A proper landing
I used to visit occasionally with John Connors, who owned the pottery studio Casa Del Sol, which is now the location for both the Hanson/Howard Gallery and Thai Pepper. I asked John if he might consider selling his building, which, after a contentious meeting with the city council, he was increasingly ready to consider.
At the meeting in the council chambers, John asked that he be allowed to remove some volunteer trees which had grown such that his wooden, earth-tone (mandated at that time) sign was pretty much obscured. He was denied. Later that night, an unknown vandal dispatched the offending trees with a chainsaw. I met with John some days later and, after casting about for signs of sawdust, we began to negotiate. It was then that I approached my former Hot Dog Stand partner, Lloyd Haines, and proposed that we work on this together.
For the basement to be Thai Pepperized, a second entrance had to be provided from the rear, which faced Bluebird Park, which had been ravaged by the flood of &
74 and neglected to such an extent by the parks department that for years it served as sleeping bag heaven for those wishing to spend the night near the Plaza. Upon inquiry with the parks department, it was made clear to us that no private property owner could step directly upon parks property, rather they needed a 3-foot landing on their own property at ground level. Case closed: This one regulation forbade the likes of Thai Pepper from coming into existence. Score one for the parks commission.
About a week later, 31 Water Street came on the market (The Pillars, The Vintage Inn, Lithia Creek Arts, Rogue Brewery, Thread Hysteria, Siskiyou Brew Pub, Deeps). It also needed a second entrance to the trash- and bottle-strewn neglected park and met the same fate as the Casa Del Sol building. Strike two for the parks commission.
— — —
The entrance of the the SiskiYou Brew pub and stairs — to the Thai Pepper deck converge at a single three-foot deep landing which — was the seed from which the award-winning Bluebird Park emerged.
— — —
I ordered a plat map from a local title company and things looked bleak as it showed no property owned by the two buildings to serve as the required landing. Several other parties had gotten this far, only to give up when faced with this problem. I can be stubborn, if nothing else, and backed up to give the challenge a fresh look.
I looked on the walls of the buildings and noticed that there appeared to be a slice of property that belonged to Casa del Sol that was not reflected in the plat map. I immediately went to the county and got an AutoCad copy of the area and, bingo: There was room for a legal landing that would serve both buildings with an inch to spare. We had it surveyed and confirmed, then began demolition and construction, cutting windows in the formerly below-grade walls of Casa Del Sol to allow for a future patio we envisioned. Stairs and hand railings connecting the buildings as well as flood-proof walkways became a reality.
Thai Pepper opened with a bang on New Year&
s Eve of 1987. It soon became apparent that a patio on the side along the creek would be big hit. Although the Parks Department owned the debris on both sides of the creek, they never forded the waters to maintain the property next to Thai Pepper in any way.
Lloyd volunteered to make the proposal that we buy the sliver of land from the Parks Department. He was told that it was illegal to sell any parks property or have it used in any way as a commercial venture. Free camping, no bathrooms, broken bottles, discarded clothing were, of course, entirely appropriate and continuously overlooked.
Lloyd kept at it until he found a scenario that might work. The Parks Department could trade us the land for a parcel of equal or greater value. We owned a section of the creek that would qualify for the trade, this depending on the results of an appraisal. An appraisal of the properties in question was ordered and ours was valued $25 less than the other, which would cause our offer to be summarily rejected.
Then, while reviewing the appraisal on site with the appraiser we began discussing the value of rounded creek boulders for use in landscaping. The appraiser had recently built a retaining wall using such boulders and knew the values. I pointed to a hefty specimen and asked his opinion of value, to which he responded $50. Five minutes later the boulder had been rolled downstream, this making our property worth $25 more, and the trade went through. The location of one of Ashland&
s finest dining experiences was allowed to go forward.
It was later that Lloyd and I paid half the cost to build a stairway up from Bluebird Park to the street. Later the Parks Department put in a pathway, lighting and landscaping making a beautiful connection from the landing to North Main. We feel honored that our submitted blueprints apparently became part of the resume of our former Planning Director John Fregonese, making it appear that he conceived of the project and helped make it happen.
Thus, with a little wall watching, a knowledge of AutoCad, persistence and a $50 boulder, Ashland has two fine establishments that open out to Ashland Creek, both with decks, shade and the gurgling sounds of the creek to drown out the pressures of a hot summer&
Future columns will focus on many
downtown businesses that have helped make Ashland unique. The former Brooklyn, Mum&
s Cottage and some mystery guests will lead the charge from times past to
lend perspective to the revival of the Downtown. Send your favorite
remembrances to: email@example.com.