When Kelly Giampa bought her house in Cannon Beach 15 years ago, she didn’t expect the previous homeowner to come with it.
Giampa wasn’t keen on Cannon Beach at first because of its “tourist feel,” but after seeing “charming photos” of the inside, she decided to give it a chance.
And when she and her husband came for the showing, there was an unexpected bonus: meeting the seller of the home, Lannie Hurst, a Portland theater icon and activist.
On the outside, the house looked terrible, Giampa recalled. “We almost didn’t want to go in,” she said. “But when we walked in, Lannie greeted us in the kitchen, which was unusual because usually the seller isn’t there.”
They immediately connected and soon bonded over their shared love of Broadway, music and shared roots in Portland.
In the transition, Hurst quickly became family to the Giampas. “We told her to keep a key to the house,” Giampa said. “It was our house.”
The home is one of several featured in this year’s Cannon Beach Cottage & Garden Tour happening Friday through Sunday, Sept. 8 through 10. On top of enjoying live concerts and luncheons, people tour homes with creative architecture, scenic landscaping and historical significance.
Built in the 1950s, Giampa’s home is no exception to these features, especially after the many years she has spent gradually renovating the outside of the beachfront home.
But to Giampa, what makes her home special is the friendship that formed there before Hurst’s death in 2010. That’s what she hopes to share with more than 500 people who signed up for this year’s tour.
“To me, this house is a person. That’s how it’s always been. Every time I’ve walked in here the past 15 years, it feels like I’m getting a hug,” she said. “It feels like Lannie.”
Each year, the Cannon Beach Museum and History Center selects a region of town to highlight historical and aesthetically beautiful houses for people to tour. This is the first year the north end of Cannon Beach has been featured, museum Executive Director Elaine Trucke said, including homes on Chapman Point and the Elk Creek Lodge, Cannon Beach’s oldest hotel.
“For years, we had issues having a tour in the north part of town because it is highly populated, and mostly full of year-round residences,” Trucke said. “When it is their permanent residence, it’s harder for them to open their home up.”
Trucke and Liz Johnson, the museum’s outreach coordinator, start surveying homes 11 months in advance. Johnson noticed Giampa’s home for its cute cottage-like exterior and, with the permission of the Cottage Tours committee, decided to invite Giampa to be on the tour.
Johnson started doing research on the home, which is when she found that Hurst — locally famous for starting a rally to save Portland’s oldest church from demolition in 1967 — bought the home in the 1990s.
The interior reflects years Hurst spent meticulously designing every corner of the house, including a bathroom lined with personalized tiles that recognize her travels and shows in which she performed.
“She was really about preserving history, and it was clear she was trying to save that house,” Johnson said.
The interior itself is intriguing on its own, Johnson said, but learning of the connection between Giampa and Hurst added another layer of interest.
“I think people will relate to the connection,” Johnson said. “There is something very emotional about it.”
Since purchasing the house, Giampa and her husband spent years updating the exterior of the house and breathing life into an expansive garden to match what Hurst had already started inside.
“We wanted to finish what she started,” Giampa said. “She made this home so authentic and welcoming, we wanted to make sure the whole house was worthy of the person who touched our lives.”
Even after Hurst moved back to Portland full time in 2002, she would get calls from Hurst asking if she could pop in. Hurst would come over to have dinner with Giampa’s family, and in Portland the two made a habit of going to the theater together. When they were in bloom, Giampa would make sure to bring Hurst a bouquet of the cow lilies that grew in their shared yard.
“I remember when Lannie came over to dinner once, and I put on the soundtrack to ‘My Fair Lady,’ one of my favorite musicals,” Giampa said. “We sat side by side on the sofa singing along. And you know how usually when you’re with your friends you stop after a few lines? Well we kept singing the whole soundtrack to the end.”
After Hurst died, Giampa and her family decided to buy a different home in the Presidential Streets that fit their needs better, she said. But Giampa couldn’t bring herself to sell their north-end house without feeling like losing Hurst.
As a compromise, she has turned the home into a long-term rental. “I couldn’t imagine people funneling in and out like a vacation rental,” Giampa said.
Though some furniture has been swapped out over the years, a photo of Hurst, sitting atop a hutch in the kitchen, still stands watch over the home. The current renters, too, have embraced Hurst’s presence, without ever meeting her, by celebrating her birthday each year, Giampa said.
Now Giampa’s excited to share what this house means to her with more people on the tour.
“When I look back on how this played out, I wonder if we ever would have committed to this house if she wasn’t there,” Giampa said. “It’s not often you make a connection like this with a stranger. I hope sharing my story will help inspire people to take the risk and being willing to open up to people. Like Lannie.”
Friday, Sept. 8: “Kelsey Mousley and The Next Right Thing” concert and reception, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Cannon Beach Chamber Hall (207 N. Spruce St.) Tickets $15.
Saturday, Sept. 9: Tour, luncheon and lecture noon to 5 p.m. at the Cannon Beach Chamber Hall. Post-tour celebration with wine, live music and hors d’oeuvres prepared by Sweet Charity, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Cannon Beach Chamber Hall. Home and Garden Tour tickets are $35. (Luncheon and lecture tickets have sold out.)
Sunday, Sept. 10: English-style garden tea and presentation by the event’s guest speaker, Dawn Hummel, 11 a.m. at the Cannon Beach Chamber Hall. Garden Tea tickets are $20.
Tickets are available through the museum’s online gift shop www.cbhistory.org or by phone at 503-436-9301.