09 Aug Alida Street: Flowers, Ghosts and Art
Dramatic trumpet vine at 66 Alida
Writer of Westerns at 81 Alida
The scissors that moved by themselves at 92 Alida
Beautiful mural at 107 Alida
“Lord of the Rings” connection at 180 Alida
Plus 40 photos
Ashland Neighborhood Art series
I thought to myself, “It’s only two blocks long. This will be a quick, easy article to write.” Boy was I wrong. I was surprised by the stories I discovered and which I can now share with you.
Alida Street is situated between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street in one of the older parts of Ashland, within the boundaries of the Siskiyou-Hargadine historic district. Residents of Alida Street have a neighborhood coffee shop, with the Rogue Valley Roasting Company around the corner on East Main Street.
Let’s begin our two-block stroll
Let’s begin our two-block stroll with a small 1933 cottage style house at 46 Alida Street, near East Main Street. According to the National Register of Historic Places, this house is “an example of the small rental volumes that typify much of the infill development in the district prior to World War II.” It looks beautifully renovated at some point in recent years.
Across the street is the Woodland Park Estates apartments. This large apartment complex provides much needed housing for single people and couples.
Southern Pacific Railroad engineer
60 Alida Street was built about 1902 for Judd V. Miller, an engineer with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The original architecture was an L-shaped farmhouse style, but large additions through the years have changed the historic character of this house as well. I do like the attractive new front entry, though it’s not quite large enough to be a comfortable front porch with two or three chairs.
The 1908 Henry Boyd House at 63 Alida Street retains its simple, historic hipped-roof cottage architectural style. Henry Boyd was a local photographer. He and his wife Nettie lived here until 1923.
A dramatic trumpet vine caught my eye at 66 Alida Street. The house was built in 1941 in the Cape Cod, Colonial Revival style. As I walked and took photos in July 2020, the trumpet vine was in glorious full bloom, covered with large bright red flowers.
Trumpet vines (also called trumpet creeper) have high points and drawbacks. Among the high points, the large bright flowers continue to bloom all summer and they are a magnet for hummingbirds.
Trumpet vine trunks have their own harsh beauty. The trumpet vine at 66 Alida shows how beautiful the gnarled trunk of the vine gets as it ages. This one even provides a level spot for displaying Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity of beginnings, also known as the remover of obstacles.
As one website put it, trumpet vine is “A high-climbing, aggressively colonizing woody vine to 35 ft., climbing or scrambling over everything in its path by aerial rootlets.” Depending on its location, this can be a big drawback. Some varieties send out below-ground runners and self-seed nearby, so they can take a lot of care to keep in check. The beautiful, gnarled trunk can also be a drawback as the plant gets older and larger. Moral of the story: be careful where you plant a trumpet vine and keep it under control, so that you can enjoy it. This old trumpet vine is an example of one that has been pruned regularly and kept under control.
George Anderson houses
George Anderson was a clerk with the Warner Mercantile Company. I found a Warner Mercantile ad in the 1916 Ashland Tidings, but it doesn’t give much insight into what the company sold or where it was located. Anderson had two houses built on Alida Street, both in 1910.
Anderson lived at 76 Alida in a simple hipped-roof cottage. The large rear addition and plate glass windows in front have changed the house considerably, but one can still see the basic character of the 1910 house in the small front section.
Anderson bought property across the street and had 75 Alida built as a rental house. The National Register document calls it “a fine single-story gabled bungalow with a projecting gable porch.” I keep an eye out for Little Free Libraries around town. You’ll find an attractive one in the planting strip at 75 Alida Street.
Writer of Western stories and novels lived here
William Verne Athanas, who lived at 81 Alida Street, was known as a writer of cowboy fiction, but he came from a rich Greek heritage. He was the son of Panagiotis “Peter” Konstantinos Athanassopoulos, who had been born in Greece in 1890. The family moved to Ashland when Verne was a child. In 1936, he graduated from Ashland High School and married his childhood sweetheart Alice Spencer – a big year!
