Home on the Range
Deschutes River Ranch—A Chance to Live the American Dream
By Bridget Barton
“I’ve been on planes enough of my life. I realized there is so much opportunity in Central
Oregon, huge opportunities. I told my wife, we’re just going to hang out here.” Gary Blake had
just passed the 50-year mark, but he was ready to start a new life.
His clients used to be names like Kraft, Ford, Pfizer, and Kellogg’s. “I worked for J. Walter
Thompson (considered by most to be the oldest advertising agency in the U. S.)—I did a lot of
their creative management,” says Blake. Then I actually started an advertising agency and I was
fortunate enough to sell it. That was in San Francisco.
Now Blake is, in a way, his own client. He’s the developer of Deschutes River Ranch near Bend
in Central Oregon, and he’s building his family’s dream home on one of his own spectacular
Seventeen years ago Blake moved to Corvallis, Oregon with his wife Lynette. “I lived in
Corvallis eight years and for the first year, I flew to San Francisco every week on a consulting
contract. I was supposed to do that for a year, but after six months I said, ‘I can’t stand it
anymore.’ I started doing developing about five or six years ago.”
And it’s been about two years since he began work on Deschutes River Ranch with his project
partner, Craig Morton. “He’s actually out working on the cattle business right now,” says Blake.
“We’ve begun a natural beef business, so we’re in the process of USDA certification on our beef.
It’s a closed herd—currently 90 head—that we’ve had for 20 years, and that’s a nice Angus-
Hereford mix, quality beef. No hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed. And the people that live on
the ranch get the first shot. It’s really tasty beef, bred to be that way.”
“Deschutes River Ranch overlooks pastures, river, and the Cascade mountains. You can’t
describe it; you have to see it,” says Scott Houck of Pahlisch Homes, Inc. “We happen to be
building three homes out there right now, and Gary’s is one.” When I left this morning there
were 12 deer in the pasture. They are dream sites—they really are.”
Deschutes River Ranch is for a somewhat different buyer than somebody who is going to
purchase in Broken Top or Pronghorn. Land costs are similar, anywhere from $275,000 to over
$1 million, but not everyone wants to live in a golf community. “Gary and Lynette are prime
examples, because they’re horse lovers,” says Houck. “That’s a big motivating factor for them.
The Ranch is just that—it’s a ranch, and in the field below the horses will be turned out. If you
own one lot, even if it’s just a 20,000 sq. ft. lot, you have a share of the ranch and you get to turn
your horses out, and you have the barn. There’s trail riding forever, plus there’s a couple hundred
acres of land with trails that the ranch owns, and a 1 3/4 mile of Deschutes River front—they
own both sides of it.
“How it works is this,” Blake explains, “this has been a working ranch since the 1800s. It was
originally homesteaded by Marshall Awbrey, the family that Awbrey Butte is named after. We have a cattle operation, a few horses, and some pasture. And we’ll be designing an equestrian
“By design we decided to keep houses away from the river. When we’re done—we have 27 that
we’ve built so far—there’ll be another 15 or so on top of that over time. That’s it on 450 acres.
Of those 24 are on 12 acres on one ridge.
“We have fishing holes and swimming holes and riding trails along the ridge and along the river
both ways. Some of the dirt roads and trails have been on the ranch for years. We also border
about 50,000–60,000 acres of BLM land.”
When Blake and Morton first arrived on the scene there were 24 small vacation timeshares
dotting the property. They literally lifted them up, donated them to Habitat for Humanity, and
hauled them away, putting all new infrastructure in place. It’s the best it’s looked in years,”
“We’ve done some research to find the historical roots of the ranch, trying to take it back to the
whole idea of giving people an environment to live in. This really isn’t a real estate deal, it’s a
lifestyle deal,” says Blake. “This is one of those projects of a lifetime. It’s a lot more about
choosing to live a rural lifestyle, and only be 15 minutes from Bend, 15 minutes to the airport, 15
minutes to Redmond. We’ve got doctors, consultants, retired Fortune 500 types here. Access is
“For people like Gary, it’s not the house,” says Houck, “it’s the dream site itself and the lifestyle
that goes with it.”
Sure enough, the first thing that Blake describes about his new home, under construction by
Pahlisch Homes, is the outdoor lifestyle. “Right outside our house we’re going to do a sunken
round pen. There’ll be house here, barn there, machine shed there,” says Blake. “We’ll have
guest quarters above our barn. We’ve got a lot of friends that do horses. We want to set up so
that people who come to visit can put their horses in the stalls.”
But the design and construction details also move that outdoor lifestyle indoors. “The goal is to
have a home that’s really inviting to people, to actually have this house feel like it’s been here
forever, before we actually move in,” says Blake. “So we’re doing native stone around the
foundation, mossy rock, cedar siding and shingle. We just want something that’s feels like, ‘Oh,
I belong here.’ We spent a lot of time thinking, how do we want this house to function?”
The architect for the home is Portlander Stan Scrutton, who has designed many Street of Dreams
homes. “He’s very accomplished,” says Houck, “he’s won best of show. For my money, he’s the
And how does Blake describe the home’s style? “I call it Northwest Old Growth Fusion,” Blake
says with a laugh. “A lot of Tuscan, and Provence—plasters and glazes. We’ll see if that works.
We actually went out and found a nice stand of Oregon old growth lumber for the exposed
beams (reminiscent of Timberline Lodge).”
