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Old and in the way — but preserved

The spacious 108-year old Craftsman home on East Main Street at South Mountain Avenue, next to the high school stadium, got moved Wednesday 45 feet closer to Main Street to make room for the construction of 26 affordable, energy-efficient rental townhouses to be built around the relocated house.

While developers usually wipe trees and structures off 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, 750-square foot apartment in middle story and some one-bedroom or studio units on the top story. The whole project is on 1.78 acres.

Ayala took his cue from the city’s housing study, which cited a 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, 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, says Ayala, cost developers five townhouse units, “but it was worth it … because we couldn’t in good conscience demolish such an iconic piece of Ashland architecture and history.”

The old home, once a rural farmhouse on a dirt road, has a big claim on history as the family abode 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 scored 40 “victories” 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 “it would be hypocritical to demolish (the Phillips Mansion). The three of us (including builder Dave DeCarlow) are integrous about historical and environmental standards.”

The townhouses will all be built to Earth Advantage and LEED Platinum standards, Knox adds. 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 cut. Some will be milled and 32 new ones will be planted. Despite moving it closer to street, the house will keep a big front yard and preserve the “iconic promenade” on East Main.

Ayala, the developer of Verde Village on Nevada Street, has done historical projects in Medford: the 2005 renovation of the Acme Hardware Building on 6th 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 in Medford.

Ayala is a classic “dreamer,” he says, a prime example of an undocumented youth who adapted and thrived in his new country, becoming a highly successful real estate broker, then developer. In 1981, he and his father and sister fled the bloody El Salvador civil war, walking across desert and cramming in the trunk of a car to cross the U.S border, he says.

Because of his status he was kicked out of a community college in San Bernardino and “it was like hitting a wall. I felt helpless,” then “a guy in real estate” turned him on to that career. He arrived in the valley 30 years ago with his wife, child and $5,000, learned the trade at Abdill-Ellis College in Medford and went for it.

“I don’t see myself as a rich developer. 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 jdarling@jeffnet.org.