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The story of 100 6th St.: Part 1

This two-part column describes the life of one fascinating building in Ashland’s Railroad District, with glimpses into some lives that have intersected that building.

Ashland’s First Catholic Church — In 1889, a Catholic church opened in Ashland, the sixth church building in town. It was in the Railroad District at the corner of 6th and C streets. According to the Ashland Tidings of Aug. 23, 1889, “There will be services in the new Catholic Church in Ashland next Sunday at 10 a.m., Rev. Father Noel officiating.” The church opened with a membership of about 97 men, women and children.

Because the Catholic priest in Jacksonville had to serve all of Southern Oregon, masses at the new Ashland church were few and far between — only seven in the first full year of the church building. Ashland Catholics finally got their own priest in 1899.

The congregation grew through the decades and a new, larger Catholic church was built on Hillview Drive in 1959. The historic steeple bell and Stations of the Cross from the 6th Street church building moved to the new church along with the congregation.

Pentecostal Church — The 6th Street church building got new life in 1963, when the Family Life Bible Church purchased it. Though the congregation was small, a neighbor across the street enjoyed hearing, while sitting in her yard, their rousing Pentecostal singing each time a church revival meeting was held.

The Pentecostal church moved out in early 2014. After being filled with worshipers for 120 years, the sad little church building now sat empty.

Horror movie location — Then for two days during August 2014, it was suddenly filled with people filming suspenseful, bloody scenes for a horror/thriller independent movie. How did the old church become a film location?

Director and producer Brad Douglas needed a church scene for his movie “Besetment.” He couldn’t find the right location in Bend or in the tiny Central Oregon town of Mitchell, the two places where he was filming. Virginia Carol Hudson, the wigmaster for the film, told him “There’s an empty church across the street from my house. That is your location, right there.” It turned out to be the empty church at 100 6th St., in Ashland.

Actress Marlyn Mason — I interviewed local resident Marlyn Mason, one of the lead actors in “Besetment.” Born in 1940, Mason became a professional actor as a teenager. The website IMDb lists 113 television and movie acting credits in her career. One highlight was her opportunity to act — and sing — with Elvis Presley in his second-to-last film, “The Trouble with Girls.”

I asked Mason why she moved from Los Angeles to the Rogue Valley. She said that when she was in her early 50s, first her agent died and then her car died. Other agents she spoke with told her variations of the same story: “We don’t have work for an older actress.”

Depressed, she thought to herself: “dead agent, dead career.” Then she had a slightly more uplifting pep talk with herself. “If I’m going to be poor, I want to be poor where it’s beautiful.” As it turned out, a lifelong friend she had known since elementary school lived in Medford and offered Mason a place to rent.

She moved to Medford and found the beauty she was seeking, but she did not find a “dead career.” Quite the contrary, she is finding new career highlights. She recently won the Best Actress award at the Breckenridge Film Festival for her role in the feature-length movie “Senior Love Triangle.”

Mason feels blessed to find talented Southern Oregon directors to work with, such as Ray Nomoto Robison. She acted in his short film noir called “An Affair Remains,” which showed at the 2019 Ashland Independent Film Festival, and plans to make a follow-up with him.

Now, back to the empty church at 100 6th St. — and movie “blood.” I interviewed Virginia Carol Hudson, who was wigmaster and hair stylist for the movie. Hudson has had quite a career. For 18 years she worked as a principal wigmaker at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Now she divides her time between smaller theaters (she will work two shows during the Cabaret Theater’s 2020 season) and private clients of her Wigs by Design business.

According to Hudson, filming of “Besetment” left its mark in the house. A horror movie requires lots of (fake) blood to be spattered, right? So the floor got its share, which the filmmakers left when they left. Remember this when I describe the renovation process in Part 2.

The Catholic church on 6th Street was built in 1889. courtesy photo