OREGON’S MOST STUNNING LANDSCAPES have often sprouted resorts so beautifully wedded to their surroundings that it seems they were nurtured from seeds. Muscular and rustic, Timberline Lodge rises like an ancient crag against the snows of Mount Hood. The central Oregon Coast’s Salishan Spa & Golf Resort delicately weaves architecture and flora into an expression of living lightly on the land. Even Troutdale’s Edgefield Manor, once a poorhouse farm, has been remade into a stately, dignified lodge, a homey gateway to the Columbia Gorge.
The rolling, verdant farmlands of the Willamette Valley, however, have remained strangely free of iconic accommodations, even as their rapid transformation into some of the greatest vineyards in the world have made the need for such a place more acute. Compared to the lavish resorts that sprouted alongside Napa Valley’s rise into an international wine destination, the scattered bed-and-breakfasts, Shilo Inns, and Red Lions that pepper the decidely humbler environs of McMinnville, Dundee, and Newberg hardly beckon to the international wine elite. Better to stay in Portland and charter a helicopter or a stretch limousine.
But when the Allison Inn & Spa opens its doors in Newberg this month, all of that will change. With 85 sumptuously appointed guest rooms and suites, a 15,000-square-foot spa, a soon-to-be four-star restaurant, and ample meeting space to lure corporate gatherings, the inn will provide just the kind of Napa-style panache that our valley has long been lacking.
A vivacious septuagenarian with a taste for bright pastels in clothes and landscaping, Joan Austin is an unlikely guiding light for the project. Pinot noir gives her headaches, and her husband of 56 years, Ken Austin, is a recovering alcoholic. The Austins made their fortune over the past 45 years building a company called A-dec, one of the world’s largest makers of dental chairs and tools. When asked how the idea for the Allison arose, Joan candidly details how she first wanted to build a motel for the families of the addicts and alcoholics who were recovering at the nearby treatment facility, Hazelden.
But as A-dec grew from a single Quonset hut in downtown Newberg to the 16-acre campus it now occupies on the edge of town, so did the Austins’ ambitions, largesse, and landholdings. While Ken built the business, Joan, a self-described “land lover,” accumulated property. Eventually, the Austins were able to donate land for an expansion to the public library, an elementary school, and an extension of George Fox University’s campus.
They also planned a 450-acre addition to Newberg, called Springbrook.
Although Springbrook’s 1,200 houses, 50 acres of parks, and town center are now on hold, Joan proceeded to build the Allison at the development’s northeastern edge. The resort, she proudly extols, is an Austin family affair, involving not only the couple’s daughter, Loni Parrish, and son, Ken Austin III, but also their grandchildren. They’re “all putting fingers in the pie,” Joan says—from handpicking the artwork to Ken III’s careful crafting of the wooden tables found in the inn’s main lobby and private dining hall.