ASHLAND — Past and present guests, owners and general supporters sang "Happy Birthday" Sunday afternoon to the city's oldest continuously operated place of public accommodation.
The two-story white house at 586 East Main Street, now known as Anne Hathaway's B&B, was bulging at the seams with folks celebrating the historic natal day with current owners Deedie and David Runkel.
The old building looks good — especially considering it's a centenarian that's seen a lot of wear.
Joseph T. Currie, a single man with interests in gold mining and real estate, built the house in 1908. It has been a boarding house for more than 60 years and has been operated as a bed and breakfast since 1982.
Railroaders, nurses, teachers, students, telephone operators and printers are among those listed as boarders at the house in Polk City Directories. It is believed that the house was temporarily put into service as Ashland's hospital after the 1909 fire at the Southern Oregon Hospital, said Deedie Runkel.
"When the nurses stayed here, they moved some of their patients in here," she said.
Owners of the property in recent years have included a number of civic leaders.
Kate Jackson, a current city councilor and her husband Chuck Keil, a former school board member, named the house Anne Hathaway's Cottage in 1994 for the wife of William Shakespeare.
In the 1930's the house was known for setting "the finest table in town," according to a Daily Tidings article. It is an enviable reputation that the Runkels and other owners have sought to uphold.
Graham Lewis and his wife Bunny owned the B&B from 1991 to 1994, when it was known as the Edinburgh Lodge. Lewis, a past president of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said his hosting duties taught him to love cooking. And "getting creative with food" won him two "Chef of the West" awards from Sunset magazine, he said. The first award was for his blueberry Edinburgh Crepes, a recipe Lewis created.
"My secret was putting Grand Marnier (liquor) in the sauce," he said.
Putting on an afternoon tea was his specialty, Lewis said. Guests had finished shopping or going to a matinee, but it wasn't yet time for the evening plays.
"That's when I really got acquainted with folks," Lewis said.
Lewis, now a photographer who specializes in food, said he hasn't cooked professionally since the day he sold the place.
Food was abundant at Sunday's gathering. The table was spread with turkey, ham, mini tartes and other goodies. The Runkel's chocolate lab, Cappy, looked a bit bewildered at the number of visitors, but he was hopeful about getting a snack as he followed Peter Runkel in and out of the main rooms. Both Cappy's owners were busy welcoming the steady stream of visitors. The recurring theme was Ashland's rich theater history.
"The people and the plays, that's really what's a tonic to us. The topic at the breakfast table every morning is the plays," said Deedie Runkel.
Lewis sold the inn because the market was right, and because "I was putting a lot of money into (the inn) and not getting a lot back," he said. But he said he remembers inn-keeping fondly.
Deedie Runkel said she and her husband have no plans on selling.
"We've been here for seven (play) seasons and we don't have any plans for changing that," she said.
Paul and Nina Winens moved to Ashland from Berkeley, Calif., almost two weeks after being frequent guests at Anne Hathaway's B&B. The couple stayed most often in one of two cottages across the street that the Runkels purchased in 2004. Known as the Garden Suites, the cottages offered the Winens a bit more room to spread out as they worked on the remodel of their newly purchased Ashland home.
"We tried different spots. Peter and Deedie are very, very welcoming people," said Nina Winens.
Rabbi Mark Sirinsky of Temple Emek Shalom led the blessing for the open house, and the birthday chorus.
"We sang 'Happy Birthday' in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Russian," Sirinsky said.
The rabbi spoke about the echoes of memories, of all the life the old home has seen — all the plays that were discussed, all the songs that were sung, all the love that was shared, he said.
"May the future of this home be as rich as it's past," Sirinsky said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail email@example.com.