The majority of the home’s living space is on the main floor, 4,400 sq ft. total—a master wing, a
central area, and another wing for family and guests. “I’ve got a daughter who’s at OSU and a
son who’s in his last year of high school next year” says Blake. “We want a place for them to be
able to come home and feel comfortable.”
The same exposed wood beams are carried outdoors to a large open barbecue center that is about
as comfortable and relaxed as Central Oregon itself. The family’s horses can come right up to the
house in several areas like this one, with cultivated landscape winding throughout. Blake is also
soundproofing a large bonus/music room above the garage for his son who plays guitar, and his
daughter who earned a piano scholarship at OSU.
One special Northwest touch is a corner area of the kitchen devoted to cappuccino. “Mornings I
make cappuccino for the family,” says Blake, “especially Saturday mornings. You know
pancakes, cappuccinos—the kids love it.”
The master side of the home features separate offices, one for Blake and an art studio/office for
Lynette Blake. There’s also a media library right across from the bedroom. “We don’t have a TV
in the great room,” says Blake. “I’ve got lots of books. I’m more of a reader than a watcher. I
watch ‘O’Reilly’ and reruns of ‘Cosby.’ We sit down at nights and say let’s find something to
watch and I’ll flip through hundreds of channels, and then I’ll say I’d rather read a book.
Recently the young fiancée of a soldier came to Blake with a special request. The young couple
lived nearby but had nowhere to hold their wedding and reception. With time running out before
the soldier shipped out to Iraq, she asked if there was any way they could use the beautiful,
sprawling central lodge at the Ranch for their ceremony. “So of course we said yes,” says Blake.
So they’re going to have 75 people come. We want to help people out too. Hopefully that soldier
doesn’t get hurt.
“I look at the Ranch and say what a blessing for us to be able to offer a place like that, in a
situation like that. To me it’s personal thing beyond this house,” says Blake, as he looks out over
the spectacular views of the Deschutes River, the snow-capped Cascades, and the peaceful valley
below. “We’re blessed to even be able to do this thing. It’s not something where you go like
this… Blake squeezes his arms tight… it’s something you go like that…he throws his arms open
expansively, taking in the panorama.”
For Blake it’s not just about building his dream; it’s about sharing that dream too.
SIDEBAR: Building a Lifestyle—Pahlisch Homes, Inc.
Where do you go to build your dream? And whom do you get to help you build it? Lots of folks
in Central Oregon are turning to Dennis Pahlisch and Pahlisch Homes, Inc.
In 2002, Dennis Pahlisch moved to Central Oregon, where he been working since 2000. By
January of 2003 his company’s corporate headquarters had shifted to the east side of the state.
“This is a very good opportunity and we are very excited to be in Central Oregon,” says Brian
Bergler, Pahlisch Sales and Marketing Manager.
“Dennis would say that it was a business decision second and a family and lifestyle decision
first,” says Bergler. “The family met, talked about the move, and when asked where would you
want to move, they said Central Oregon. It looked like a good business opportunity as well. All
three of his sons are involved in the company.”
For any buyer, any builder, any developer—land is where it all begins.
“Bend does have an urban growth boundary. We do deal with that here,” says Bergler. “And it’s
definitely having the same effect on land values as it does everywhere. They have gone up 100
percent in two years for raw land.”
Land use planning definitely has value,” says Bergler, “making us think more wisely about the
use of land. But it also does inflate values. It gives a very strange, skewed sense to the economics
about land. It has a direct impact on affordable housing, whether it’s Portland or Bend or
anywhere, because you are limiting the supply. And he adds, “The demand is certainly not
Pahlisch Homes, Inc. was originally based in West Linn, where they built extensively, then in
Tigard, expanding into subdivisions such as Greenleaf and Stoller Farms. Good land
opportunities took the company to Corvallis in 1999, and into what the company calls custom
production housing. The Grand Oaks community there is a significant accomplishment.
Dennis Pahlisch himself finds land and determines development locations. “One of his skills is
creating good relationships with people,” says Scott Houck, President of the Custom Home
Division. “They’ve felt good about selling their land to him because he’s not a typical
‘developer’…he really cares about the community, and what’s the best thing for the person
selling the land.
“Dennis works with them,” says Houck, “gets their input, involves them in that creation, that
concept, in that design and layout. What do they envision? What do they think? That’s pretty
The company, started in ’83, still builds for the first time buyer and for the million dollar custom
home buyer. “Whether we are building 50 or 300 homes a year, to that buyer,” says Houck, “it’s
the only home they are buying, so we want to make that a good experience.”
This year Pahlisch Homes will build 15 custom homes and 140 production homes, almost all in
Bend. Next year nearly 200 homes are planned. And the company will introduce three new
communities this fall in Central Oregon—in Redmond, Prineville and LaPine.
SIDEBAR II: Central Oregon Tour of Homes
Central Oregon’s popular tour of homes hosted by the Central Oregon Builders Association
(COBA), runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday on July 16, 17, 18 and on July 23, 24, 25. A stunning
custom home built by Pahlisch at Deschutes River Ranch, and the Deschutes River Ranch itself,
will be on the 65-home tour. Admission is free; the tour takes in different locations, spanning the
spectrum of affordability, a variety of Central Oregon areas, and different builders.
BrainstormNW - July 2004