John Gray, the man who built Salishan, started his business career back in 1948, seated on a nail keg in Portland, Ore., the 16th employee of a fledgling firm called Omark Industries. In five years Gray was president, and under him the cutting chain and metal products company has multiplied and expanded around the world. Last year it grossed more than $70 million.
One might expect a man such as Gray, who has made it so big so quickly, to behave like the tycoon he is. Instead, he has the manner of a bashful lepidopterist making his first trip to the big city. "He's the last guy you'd notice coming down the street," says one of his business associates. "He's so retiring you really have to be on the inside in Oregon industry to know his accomplishments. All that vitality, his vision and faith in Oregon, are poured out through his many interests—not in personal ostentation. It would never occur to him to acquire an executive plane."
Kept fit and trim by the outdoor life he leads with his wife and five children, Gray knows his home state with a backpacker's lug-boot familiarity. "Trying to build attractive industrial parks for my business got me interested in environmental atmosphere," Gray says, "and I guess that's how I got involved with Salishan."
The Grays had often vacationed at the mouth of the Siletz River on a particularly beautiful stretch of coast bound by Cape Foulweather and Cascade Head. Determined to use this land properly, "to set an example," Gray bought 550 still-unspoiled acres on the dunes of Gleneden Beach in the midst of the shabby resorts that cater to Oregon's central cities. The idea was to salvage some appealing land for vacation houses and to keep the architecture simple and empathetic with the grand forests on one side and the storm-swept beaches in front. Salishan is the result—its contemporary buildings melding quietly into the surrounding forest.
On the east side of the Cascade Mountains, 15 miles south of Bend, Ore., Gray is building a second recreational community in the thousands of green square miles of Deschutes National Forest. This new project, 10 times the size of Salishan, is called Sunriver. It will open this summer with an 18-hole golf course, swimming pool and 4,500-foot landing strip. Condominiums and houses are under construction. Sunriver is a 20-year plan, an even more ambitious attempt by Gray "to create a commercial enterprise that blends into the environment without insult." Eventually it will grow to a series of village clusters, each with a character of its own, housing around 5,000 people. Large natural areas preserved for common enjoyment will separate the villages, joined by 12 miles of paths restricted to foot, bicycle and electric-cart travel. The excellent skiing of Bachelor Butte is only 45 minutes away. Landscape Architect Robert Royston is the overall planner, working at Gray's insistence on wide open space and wildlife refuge.
Gray's entry into large-scale land development is a calculated attempt to raise Oregon's backwoodsy taste to a level in keeping with its natural beauty. His concept couldn't have come along at a better time for Oregon, on the eve of mass discovery by trampled Californians wending their way northward.
John Gray surveys the dunes of Salishan.