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Cornering the market

Stop and look at the brick building anchoring the corner of North Main Street and Winburn Way across from the entrance to Lithia Park.

Although it sits on one of the most pedestrian-popular spots of the Plaza, few know its story.

Since 1890, something has been for sale here, from buggies and workmen's overalls to housing and toys.

Tourists today look at glossy ads for properties listed by Gateway Real Estate at 5 N. Main St. These visitors might find it hard to imagine that a 19th-century blacksmith shop selling wagons and farming implements made this site critical to the young city's success.

People also might be surprised to learn that the existing two-story structure once was a department store that introduced Ashland residents to television sets in the 1950s and Beatles-inspired clothing in the 1960s.

In 1947, when Weitzel's Department Store opened its gleaming glass doors, it ushered in a modern approach to shopping. In the mid-1950s, the name was changed to Park View Department store and that stayed until the mid-1970s.

Linda Barker Monroe (Ashland High School class of 1961) recalls buying 5-cent Hershey bars and penny bubble gum here when she was growing up.

The department store had an entry from the park-side sidewalk that led into the candy and toy section.

"That's where we would buy our candy when we were playing at the park playground," she says.

When she was attending Lincoln Elementary School in 1953, she saw her first television set at Park View Department Store. She says the screens flickered with test patterns.

She's not sure there was even a television station broadcasting programs, "but people still bought TV sets," says Monroe, 70, who was born and raised in Ashland.

John Yaple, whose dad, also named John, co-owned the Park View Department Store for 25 years, remembers Channel 5 (now NBC-affiliate KOBI-TV) broadcasting two hours of programming from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Medford station was the second in the state, launched as call letters KBES-TV in August 1953. It carried programming from all the networks, but it was a CBS affiliate. Yaple's family enjoyed comedy shows hosted by Jackie Gleason and Art Linkletter.

At the store, people also bought stereos, furniture and other modern accessories using new charge accounts.

The department store's original Streamline Moderne-style exterior, which looked like a cruise ship with rounded walls and green carrara glass, is gone. But so too are the pesky parking meters and chunky American sedans lining the sidewalk.

Above the department store were 11 apartments with an entrance at 15 Winburn Way. In 1947, a story in the Ashland Daily Tidings described the homes as finished in glass brick, green linoleum and shiny chrome.

Decades later, in the spirit of the thriving Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the exterior was remodeled and curved walls became strict right angles, and the exposed brick walls rose up to meet a Tudor-style second floor topped with a metal mansard roof.

The bricks, though, remain touchstones to the past.

In 1890, Ashland businessman Emil Peil built a two-story, fire-proof blacksmith shop on the corner. It was across the street from the landmark flour mill that established Ashland Mills in the 1850s on land that is now the park.

At "Peil's Corner," townspeople would buy wagons, plows and other implements. Painted across one brick wall was an advertisement for Levi Strauss overalls.

In 1906, Peil partnered with the Bank of Ashland to build a brick structure to link his blacksmith shop with the bank building, which has been Tree House Books since 1978. Peil's building and his portion of the 1906 structure gave way to make room for the new department store.

"I think a small portion of the 1890s' building remains as part of the present building," says Ashland historian and photographer Terry Skibby.

In 1984, Bruce and Pokii Roberts moved their Gateway Real Estate office into the front of the building, which had been a women's clothing store.

John Yaple Jr. remembers that when the creek flooded the downtown in 1955, water and mud flowed into the basement. During the 1964 flood, Yaple, then a senior at Ashland High School, drove to farms to collect gunny sacks that were then filled with sand. In the flood of 1974, plywood secured the glass doors.

Unfortunately, the new occupants couldn't hold back the damaging 1997 flood.

The city decided to construct a dirt berm along Winburn Way, routing 3 feet of mud through the building, says Bruce Roberts.

Since then, the Robertses have remodeled the building — but not the brick walls — and expanded toward the creek.

They bought the building in 2004 with neighbor Pete Mattson, who owns Small Change children's store, which has occupied its storefront space since 1977.

The back of the building, off Winburn Way, changed from Lithia Stationers in 2009 to Sesame Asian Kitchen, a restaurant operated by Lisa and Tom Beam that offers creek-side dining and "bento on a blanket," take-out service served on the park grass.

The restaurant's interior has light wood seating and floors, soothing, pale green walls and white paper lanterns juxtaposed with steel ceiling ducts. Grand windows draw in natural light regardless of the season.

"Tom sets up outdoor tables even when it's 20 degrees," jokes Bruce Roberts.

But who can blame him? People have been hanging around this corner for nearly 125 years, looking for the latest necessity or entertainment.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.