Marrying Alice Spencer made him the uncle of Julia Woosnam, who grew up across the street at 92 Alida Street and told me his story. Between high school and becoming a full-time writer ten years later, “he slopped hogs, dug postholes, drove trucks, was a railroad brakeman, a gandy dancer, a service station attendant, a stationery salesman and more.” [Archives West]
Once he began writing, he specialized in cowboy fiction, and he was prolific. Athanas has 28 short stories listed in the “Western and Frontier Fiction Magazine Index.” He also wrote for mainstream magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. He published three novels, including The Proud Ones that was made into a movie released in 1956. He also wrote scripts for TV westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. Because he wrote under four pseudonyms in addition to his own name, I haven’t been able to track down exactly what and how much he wrote.
The oldest house on Alida Street
Built in 1890 or 1891, 84 Alida is the oldest house on the street. It is described as “a fine multiple gable volume set upon a high concrete foundation. The porch at the NW corner is notable for its early-appearing chinoiserie balustrade.”
Early Ashlanders, ghost tales and more
The 1920 single story bungalow at 92 Alida Street still has much of its original detailing. Julia Woosnam, who grew up in this house in the 1950s and 1960s, told me stories and shared photos with me. She comes from an old Ashland family. Her grandfather Don Spencer was Ashland’s first postal mail carrier, starting in about 1910. Before that, everyone had to pick up their mail at the post office on the Plaza.
Julia’s father Lawrence Powell and mother Altadena Spencer married in 1929. The couple raised a family and lived at 92 Alida Street for more than 40 years.
Two months before Julia was born in 1954, her father planted a maple tree for her in front of their house at 92 Alida Street. Here is the tiny stick that was to become a tree. (photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)
Her father took this photo of Julia with “her tree” when she was almost two years old. The maple tree “stick” is a little taller. (photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)
Here is “Julia’s tree” in front of 92 Alida Street in 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ghostly personal experiences
“Growing up there, you would just have a sense of somebody else hanging out” in the house, Julia told me. The front bedroom, with a window overlooking the porch as seen in the photo below, was hers growing up.
“The front bedroom was my room, and things would slide around in that room. I had a couple of friends in high school, laughing and giggling in there with me when we were best buddies, and a pair of scissors slid across the bureau. One of those friends said, ‘I am not staying in your room again.'”
Intrigued because scissors seem rather large to move on their own, I asked Julia about them. She replied, “I have them upstairs. They were my mother’s really nice dress-making shears.” Of course I said, “May I take a photo of them?” So Julia went and got what she laughingly called “the now famous flying scissors,” and here they are. I held them, and I can tell you they are heavy.
Then there was the moving toilet paper. “The toilet paper roll would just spontaneously, slowly start to unroll, then it would go faster, faster, faster, faster, faster, faster until it pretty much emptied the roll. That was seen by several friends.”
“It got to be really mean,” Julia added, laughing. “Someone would go in the bathroom and we would all wait, just to see if it would happen. I had my best friend, who lived in the oldest house [on Alida Street] across the driveway from us, and she went into the bathroom — and I remember my mom and I tippy-toeing down the hallway, waiting — and pretty soon she screams, and she comes running out of the bathroom, just sobbing — and it was the toilet paper had started to unroll before she could even get near it to use it. These things just happened — for whatever reasons, they do happen.”
Another occurrence experienced by many people through the years was a loud thump, with no discernible cause, as if a large ball was being thrown against the wall. “My good friend Ann called it ‘the boulder.’ So we always referred to that sound as being ‘the boulder.’ It was definitely like someone had taken a soccer ball and thrown it hard against the outside of the house.”
100 Alida Street
The house next door at 100 Alida Street was built in 1939 with an English Cottage style architecture unusual in Ashland. “A one and one-half story period revival structure, the Ruger House is a gable volume with a projecting gable entry element.”
The creative gate combines wood, metal and vines for an attractive entry to the yard.
Art for the neighborhood to enjoy
The house at 107 Alida was built in 1925 for local banker Gerald Wenner and his wife Grace. The couple lived here for nearly 50 years, until they died in the early 1970s. A simple bungalow style, it still has many of the original 1925 features.
Before and After at 107 Alida Street
The bright mural on the side of this house is quite new. Katherine emailed me that the mural at her house was painted by two friends, Amy and Glenn, who visited her from the San Francisco Bay Area in June. Her friend Amy added, “Visiting in a pandemic, we wanted a safe way to socialize and create something beautiful for our friend Katherine. We hope that more public art soothes the soul during these transformative times.” Seeing this mural certainly lifted my spirits, and I recommend that you see it when you are in the neighborhood.
The mural creation at 107 Alida Street
I wondered how this unusual group of flowers was designed. It turned out to be a simple but surprising reason. See the photo and caption below.
I will add that Amy Pete is a somatic bodyworker and Glenn Case is a muralist and sign maker, both living in the Bay Area.
Another SP worker, and unusual yard art
Southern Pacific Railroad worker Henry Mayberry and his wife Myrtle had 140 Alida Street built for them about 1924. The house retains much of its historic look. The artistic garden fence and yard art are both very modern. For example, having a Buddha-like statue and a gnome sharing the yard is very 21st century.
Ashland High School 2020 graduate
Ashland High School’s class of 2020 was not able to have an in-person graduation ceremony due to the coronavirus. On May 26, I noticed a forest of signs placed along Siskiyou Boulevard in front of the high school. I was moved as I saw this creative way of recognizing each 2020 graduate individually.
Since then, I have seen “2020 GRAD” signs in front of several houses around Ashland. 145 Alida Street is one of them. This post-World War II era cottage, built in 1945, is “a fine example of its type.” The National Register describes it as “a series of connected hip roof volumes with wide board siding and numerous windows. A large brick chimney dominates the streetscape and a matching hipped-roof garage is located at the rear of the lot.”
Another, smaller apartment complex is at 160-162 Alida Street. Built in 1966, I think it is called the Collins Court apartments.
A “fine Queen Anne ell”
172 Alida Street was built as a rental house by Jacob Thompson around 1900. Architecturally, it is a “fine Queen Anne ell with canted corner on each of two projecting gables, framed below a pent roof line and a shingle-decorated gable end.”
Thompson owned much of the land in this part of Miner’s addition. An interesting aside is that in 1910, he transferred this property to a company co-owned by Thompson and his partner Gwin Butler. You may recognize the name Butler from the Butler-Perozzi Fountain or the Butler bandshell in Lithia Park. Gwin Butler’s contributions to Ashland deserve a full article.
Creative hobbit lovers
180 Alida Street is a 1926 single story bungalow style house. This house could get an award for creative use of a tree stump. What got me excited, however, was spotting the sign on their gate that says, “Say Friend and Enter” in both English and Elvish. If you have read Lord of the Rings or seen the movies several times, you might recognize that saying as the inscription that puzzled Gandalf at the gate of Moria.
I have been a fan of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien since I was a teenager – which was many years ago! Early this year, I just finished reading the 1,086 page book (1,190 with appendices) for about the tenth time, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time.
The 1901 Frank Nelson house
188 Alida Street was built for Frank Nelson in 1901, and he lived there until 1919. The style is a simple one and one-half story hipped-roof cottage. Nelson was a partner in the longtime Ashland grocery business Loomis and Nelson, which served the Railroad District at the corner of 4th Street and B Street.
We have now reached Siskiyou Boulevard, so this wraps up our walk along Alida Street.
Note that two people who built houses on Alida Street worked for Southern Pacific Railroad. See below for a link to my article about the impact of the railroad on Ashland.
Unidentified quotes are from:
National Register of Historic Places, Siskiyou-Hargadine Historic District, September 14, 2002.
Anon. “W. Verne Athanas papers, 1946-1962,” Archives West.
Anon. “The Western & Frontier Fiction Magazine Index,” Verne Athanas and Bill Colson story listings.
Katherine Holden, personal communication, July 2020.
Pete, Amy. Personal communication, July 2020.
Woosnam, Julia. Personal communication, August 2020.