A new restaurant opening in July and offering Pacific Northwest cuisine will replace the venerable Chateaulin Restaurant, which served French cuisine in downtown Ashland for a half century.

A new restaurant opening in July and offering Pacific Northwest cuisine will replace the venerable Chateaulin Restaurant, which served French cuisine in downtown Ashland for a half century.

The new tenants, Rob and Anny Harvey, who own Beasy's on the Creek, will remodel the space, which occupies the ground floor of a two-story building that rises from East Main Street to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's courtyard.

Over time, actors and others have been lured to this dining spot with its people-watching window seats.

It was here at the Rolling Pin Café in 1953 that Vladimir Nabokov wrote passages of "Lolita," a novel about a middle-aged professor who pursues a 12-year-old girl whom he compares to a butterfly. The Russian-American author rented a house on Meade Street for the summer so he could search for a rare butterfly on Mount Ashland.

When Chateaulin opened in 1972, performers and theater patrons dined here before ascending the Chautauqua walkway leading to the two-year-old Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Originally, a photographer claimed this site.

Historic photos from the 1890s show a wooden structure used by photographer Frank L. Camps. A sign painted on a wall advertises "Portraits."

In the 1890s, Ashland was already known as a resort and educational center. It had a library, city band, opera house and had joined the adult-education Chautauqua assemblies circuit.

Thousands of people each year walked past Camps' studio to hear famous orators and entertainers speak in the imposing Chautauqua dome, where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would later get its start.

In 1904, Camps hired an architect to design a more permanent building with a ground-floor store and offices above.

A story in the Ashland Daily Tidings reported that a "handsome," stucco-clad brick building "shows a front elevation the peer of any building now in Ashland and one which will be fully in keeping with the sightly spot where it is located."

In the 1950s, the geographically desirable space had become the Rolling Pin Doughnut Shop.

Dale Monroe, who graduated from Ashland High School in 1960 and now lives in Medford, remembers delivering newspapers to the back door and being rewarded with fresh, hot donuts. The Rolling Pin was later upgraded to be a full-service café.

After 1966, when cars bypassed Main Street — Ashland's portion of Highway 99 — by taking the new Interstate 5 freeway, and city shops and the logging industry were closing down, desperate city officials paid a consultant $36,000 to suggest ways to improve the boarded-up downtown.

One of the recommendations was to promote the thriving Shakespeare festival, according to Joe Peterson's book "Images of America: Ashland."

The festival, which started in 1935, was attracting theater patrons including Hollywood stars Charles Laughton, Ginger Rogers and others.

Ashland historian and photographer Terry Skibby was told Elizabeth Taylor stopped in at the Rolling Pin Café, but he can't verify the story.

OSF owns the top level of the Camps Building and uses it for the membership lounge, development offices and a meeting room.

The first level of the building was purchased in 1992 by wine expert Michael Donovan and Chef David Taub.

The two business partners bought Chateaulin in the late 1970s from original owner Bernard Pradel, who was from Chateaulin, France. Pradel later launched Bernard Pradel Cellars, now part of Elyse Winery in Napa, Calif.

Donovan and Taub changed the slow-cooked country menu to include more regional, seasonal specialties and a signature French onion soup. Vintage menus show that Salmon Florentine in a light sherry sauce was $8 and Boeuf Bourguignon in red wine was $6.25.

A few years before the Ashland Wine Cellar opened on Lithia Way in 1980, Chateaulin was stocking exclusive bottles of wine.

A 1967 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac premier cru was listed at $31. Today, the value would be about $700, with restaurants charging as much as $1,500, says Donovan, who is the director of national sales and marketing for RoxyAnn Winery in Medford and serves on the Oregon Wine Board.

In 1992, Chateaulin added a wine shop and became one of the first to ship Oregon pinot noirs.

When Donovan sold his share of the restaurant to employees in 2002, there was $100,000 worth of domestic and imported wine in the cellars.

Chateaulin's management changed hands several times until the doors closed last summer.

Still, people continued to pass by under the burgundy awning, peer into the windows and look for signs that the chocolate brown door with the brass number "50" would open again.

Now, they will just have to wait until this summer. On the menu of the restaurant, which will have a new look and name, will be items that pay homage to Chateaulin, says Rob Harvey.

"We are excited about the opportunity to be a chapter in the history of the Camps Building," he says, adding that he will continue to manage Beasy's on the Creek along with the new restaurant. "After 17 years of proprietorship of Beasy's on the Creek, we are stepping into a Main Street window."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.