ASHLAND — A 108-year old Craftsman home near the high school stadium was moved 45 feet closer to Main Street on Wednesday to make room for the construction of 26 affordable, energy-efficient rental townhouses.
While developers often remove trees and structures from sites before they build, KDA Homes of Ashland voluntarily preserved the 3,200-square-foot house, which is rich in wood cabinetry, arches and ceiling beams. They will thoroughly remodel it, keep as many historical features as possible, add a kitchen on the back and put it on the market for $875,000, says developer Laz Ayala.
The townhouses, called “vertical duplexes,” will have a garage on the first story, a 750-square foot apartment in the middle story and some one-bedroom or studio units on the top story. The whole project takes up 1.78 acres.
Ayala took his cue from the city’s housing study, which cited the need for smaller, more affordable housing of different types that could be for sale or rent. The townhouses would sell below the $450,000 price point for affordable housing in Ashland, but at this time, KDA is leaning toward keeping them as rentals, he says.
The townhouses, to be built by Adroit Construction, will be ready in a year. The historic home should be on the market in three or four months.
The old house sits on a quarter acre and saving it, said Ayala, cost developers five townhouse units
"But it was worth it," he said, "… because we couldn’t in good conscience demolish such an iconic piece of Ashland architecture and history.”
The old house, once a rural farmhouse on a dirt road, has a big claim on history as the former family home of Walter A. Phillips, quarterback of the Ashland High School football team, graduate of Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis and aviator shot down and killed in World War I. The AHS stadium is named for him.
Phillips did aerial reconnaissance photography from a two-seater biplane, which was downed in flames a month before the armistice by the notoriously deadly German ace Franz Buchner, who shot down 40 allied aircraft in the war.
Phillips’ mother Lena hung a gold star in her front window, honoring his sacrifice — and continued to watch AHS football from her back porch until her death in 1949, according to a story last year in The Oregonian by Ashlander Lynne Hasselman. The house at 1068 East Main stayed in the family until Ayala bought it last year.
KDA partner Mark Knox, a former planner with the cities of Ashland and Talent, says he learned a lot about historic preservation as liaison with the Ashland Historic Commission and agreed with Ayala on the need to keep it.
“It would be hypocritical to demolish (the Phillips house)," he said. "The three of us (including builder Dave DeCarlow) are integrous about historical and environmental standards.”
The townhouses will meet Earth Advantage and LEED Platinum standards, Knox added. Restoration of the old house will be done by native Ashlander Steve Asher, who says he grew up admiring it.
House mover Doc Chaplin said the rough-cut lumber used to build the house would take up to 150 trees to supply today. The project saved some tall old firs and cedars, but 12 had to be removed. Some will be milled and 32 new ones will be planted. Despite being moved closer to street, the house will keep a big front yard and preserve its “iconic promenade” on East Main.
Ayala, developer of Verde Village on Ashland's Nevada Street, has done several historical projects in Medford: the 2005 renovation of the Acme Hardware Building on Sixth Street, the restoration of the Central Fire Hall on Front Street (Medford’s original City Hall and fire station) and the Palm Niedermeier Building on West Main Street.
Ayala described himself as a classic “dreamer” and noted he's an example of an undocumented youth who adapted and thrived in his new country, becoming a successful real estate broker and then developer. In 1981, he and his father and sister fled the bloody El Salvador civil war, walking across deserts and cramming in the trunk of a car to cross the U.S border, he says.
After getting a start in Califormia, he arrived in the Rogue Valley 30 years ago with his wife, child and $5,000, learned the real estate trade at Abdill-Ellis College in Medford and went into the business.
“I don’t see myself as a rich developer," Ayala said. "I see a homeless guy and relate to him. I’ve been homeless. From that, I developed a social consciousness and empathy for people.”
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.