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Monday, August 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

For sale (again): Otis, Ore. Price: $3 million

By The Associated Press

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OTIS, Ore. — The "for sale" sign is back up on the tiny town of Otis in the Coast Range.

Five years ago, the idea of selling Otis put it on the national map. Almost overnight came an offer out of California for the $3 million asking price. The "Today" show wanted to feature Otis, and rumors flew that Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger were ready to deal for the town.

Alas, in the milliseconds it takes to drive through this blink-and-you'll-miss-it town center, the fanfare faded. Rumors about Hollywood stars turned out to be just that.

The California buyer disappeared, but not before persuading the owner, Vivian Lematta, to put $100,000 in an escrow account, purportedly for repairs to old gas tanks on the property.

"It was a big scam," Andrea Lematta, Vivian's daughter, told The Oregonian newspaper. "We had to go through quite a bit of legal mess to get the money released back to us."

Wiser and a bit wearier, Vivian Lematta, 83, has put the 190 acres, once her childhood home, back on the market for the same $3 million asking price.

But this time, it seems it's old news.

When the town, just north of Lincoln City, first went up for sale, "We had every television camera crew in the cafe," says Linda Owings, a waitress at the Otis Cafe. "This time, I haven't heard much."

Vivian Lematta's grandfather bought the land in 1910 for $5,000. Her father developed it. Vivian Lematta left in 1957 and now lives in Maryland, where her daughter raises racehorses.

Vivian Lematta says she has no regrets about selling the property.

But she does have fond childhood memories of fishing on the Salmon River, of attending school with children from eight other grades in the two-room schoolhouse and of learning to drive the family's Model A Ford on the new country roads.
 
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What is now the Otis Cafe used to be a beer tavern, and there was a fish market. The original Otis Restaurant occupied what is now a vacant corner.

Today, Otis includes the Otis Cafe, a market, a corn-dog joint, the post office, a wood-carving outlet, two houses, a big barn, a community club and an all-purpose building.

Andrea Lematta says it's a new-and-improved Otis that's on the market this time. Caretakers have mended fences, dug up the gas tanks, rebuilt the barn and spruced up the big house.

Folks around town aren't sure how they feel about the sale.

And many confess they can't imagine who would plunk down that kind of money for a town you can't do much with.

All but about three acres is zoned for timber or agricultural use. The small portion zoned commercial bumps up against either the Salmon River estuary or zoning that makes development extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Judy Pluard, the real-estate agent listing the property, insists there are all sorts of possibilities.

A business associated with the wine industry might work, she says. Or, the town might appeal to someone who simply wants privacy or who likes to fish in the river.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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