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Ed Walk gives his team instructions as they work to transform Hummingbird Estate into a bed and breakfast, vineyard and tasting room. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

A daily metamorphosis

Peering east through an expansive picture window, past a refinished stone patio overlooking the Rogue Valley and beyond, Susan Walk gazes into the future.

Using just a bit of imagination, Walk outlines plans for the erstwhile Topsides mansion built by the Carpenter family more than 90 years ago. Hummingbird Estate, which she and her husband Ed bought in 2017, is going through a painstaking metamorphosis from its genesis as a societal showplace for the region's movers and shakers and, more recently, a secluded residence for the last of Alaska's territorial governors.

"When you look out there, it's just gorgeous," Walk marveled. "It's even better at night when you can see the whole valley just sparkle. You can see the planes going in and yet you can hear the cows mooing off to the side. So we get our country feel, but yet you've got this city that offers everything you could possibly want."

 

There is no artist's rendering of a grand resort scheme or drawings detailing the makeover that began last summer. Instead, there is the daily unfolding of the next step in turning Hummingbird Estate into a bed and breakfast, vineyard with a tasting room, and a wedding and event destination.

Decades of nature taking its course and neglect have created challenges and opportunity. A squad of carpenters, electricians, stone masons, vineyard hands and others are reworking the site. Walk laughs when asked during a recent tour whether a landscape architect was brought in on the project.

"If you ever have watched HGTV where they talk about all the hidden surprises," Walk said, "well, when you remodel a house that was built in 1926-27, you come across some strange things that probably made sense to them, but to us didn't make any sense at all."

There have been plenty of obstacles and twists along the way.

"When they were tearing up the irrigation (lines), they came up with wooden irrigation, the old pipe irrigation and some plastic pipes," she said.

Some of the garden beds disintegrated when roots from aging trees were extracted.

"We're going to have some friends come out and put plants in," she said. "And a couple friends are out from Indiana, learning how to be masons; they're resetting all the stone."

Stakes are driven into the surrounding slopes that will soon take shape as 18 acres of grapes — ranging from pinot noir, chardonnay to grenache — are planted. The two- to three-month planting, including 2-year-old-dormant vines to jump-start the vineyard, commences in March. Once the grapes are in, the tasting room can be opened in the former Topsides dining area.

"We at first thought we could have this open in June, because we have to have 15 acres of grapes planted before we could have wine tasting," Walk said. "But everything takes longer. We now hope by the first part of August to have all the permits in place and purchase wine we will sell under our (Hummingbird Estate) name."

During a recent tour of the property off Old Stage Road, Walk suggested the goal is for a soft, quiet opening in August.

"We're not in the service industry. We're farmers, used to corn and soybeans, so we want to do everything slowly," she said.

Ed Walk is a retired Cumberland County, Illinois, hog farmer and his wife was a teacher. They discovered the 47-acre estate while visiting their daughter Kristina and son-in-law Tim Alvarez a couple of years ago.

The five bed-and-breakfast suites won't be rented out until everything is good to go. The majority of the seven fireplaces will be converted to gas or simply be reminders of a past era, and food service will be minimal. The historical living room will be a sitting room, where B&B clients will eat.

Although the swimming pool's future is still in question, the outdoor basketball/pickleball court is destined to become a dance floor for weddings.

Admittedly, the project has been a learning experience, Susan Walk said.

"Oregon rules and everything are different from Illinois, so we learned a lot, and we're still learning; but it's still fun," she said. "Sometimes we'll get stressed and ask why are we doing this? Then we sit down out here and have a glass of wine and know it's OK."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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