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Pilaf opens in new space

Renovated Masonic Lodge provides Ashland tenants with high-profile quarters

ASHLAND — Pilaf started cookingWednesday.

That means a full house for thenewly renovated Masonic Lodge building on Ashland's Plaza. Pilaf, a vegetarianrestaurant facing Calle Guanajuato, was the last of the mall's seven tenantsto open its doors for business.

Developers Allan Sandler and EdBemis invested a year of construction and more than $2 million into the121-year-old building. Now the work has dwindled to a few finishing touches,mostly decorating the new walkway that connects the plaza to the CalleGuanajuato park along Ashland Creek.

The walkway will be asbeautiful as the rest of the building, Sandler says. Plans to spruce it upinclude staining the floor with terra cotta and adding colorful cafe-styleawnings over the seven doors.

It?ll really jazz thingsup, Sandler says. It's a little too modern, a little too coldright now.

Rich Benson, owner of the AshlandHardwood Gallery, says the building is perfect, just like he knew it would be.

On April 14, Benson's gallerywas the first business to open its doors in the new building. (Technically,however, the honors go to Gold & Gems jewelry store, which had been in thebuilding all along.)

Benson says he snagged the lastspace in the Masonic building last spring after it caught his attention from abench on the Plaza's center island.

It was the highest rent Icould find, he jokes.

On a serious note, Benson saysthe central location with heavy pedestrian traffic is just the type ofhigh-profile location his business needs.

And that crosswalk,he says, pointing to the Plaza, Leads right to my door.

Built in 1879, the Masonic Lodgealso housed the Ashland Post Office for many years. A third floor was added in1928. It was listed on the National Historic Register in 1992.

Now the building holds sevenbusinesses — including a hair salon, a clothes boutique and a real estateoffice — all accessible by elevator or stairs.

Pilaf, which moved from a 23-seatspace next door to an 80-seat space on the building's backside, has asecond-story balcony overlooking Ashland Creek. The tables are made from thebuilding's original floorboards, which were replaced during renovation.

On the building's third floor,another restaurant, Firefly, has a view of the plaza.

It's a big change for Firefly,says owner Dana Keller. After six years on North First Street, she had no plansto move until Sandler sweet-talked her.

Allan Sandler kept wooingus, Keller said. He said our food was too good for the ambiance. Ourambiance is much better now.

With the move, Firefly also addeda full bar, live jazz and lunch to its menu. We can't ask for muchmore, Keller says. We've been very busy.

Pilaf owner Susan Powell says she'staking a bit of a gamble on the new building. She's uncertain how constructionthis summer on Calle Guanajuato will affect business, but remains optimistic.

There's different kindsof people, Powell says. Some people like to watch theconstruction.

In the end, she believes theproject to repair damage from the New Year's Day flood of 1997 will make for anicer space.

If you think of Lithia Parkas the city's front lawn, the Calle is going to be its backyard, Powellsays.

The Pilaf Restaurant is the seventh and final tenant to move into the newly renovated Masonic Lodge on Ashland?s Plaza. The restaurant has two levels of outdoor dining on the Calle Guanajuato side. A walkway that runs through the middle of the building connects the Plaza with the Calle. - Bob Pennell photo