State: Knudsen house in Boise must go

It will be removed by next year to make way for a parking garage.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comJune 7, 2013 

UPDATE: The state has extended its deadline for bids to relocate or deconstruct the historic house until July 24. The new deadline is one month later than the original.

The Dutch Colonial Revival style home, formerly owned by Boise business icon Morris Hans "M.H." Knudsen, might sell for pocket change this month.

There's a catch. In fact, there are several.

The state is accepting bids on the two-story, 2,165-square-foot home with gambrel roofs and flaring eaves at 603 W. Franklin St., two blocks north of the Capitol. Built in 1905, the house was once home to Knudsen, co-founder of the Boise civil engineering and construction firm Morrison Knudsen Co.

Knudsen lived in the home with his wife, Emma Knudsen, from 1912 until his death in 1943, said Mark Baltes, a member of the North End Neighborhood Association. The building was converted to offices in the 1980s by graphic design firm Omni Studio Inc., Baltes said.

The house and property are worth $262,900, according to the Ada County assessor's website.

The state bought it Dec. 31 to make way for a possible parking garage. The state is accepting bids from buyers who can relocate the house to other property, preferably near its current location, said Martin Santoyo, project manager for Idaho Division of Public Works.

"These situations are rare," Santoyo said. "It does happen sometimes in these cases that you can (buy the home) with an offer of $1. What we're gaining is a chance to preserve a historic home."

The home's tie to Morrison Knudsen and therefore the Morrison family - namesake of the Morrison Center and Ann Morrison Park - adds to its value, Baltes said.

"This is where this major industrialist was living while Morrison Knudsen was at its peak," Baltes said. "The association of the man to the building elevates its import exponentially."

Bidders could also submit offers to deconstruct the building and salvage its materials, though Santoyo said the state views destroying the house as a worst-case scenario.

Santoyo said three parties so far have expressed interest in relocating the house.

The block is entirely covered by a parking lot except for the Knudsen house and another state-owned house, both on the east corner. The site of the other house, at 605 W. Franklin, will be clear when the previous owner relocates the house by August, Santoyo said.

The state plans to begin construction soon on a garage on the south half of the block, south of the two houses. Clearing the north half will open up space in case the state decides to expand the garage at some point, Santoyo said.

Bids to relocate or deconstruct are due June 24 and must include plans to clear the building from the property by New Year's Day.

One home mover told Santoyo that relocating the house across the street would cost at least $20,000. That price tag would grow the farther the home has to travel, though the state is willing to reimburse $15,000 in moving expenses.

A sandstone veneer on the base of the first floor complicates a potential move. One mover told Santoyo that the house could be relocated with its sandstone base intact. Another told Santoyo the sandstone would have to be deconstructed, numbered, moved and reformed before the house was placed on top.

Permits from the city of Boise would need to be secured before moving the home, which is 34 feet wide and more than 30 feet high.

"Can you take off the top floor? Can you cut it in half?" said Santoyo. "I've asked a number of questions that sound pretty outrageous because you don't know if you never ask."

John Bertram, president of Preservation Idaho, said the June 24 deadline gives little time for bidders to piece together financing and the complicated arrangements to relocate the house.

"Somebody has to be pretty well-heeled or have (a large) line of credit to relocate the house," Bertram said. "You can see the dilemma we're in. What we really need is a longer period of time. What's the hurry?"

The bidding process gives priority to buyers who can relocate the home within the Fort Street neighborhood or nearby.

That would be a good outcome for Boise as it tries to preserve its historical neighborhoods, said Sarah Schafer, historic preservation manager for the city.

"It really would be a loss for the community if (the house) had to go away," she said. "I hope someone out there will be able to save it for us."

Baltes lauded the state's efforts to keep the house nearby and its willingness to reimburse $15,000 in expenses. However, he said the deadline could be a "death knell" for the house.

"It's hard to be too upset with the state over the whole thing, but it seems like they are reasonable on one end and unreasonable on the other," Baltes said.

Information on the property and bidding is available at dpw.idaho.gov/construction and at 332-1912.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464

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