Davis toad village a croak of genius

Michael Stockinger

The City of Davis, which holds an annual festival to celebrate the Earth, is known for its environmentalism; but many don’t know how far the city will go to protect their non-human residents.

Lying within the city, at the corner of busy Fifth Street and Pole Line Road, between the Post Office and parking lot to the Sudwerk restaurant, is “Toad Hollow,” the city’s solution of preventing a major frog massacre.

“They were building a $16 million overpass on the freeway,” said 85-year-old Ted Puntillo Sr., builder of the tiny frog city.

In 1999, the migratory path for a local frog species was threatened with the construction of an overpass that would cross through it, and so the Earth-friendly city council leapt into action to prevent the video game “Frogger” from occurring in real life.

The city council then approved of a $12,000 passageway to be built under a new overpass that crossed over the frogs’ migratory path.

“My kid on the city council has a great imagination and one day they were having a celebration for the overpass opening,” said Puntillo, whose son, Ted Puntillo Jr. is a member of the Davis City Council, but wasn’t at the time of the passageway’s approval.

“My son said, ‘Hey let’s have fun with this,’ so we decided that we were going to build this little town for the toads,” Puntillo said. “I built the buildings and painted them up.”

The sturdy buildings are made of wood and have cement foundations and include an outhouse with a moon painted on the door, a small hotel with frogs smiling and looking out of the painted-on windows, and a small house, while a sign that has “Toad Hollow” and two frogs painted on it standing behind the buildings.

The town lies in an island at the exit from the post office parking lot next to the base of the overpass, an extension of Pole Line Road that crosses Highway 80, which is near the pond that serves as the frogs’ habitat and breeding ground.

Every year the frogs migrate from their pond toward the post office, where they hang out in the ivy that grows in its parking lot.

“At the grand opening of the overpass, the (UC Davis) band was there, television and radio people were there, and there we were, putting the town together,” Puntillo said. “They saw us and wondered what we were doing and so they came down to interview us at Toad Hollow.

“It made the organizers of the event a little angry,” Puntillo said with a laugh.

Inspired by the event and attention he received after building the city, Puntillo, 85, a retired contractor, artist and actor, decided to write a book about it.

“The reason I wrote the book is that I started to get phone calls from people everywhere about Toad Hollow,” Puntillo said.

“Kids started to do essays on Toad Hollow and their parents would bring them over to my house and take pictures,” Puntillo said with a grin. “It was interesting to meet and talk to people about Toad Hollow.”

He wrote, illustrated and self-published the book, “The Toads of Davis: A Saga of a Small Town,” a children’s book that has been highly popular and has been featured in local bookstores.

“It’s about the toads of Davis ?” about the toads trying to live with us and near these construction sites,” Puntillo said. “The moral is the earth is for all of us and so that we can live peaceably together ?” it’s built for all of us.”

“My new book has to do with the (Twin Towers in New York City),” Puntillo said. “My wife’s brother, Steve Seller, was a big hero there.”

Seller, a New York City firefighter, had just gotten off duty and was driving home when he turned on the radio and heard about the towers, Puntillo said.He made a u-turn around and raced back to the tunnel to Manhattan which was jammed, so he put on his gear and ran through.

Seller ran to the towers and once inside one of them it collapsed, killing him, Puntillo said.

“He was a hero,” Puntillo said, holding back tears. “Every year since then, they have a marathon called ‘For the life of my brother’ marathon – they run through the tunnel and all the money goes to the families of those killed in 9/11.”

“I dedicated this next book to Steve,” Puntillo said.

Puntillo also read an article in a magazine about a 12-year-old boy who was teased and picked on so much at school that he hanged himself.

His mother later found him hanging in a closet.

Saddened by these stories, Puntillo began to write “Bullyfrog”, another children’s book, about how to befriend and understand bullies.

The buildings in Toad Hollow are the third set of buildings that Puntillo has made, with the other two either being stolen or smashed. Puntillo says that he has had no problem making them over again.

“I don’t remember how long it took to build them, but I’ve built so many that I could build them with my eyes closed,” Puntillo said. Since the vandalism, Puntillo’s city has had its own protectors. “Someone at a local religious school called me and asked me to come to the school where I thought they wanted me to talk to the kids,” Puntillo said, chuckling at the memory. “When I got there, the kids emptied their piggy banks and presented their ‘defense fund for Toad Hollow,’ which came to $110.”

“Then other people began to send in checks ?” I got up to $600 in ‘defense funds,’ ” Puntillo said.

Today, “Toad Hollow” is alive and well, although not many toads have been spotted in or around the town.

“Yeah, we had to put a couple out who didn’t pay their rent,” Puntillo said.

Michael Stockinger can be reached at [email protected]