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Massive estate draws in prospective buyers

It's a piece of history with future potential. Like all aging monuments, however, the wear and tear of time pleads for attention.

First known as Topside and more recently as The 49th Estate, a 1920s-era showplace overlooking much of the Bear Creek drainage with views of Mount McLoughlin, Mount Thielsen and Diamond Peak is on the market for $1.7 million.

"That's the admission," said Randy McBee, an agent with John L. Scott Real Estate of Medford. "Certainly, there's more investment to follow to develop the property into what it could be. It's a beautiful canvas to be able to work with."

Topside was designed by Medford architect Louis B. Humphrys in the English Cottage style, and the significant landscaping was designed by Charles Howard Voorhies. Additions and changes were made through the early 1950s. The Old Stage Road property, which went on the market May 15, has drawn serious buyers, some of whom brought contractors with them for a second look.

The 47-acre property hosted some of the valley's most exclusive gatherings in its heyday and later belonged to the last territorial governor of Alaksa, Mike Stepovich, whose heirs are selling the estate.

"The folks who are looking at this are looking at a whole package, the value of bringing it back up to its glory days and then enhancing the vineyard," said David Pfrimmer, an agent with Windermere Real Estate in Jacksonville. "They really have a vision of what they can do with a special property like this. You could have vineyards, a tasting room, an amazing event location, a bed and breakfast where you could host weddings and parties."

Beyond its history and setting — about five minutes from downtown Jacksonville — is its exclusive farm-use zoning with a twist. The 6,021-square-foot mansion, 2,811-square-foot guest house, 1,196-square-foot foreman's dwelling and 1,347-square-foot gardener's quarters all predate laws that would otherwise limit the number of residences built on the property. As a result, the options are wider than for most rural Oregon properties.

Although there is nothing to keep someone with deep pockets from snapping up the estate and slapping on a gate for privacy, two past studies indicate the erstwhile Comice pear orchard with Medford Irrigation District rights is ripe for vineyard development.

Stepovich twice hired vineyard experts to evaluate the property's potential, first with Napa Valley's Robert Mondavi Winery and later with Medford vineyard consultant Porter B. Lombard doing an extended report in 1999. Lombard, a retired Oregon State University professor who worked at the Southern Oregon Experiment Station, detailed how to set up three vineyard blocks on hillsides with as much as a 10 percent slope.

"The slope is particularly good for cold winters," Lombard said Tuesday. "It has the advantage of good exposure, and the soil type was right."

At the time, he suggested growing high-vigor varieties, including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, syrah, tempranillo, sangiovese and petite verdot. Of the less-vigorous varieties were viognier, pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and pinot noir.

Stepovich never followed through, although he acquired additional block plotting and pricing from Results Partners.

"I've done several studies where people didn't follow through," Lombard said. "By that time, though, we had an idea of how good it is here locally, and it's been borne out by the crops we've raised since then."

There has been unflagging interest locally in the past two decades, with the wine industry expanding in all facets.

"Before 10 years ago, a vineyard might not have been thought of as the highest and best use," McBee said. "But with the recent interest in vineyard properties in Southern Oregon, it certainly has become a primary candidate. I'm not sure if there is another place in the state with the potential for something like Napa, with the correct soil and topography, offering a nostalgic, historical site that is very interesting and relaxing."

A bed and breakfast is another solid possibility.

"It's a Lithia Park in the rough right now," McBee said. "The people going through multiple times are in the process of wrapping their minds around how to approach the property. It's not a simple thing. People are definitely going to have to go through the permitting and working with the county."

With the Britt Festivals virtually next door and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a half-hour away, it makes for a good destination for travelers, McBee said.

"It's ready for someone to take it over and take it to the next level."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31

A 1920s-era Jacksonville mansion on South Stage Road is for sale for $1.7 million. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta