Meet the “Beach Street bear”
Walk Ashland’s 2-year Anniversary!
Update of my first article
Let’s begin with a sight that I believe is unique to Beach Street.
Writing about Beach Street was my first “Walk Ashland” blog post, published April 12, 2018. So this is our 2-year anniversary!
Beach Street starts at Siskiyou Blvd and ends uphill at the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. You’ll find a mix of modest homes, large homes, apartments and condos as you walk Beach Street. The street has open space at Lincoln School, plus many large Ponderosa pines, firs and oaks.
The “Beach Street bear”
Without further ado, let’s get right into stories about the “Beach Street bear,” which even had its photo in the Ashland Daily Tidings in 2006. I have two personal “Beach Street bear” stories and one told to me by a neighbor.
My sad bear story is encapsulated in the photo below. The bear was doing what bears love to do…go fishing, in this case in my backyard pond.
“Beach Street bear” with a koi (photo taken by my neighbor Jake)
A bear goes fishing
My wife and I have enjoyed a small pond, with plants and colorful koi fish, for the past 15 years. The first ten years were uneventful. We had seen a cinnamon-colored bear eating plums from a tree in a neighbor’s yard a couple times, but no sign of bears in our yard. Then in 2015 a bear discovered the eight healthy (and mostly fat) koi in our backyard pond.
The first koi to become bear food was our 10-year-old black and white koi named Larry. Within a week, the bear had returned and fished out two big beautiful bright orange koi named Big Guy and Dreamsicle. We couldn’t handle seeing them all picked off one by one, so I got in the pond with a fish net and captured the survivors so we could take them back to the shop where we bought them.
Here is the happy (so far) ending to this story. The youngest of our eight koi, a three-inch long almost-baby named Prospero, eluded my attempts to catch him. He disappeared, probably hiding among the pond’s thick plants. Then, as if by magic, he reappeared two months later. After he survived one year all alone in the pond, we got Prospero a “buddy” the following year. We know we could lose them at any time, but as of spring 2020 (“knock on wood”) we have two koi to watch as we sit by the pond.
A warm summer evening bear encounter
My other bear story was dramatic in a different way. On a warm summer evening in 2006 shortly after the Daily Tidings article, I was stretched out in a lounge chair in my back yard reading the newspaper. Our cuddly, chunky female cat GG was stretched out half-asleep next to me. Ah, a nice relaxing Ashland summer evening.
Suddenly I saw a 5′ tall, 200 pound or so black bear climb over the low side-yard fence 35 feet away from me – way too close – and it was no longer a relaxing summer evening. I stood up, holding the newspaper. Then the bear saw me. It stood up. GG-cat took off running back to the house cat door faster than she had ever run in her entire life. My wife happened to be at the screen door nearest the bear when it appeared, so she started yelling at the bear. Meanwhile, I backed away slowly, newspaper in hand.
Fortunately, the bear was as afraid of us as we were of it, so it shot up the nearest tree. After looking around from its perch ten feet up, it decided not to stay up a tree in our yard. It came down the tree, climbed over the fence, and then lumbered off through two neighbors’ yards to Liberty Street and hopefully uphill to the forest.
My neighbor Brad’s bear story
Speaking of bears, during 2018 I met my neighbor Brad as he was “playing with rocks,” – as he put it – building a no-mortar rock retaining wall. We were discussing how all of upper Beach Street a century ago was likely a farm and orchard. He told me about his old cherry and apple trees, and then declared his frustration that every summer a bear crushes his chain-link fence in order to get in and enjoy ripe cherries.
Little Free Library
Changing the subject from bears to angels, I met Nina as I was admiring her front yard full of angel sculptures.
Nina told me a “small world” story. Decades ago, she worked as an intern for six months at Presidio Hill School in San Francisco. When her new neighbor moved in, they found something in common. The new neighbor had followed Nina as an intern at Presidio Hill School, but then stayed on the staff for 40 years…before retiring to Ashland, right next door to Nina!
Historic bungalow style houses
Lincoln Elementary School building
The elementary school was originally used for the teacher training program at Southern Oregon State Normal School (now SOU) one block away. Due to declining elementary school enrollment, Lincoln was closed in 2005, but is still owned by the school district.
Lincoln Elementary School has an interesting history. In July 1925, Ashland’s only elementary school was overcrowded and voters passed a bond to finance the construction of a second school. By 1926, Lincoln School opened, with a dual mission to educate elementary students and to train new teachers who attended the nearby Southern Oregon State Normal School (now SOU).
The Lincoln School building was designed by the same well-known Portland architectural firm that in 1924 designed Ashland’s Lithia Springs Hotel (now Ashland Springs Hotel). The core of Lincoln School, with its formal Corinthian-inspired columns, remains as it was in 1926.
The building was expanded and remodeled several times through the years. In the mid-1940s, elementary schools were again getting overcrowded and there was discussion of expanding Lincoln School. A 1946 fire that destroyed much of the school led to remodeling and soon after that, the addition of three classrooms and a multipurpose room. As Ashland continued to grow, two more classrooms were added to the school in 1955.
Then population trends changed, and by the 1990s Ashland elementary school enrollment was dropping fast. There were five elementary school buildings to keep up and not enough students to fill them. It was an agonizing decision, but the Ashland School Board first closed Briscoe Elementary School in 2003 and then Lincoln Elementary School in 2005.
Do you recognize the “Fortmiller” name?
Up the street a bit, I met someone with a name that Ashland “old-timer” readers will recognize: Fortmiller. I met Lisa Beach (formerly Lisa Fortmiller), owner of the now-closed A Midsummer’s Dream Bed & Breakfast at 496 Beach Street. Her parents owned Fortmillers Department Store in downtown Ashland, at the current location of Earthly Goods. She remembers being able to pick her favorite clothes off the racks as a child.
Lisa left Ashland for 35 years, then moved back and ran the beautiful B&B for 15 years. The B&B had been created in 2001 by restoring a 1901 Victorian farm house where the family that owned the old Beach Street farm/orchard had lived.
Some things change…like historic houses being altered beyond recognition (sad face) or being renovated to restore their historical look (happy face).
Some things don’t change…like Lisa (Fortmiller) Beach still having the same reserved seats at Ashland High School football games that have been in her family for 50 years.
Here is a garden highlight of the 2018 walk — beautiful daffodils, which the deer have left alone for us to enjoy.
I hope you have enjoyed this story. Please sign up to receive an email each time I post a new story as I walk every street in Ashland.
I will close with a poem I wrote about Beach Street.
Beach Street is not by the sand
or even near the beach.
Named after Ashland pioneer
Henry Beach Carter, it is near
Southern Oregon University,
where thousands of students – and
their teacher/mentors – share
with Beach Street residents and the community
inspiring music, art, sports and learning.
To the north, Beach Street ends at
Siskiyou Boulevard and
Ashland High School,
where young actors, athletes and adults
are shaped and forged.
To the south, Beach Street ends at the
Siskiyou Mountain range,
where mountain hikers and mountain bikers
find a paradise to explore.
Actors, doctors, students, families, business people
and more all share Beach Street with
deer, bears, raccoons and
massive trees full of squirrels and jays.
Peter Finkle April 7, 2018
National Register of Historic Places, Siskiyou-Hargadine Historic District, September 14, 2002.
Squire, Jennifer. “So long, Lincoln,” Ashland Daily Tidings, May 27, 2005.