinitas house has gained new life thanks to the tireless efforts of resident Dave Oakley.

Oakley, 87, recently received the county Living Heritage Award for taking the lead in restoring the Teten House at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum.

Nearly finished, the roughly 130-year-old home debuted to the public two weeks ago during the museum’s annual Deep Pit Barbecue. At that time, County Supervisor Dave Roberts recognized Oakley’s commitment by presenting him with the award.

“I have a hard time with that — not a bad time — but it chokes me up,” Oakley said of the award last week while standing inside the home. “Nobody wanted to do this job.”

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He added: “It’s a thrill. It’s so much fun to lead a tour and talk about it. The home isn’t just buried in memories. It’s here.”

Built in the mid-1880s in Olivenhain, the Teten House originally served as a schoolhouse for children of early settlers. Blacksmith Fred Teten bought the home in 1892, shortly after moving with his family from Kansas to Encinitas.

When the land the house sat on was slated for development about nine years ago, volunteers transported it to the museum.

Oakley had his work cut out for him. Along with wear and tear, the house was vandalized and a fire torched part of it.

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A room in the historical Teten house, with an original armoire.
A room in the historical Teten house, with an original armoire.
( / Jared Whitlock)

But it was a fitting job for Oakley, a retired architect. He volunteered countless hours in recent years drawing up designs, getting permits and coordinating with volunteers. And Oakley got his hands dirty carrying out the plans.

Oakley oversaw a rehab of the home’s foundation, as well as the installation of new windows, flooring and roofing.

He aimed to strike a balance between updating the house, but also preserving its character. Oakley deliberately left nicks in the walls and ceiling so “it wouldn’t be too nice,” he said.

“It was never a Victorian architectural wonder,” he said. “Poor people lived here.”

He received valuable input along the way from Gladys Teten Schull, the granddaughter of Fred Teten. She was born in the house in 1926.

“Bless Dave’s heart — this wouldn’t have happened without him,” Schull said this week over the phone. “He’s worked so hard.”

Schull said the home is now nicer than she remembers it, but it’s still a walk down memory lane. She recalled that Olivenhain had few homes back then, maybe 20. Farmers in the area relied on horses and mules to plow fields that stretched across the horizon.

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“We had no telephone, no electricity, no working water — nothing,” Schull said of growing up, adding that her family raised turkeys and farmed. “It was simpler, you could say.”

As it turns out, Schull saved furniture and other items from the house, like an armoire, chairs and pictures of her family. She figured they belong there. With her guidance, the heirlooms were placed at or near the same locations in the house.

Others donated old-time items. While not original to the house, they replicate the 1920s and even earlier.

“Attention to detail has been key,” Oakley said.

The Teten House is among the historical exhibits at the museum, which includes an 1800s general store, old stagecoach and Texaco gas station. Inside the museum are artifacts, including from Native Americans who first settled the area.

Against that backdrop, Oakley believes the Teten House will fit in nicely. He was thrilled when two teenagers recently visited and intently listened as he described what life was like back then.

“This is about giving them a feel of life during this time,” Oakley said. “I’m happy people have been receptive.”

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He said a number of groups and individuals volunteered their time toward the project. And donors contributed $100,000. Also, a community enhancement grant from Supervisor Dave Roberts paid for some of the project.

Along with the Teten House restoration, Oakley has donated time to the Encinitas Senior Center.

“I don’t like to sit still,” he said.

Oakley said stairs and other parts of the Teten House still need some work. And he’d like to raise funds for a windmill. But the restoration is largely complete.

“I can finally relax a little,” Oakley said. He added: “A little piece of history will be here for the community.”

The museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.


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