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Raggedy Ann bungalow continues relocation

Jamie Lusch / Ashland Tidings Mardi Mastain waves to friends and family members as the Raggedy Ann House moves the final 40 feet to its resting place off Granite Street in Ashland.
Allayana Darrow / Ashland Tidings Mardi Mastain reveals a redwood tree root that was cut to make space for the Raggedy Ann bungalow relocation.

ASHLAND — The bungalow above Lithia Park continued its relocation Thursday, making the final sharp turn into an excavated area at the base of Mardi Mastain’s home on Granite and Nutley streets.

The bungalow is well known as the place where Johnny Gruelle, author of the Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, stayed with his family in 1925.

Over the past four years, the bungalow has moved numerous times and faced the possibility of demolition, while Mastain and Ashland Parks and Recreation navigated conflicting interests and disparate land appraisals.

“It has been frustrating during that period of time, and now I can put that behind me and again become delighted with what is happening,” Mastain said.

The 540-square-foot bungalow was constructed sometime between 1911 and the early 1920s and stands as a historic marker in the Skidmore Academy Historic District, the oldest residential area in Ashland, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

Day one of the relocation brought some challenges, according to neighbor Joyce Stanley, who has livestreamed the event since April 18 for her grandson, Kai, in Romania. The 6-year-old has a passion for tools, trucks and anything mechanical.

Other children — parents in tow — watched from the sidewalk as a four-person moving crew worked around tight angles, trees and traffic. When the move began, the bungalow was turned 180 degrees in the wrong direction, necessitating a turnaround at the bottom of Nutley Street, Stanley said.

Doc Chaplin, owner of Doc’s House Moving Co., has spent 33 years moving buildings in the Rogue Valley, including bungalows, three-story buildings, lighthouses, air hangers and one caboose.

“There’s nothing we haven’t done,” he said Thursday from the moving site.

Still, one moving crew member said he’d worked on multistory house relocations that were easier than fitting the small Raggedy Ann house into its snug new spot, steering between trees and electrical boxes inches at a time.

Chaplin said some small trees and shrubs had to come down to preserve dozens of other trees on the property, including exposed redwood roots that required lifting the bungalow above to avoid further damage. Once the bungalow is situated in the excavated space, a foundation will go underneath.

In its new spot as an accessory dwelling unit, Mastain plans to refurbish the interior and install new windows, sheet wall, insulation and doors while preserving the exterior, per the guidance of history enthusiasts.

“I feel delighted that I can be a part of contributing something to our community, some historic valuation to our community,” she said.

Mastain moved into the bungalow in 2004 and added a 300-square-foot basement to the simple floor plan. Her father installed a small spiral staircase to replace a ship’s ladder leading below, which made the place charmingly livable, Mastain said. In 2007, she started plans for a new house as an age-in-place home.

From the beginning, Mastain said her goal was to temporarily set the bungalow on property adjacent to her house and leave it there until construction finished on her new house, when the bungalow could be moved to the lower end of her property.

“The goal has always been to preserve it and not demolish it,” she said.

The city approved her house building plan in 2017, and the bungalow moved a few dozen yards away to city-owned land controlled by Ashland Parks and Recreation. Mastain paid $500 per month in lease fees to keep the bungalow on the Granite-Nutley triangle lot.

According to APRC Chair Mike Gardiner, the lease was intended to last six months while Mastain’s house was built.

Construction on her new house began in 2018 and excavation at the bungalow’s planned permanent location revealed two large redwood tree roots attached to one of three century-old trees on the property — said to have been planted by Emma Oeder, whose family built the bungalow, Mastain said.

“Because we did not want to cut those roots, we abandoned excavation and started looking for a new home for the bungalow,” she said.

Though the need for a Plan B suddenly became urgent, Mastain said she had tried to purchase the Granite-Nutley triangle lot for a decade.

The Lithia Park Master Plan, yet to be adopted, recommends the city consider selling the triangle parcel because the size and location do not serve park needs nor meet minimum lot size requirements for a standalone parcel. Mastain sought a lot line adjustment to incorporate the lot into her own abutting property.

Gardiner said the master plan, a 100-year document, includes recommendations for future park commissions to consider if, for example, the minimum land size requirement for a single family home changes down the road. Otherwise, the recommendations are not set-in-stone actions.

According to a document signed by City Attorney David Lohman, dated Nov. 3, Mastain was directed to move the bungalow off the city-owned triangle lot within 33 days, terminating a license granted June 13, 2019. The notice falls within APRC’s and the city’s authority per the agreement, Lohman wrote. APRC would take possession of the bungalow if Mastain failed to move it in the allotted time.

“As the timeline indicates, negotiations on your proposed purchase of the Nutley triangle lot have reached impasse. The APRC is not willing to have any further time spent on this matter and has no current interest in selling the Nutley triangle lot,” Lohman wrote.

In an email dated Dec. 7, 2020, addressed to APRC Director Michael Black and a dozen other city staff members, Mastain requested clarification on the parks department’s intentions with the Granite-Nutley lot, to which she said she never received answers.

Mastain wrote that design changes, additional expenses and extensive construction delays were required to avoid felling redwood trees with historical significance on the property. Thirteen piers for the new house were hand dug around the roots to avoid cutting any roots over four inches in diameter, she said.

With few options left, when Mastain put the bungalow up for sale for $1 hoping someone else would preserve it, more than 100 people were interested. But a $50,000 estimate to move the bungalow and perform basic renovations led each interested party to drop out, she said.

In January, Mastain engaged legal counsel to challenge the 33-day notice — mostly to buy time to figure out what to do next while an appraisal of the Granite-Nutley triangle lot was delayed due to backlog at the appraisal company, she said. On Dec. 17, 2020, the appraisal came back at $77,000.

An APRC appraisal returned a $170,000 price tag for the lot, which Mastain said she offered in full despite discrepancy from her own appraisal numbers, and the offer was rejected. A renewed demand to move or lose the bungalow was issued March 23.

Demolishing the bungalow would have cost $3,500 — roughly 35 times cheaper than what she has spent moving it around to preserve, Mastain said.

Gardiner said APRC never intended to sell the triangle lot. Commissioners entertained the lot line adjustment idea Mastain proposed and had a land appraisal done for a fair market value price, but decided in the end not to sell. Some neighbors brought concerns to APRC about selling off an entrance to Lithia Park, Gardiner said.

“It looked like a potential opportunity for [Mastain] to fix a problem she had and parks could benefit from the sale of the land, but that wasn’t really our goal,” Gardiner said. “When we couldn’t reach an agreement, then we just decided that was not in the citizens’ best interest, so we didn’t sell it.”

Gardiner said per APRC’s contract with Mastain, she could not have demolished the bungalow on park property.

When Mastain put the bungalow up for sale for $1, ideas floated in to have parks take over the building and refurbish it for community use in Lithia Park — something the APRC budget does not have room for at this time, Gardiner said.

“We spent too much time and too much money dealing with that property,” he said. “When she originally came to us, this is exactly what was going to happen. … I’m happy that finally happened.”

One group was particularly interested in placing the bungalow in the rose garden in Lithia Park, with a museum component dedicated to Raggedy Ann and Andy and a space for storytelling, said Alan DeBoer, former mayor of Ashland. From his perspective, the parks department and the city missed an opportunity.

Ballparking $250,000 to refurbish the building and open it for community use, DeBoer said fundraising could have reduced cost to the city to nil.

“I think it would have been beneficial to the city to turn that into tax-producing income and getting a large chunk of money for something that can’t be used,” he said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.