Three spring home tours offer a glimpse into several historically significant and beautifully designed homes in the county.
The Atascadero Colony Home Tour, for example, provides the rare opportunity to step inside the historic Ewalt home. Best known in recent years as the former home of controversial North County developer Kelly Gearhart, it has roots that extend to the city’s origins. According to tour organizers, this is the first time this “colony home” has been open to the public in around 12 years.
The current owners of the Ewalt home, George and Kelly Shoemaker, are history teachers and avid antiques collectors, yet this is the first time they’ve lived in an historic home together.
“The fact that it was a colony home was pretty exciting for us,” said Kelly. “When we first walked through, we were just taken with it – it had a really good feeling to it.”
The large and stately colonial-style home was built on the site of the original 1914 E.G. Lewis tent city. Prominent business and civic leaders Mr. and Mrs. W.B. Ewalt built the house in 1916.
Several other owners ensued, including Larry and Betty Stillwell who purchased the house in 1960 and performed numerous renovations including enlarging the kitchen, adding a bedroom and installing an upstairs sun porch. The Stillwells are said to have hosted numerous civic celebrations at the house
Kelly Gearhart and wife Tamara lived in the house from 1995 to 2008. After they lost it in foreclosure, it was vacant for around eight months before the Shoemakers moved in with their two young children in July 2009.
The Shoemakers were led to believe that the home would need extensive repairs.
“Fixtures were removed, but the house was in surprisingly good shape – not trashed at all,” said George.
Most of their repairs were cosmetic, including repainting the entire exterior, replacing missing gates, painting portions of the interior, refinishing wood floors and repairing cracks and holes in the wall. They resuscitated the neglected landscaping on the just over one-acre lot. This included replacing the front hedge, previously trimmed to spell out the word “Gearhart,” with a small vineyard of tempranillo vines. The Shoemakers have a small commercial vineyard in Paso Robles and also make wine at home for themselves and friends.
At long last, the couple had the space to properly display their extensive collection of antiques, which they acquired primarily at antique auctions. Although they moved from a 2,600-square-foot house to the much larger 4,436-square-foot house (with a 550-square-foot guest house), the furniture seemed to be tailor-made for the space.
“We had a pretty packed house before, so now everything has room to fit in,” remarked George. “We were just looking for the right house for our furniture.”
They realized that the few pieces they needed to acquire for the house would have to be special. For instance, the kitchen table they purchased is believed to have come from the Santa Barbara mission.
The Shoemakers, who relocated from Modesto five years ago, have discovered that the home has given them a crash course in local history. Members of the Atascadero Historical Society have regaled them with stories of playing there as children. They also discovered that the Stillwells began a tradition of asking people to sign the basement walls like a guest book. George estimates that there are thousands of names and remarks inscribed there by past and current residents of the city.
The Shoemakers welcome the community’s curiosity and take their role as curators of this historic site seriously.
“We think we’re doing a good job of bringing the house back to the condition it should be kept in,” said George, “It’s back to the right place in the community, as a landmark fixture.”