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February 22, 2020
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Avila collects tokens

  • Merle Avila of Avila Bunch Architects, Inc. with a small selection of his token collection. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Irene Hilsendager
October 18, 2019

Avila Enterprises was launched in 1955 by Vernon Avila. In 2002 Merle, the son of Vern, purchased and called it Avila Architects. In 2002, Russell Bunch became a partner and the name was changed to Avila Bunch Architects.

Merle V. Avila was born in nearby Sebastopol and never ventured too far from Sonoma County unless he was collecting tokens, dolls or just looking to add to his collections. Merle, being a fourth generation Sebastopolian, as his grandfather was also born in Sebastopol and says he has one sister that lives in McMinnville, Oregon. 

Merle attended Analy High School and was in charge of audio visual. He loves tennis, plays several times a week but also loves the game of golf. 

The offices of Avila Architects have been around for 50 years, In the early fifties, the office was started in Sebastopol, moved to Rohnert Park in 1969 to 6950 Commerce and also had offices in South Lake Tahoe and Novato. But when sewer and water moratoriums came along; also, at the Keys in Novato, there was very little building going on and offices closed so therefore in 1991 the building at 5850 Commerce Ave. was purchased and if no one ever notices the building, shame on you. It is very architectural with different siding.

Merle says he loves being with people and enjoys starting everything from scratch. He enjoys designing the plans then watches the contractors “run” with the development and he is proud that he was the one who started it all. Merle has designed for names such as Condiotti, Novak, and Joe Keith.

One of his most challenging project was the old Price Club in Rohnert Park and converting it to one of the largest theaters in Sonoma County especially a building that only had a 16 foot ceiling and just try to put 16 screens into a curved front but he made the puzzle work with diggings and moving large columns.

From designing to collecting! In 1991, Merle started collecting United States coins. He says, “United States coins are awesome.”

This gentleman is a walking encyclopedia. He owns a set of half dimes from 1794-1873, but says he is missing the one-half dime. there are three cent pieces from 1851-1873. There are twenty cent pieces, United States coins from 1875-’76-’77-’78. The twenty cent pieces then were like the Susan B. Anthony coins. Avila is also the largest local currency collector of the First National Bank and Sebastopol National Bank-1929-1933 memorabilia.

Merle is the president of the Redwood Empire Coin Club for 27 years. He loves to spread knowledge and give back to the community. He is also affiliated with the Western States Token Society and the National Token Collectors Association.

Avila is married 44 years to wife Dena and have two sons, David, 30, and Jonathon, 32. Another proud fact coming from Merle is that his father Vernon J. Avila was president of the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati and is a holder of the Paul Harris pin.

At the present Merle is working on the Promise Center, designing a church on North Dutton, Santa Rosa and also re-designing Hessel Church.

Avila has written 31 monthly articles for the California Numismatist, a very well laid out informational booklet. He is president of the Northwestern Bottle Associate and knows history and value of old bottles.

We could not get away without hearing about Dena’s Doll House and Miniatures. She has about 50 miniature houses and makes miniatures dolls, etc. from scratch. As for now, neither one has plans to retire, being all too busy to do so.