CENTRAL POINT — When she first stepped into the historic Mon Desir on Hamrick Road, Medford wedding planner Penny Nelson imagined beautifully painted walls, elegant lighting and lush landscaping.
The building would be ideal for weddings and fine dining, she figured, but not without lots of elbow grease.
To share old stories, photos or provide volunteer effort or materials, contact the Nelsons, 664-2707.
Visit online, www.themondesir.com
Languishing in a state of disrepair for the past three or more years, the historic Mon Desir's fate in recent years has been uncertain. Nelson's first glimpse inside revealed matted cobwebs, broken glass, water-damaged carpet, stolen fixtures, exposed wiring and piles of debris.
After serving as a set for a messy horror film, the near century-old structure was planned to become part of a strip mall or a clubhouse for a nearby development.
Nelson and her husband, Dan, wedding planners and owners of Ultimate Sound Entertainment for the past decade, hope to restore the landmark to its former glory and create the "go-to place" for weddings and events.
And they'd like to do it by March.
Built in 1910, the Tudor revival-style orchard mansion, one of the valley's last, was built for Conro Fiero and his wife, Grace Andrews.
The one-and-a-half story, U-shaped building sports steep gable roofs and a widow's walk. It was the centerpiece of a 140-acre orchard estate known as "Woodlawn," where the era's elite partied with Conro, a millionaire, and Grace, a former Broadway actress. The couple, however, struggled to make ends meet in the unpredictable fruit industry and lost Woodlawn during World War I.
In 1946, the structure was renovated to accommodate a restaurant that served Southern-style chicken dinners. It failed after six months and local residents Alex and Julie Tummers debuted a fine-dining hall, christened "Mon Desir" (French for "my desire"), which would serve the community for 10 years.
In 1966, Stanley and Tommie Smith of Medford bought Mon Desir and continued the fine-dining tradition until 1979.
A handful of owners followed until William Link, who owns Panther Crushing, attempted to restore the Mon Desir and open a special-occasion restaurant.
Starting "almost from scratch" after three years of non-use, Nelson said that karaoke potlucks, every Friday at 7 p.m., are slowly raising the money needed to fund needed repairs, such as replacing light fixtures and old-style window panes.
If they meet their goals, themansion will be restored to its mid-1900s glory and offer fine dining and wedding catering.
Slowly, she says, the pieces are coming together.
A handful of local contractors and companies stepped forward to offer their expertise and resources, from donated napkins and kitchen equipment to carpentry work and paint.
A series of coincidences have Nelson confident in her decision to take on such a massive project — more to return it to the community than to host weddings.
"We were outside one day pulling weeds and we said, 'What we need are some of the past owners to come along and tell us about this place,' " she said.
"Not 10 minutes later, Tommie and Stanley Smith showed up."
Weeks later, an online ad requesting information and volunteer efforts yielded an assortment of responses, stories and an e-mail from a waiter who, in 1970, hid two bottles of wine to save for himself.
Nelson found them, undisturbed for 30 years, behind a wood plank in the cellar, along with a newspaper from 1920.
"Things are going as slow as they are because people are always stopping by with stories," Nelson said.
Stories of prom-night dinners, and childhood memories of fresh peaches alongside prime rib at family get-togethers.
"It's such an important part of the history of the area. It still has good bones and lots of memories," Nelson said.
"But every little piece that belongs to it has been taken and we have to bring it back for the community."
Jan White, a local resident who volunteered to head up an informal group dubbed "Friends of the Mon Desir," said she had "total confidence" that the old mansion could be restored and preserved for the Rogue Valley.
"I know we can do this and that the community wants us to do this," she said, noting that the things that "made it great" could be brought back — peaches alongside prime rib and "even a tie rack for the guys."
If all goes well, the Nelsons plan to attend a regional bridal faire in January and cater to their first bride in March.
Said Dan Nelson, "We think it would be a shame for the centennial celebration of this fine historic building to be in an abandoned state."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at email@example.com.