When you can do nothing else, salvage

Preservationists sift through the ashes of two historic homes in Boise.

awebb@idahostatesman.comDecember 26, 2013 

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Historians, preservationists, lovers of local history and Boise residents were dismayed in November when a fire damaged two houses on South 4th Street.

A salvage effort preserved wooden detailing — porch posts and gingerbread — hand-forged square nails, and a few odds and ends from the rubble.

“Salvage isn’t really what we want to be doing as a preservation group, but it was a last effort,” said John Bertram, president of Preservation Idaho.

The group, which advocates saving important historic sites around the state, got permission from the property’s Realtor, Nancy Lemas at Commercial Northwest, to organize the salvage project on Dec. 14.

Preservation Idaho plans to store the rescued items and use them in educational programs and exhibits. The group might even sell some of the pieces to support the organization.

The burned houses, built around the turn of the 20th century, were significant remnants of Boise’s once- grand Central Addition neighborhood, which is now in limbo just north of Julia Davis Park.

Shortly after the fire, crews demolished what was left of the house closest to Myrtle Street, leaving a pile of splintered, charred building material. The second house, built in 1893 for the Lubken family, still stands, a blackened shell.

Salvage efforts concentrated on the exterior of the Lubken house, considered an architectural gem, said Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho.

The house is the only residential example of Second Empire style in the city, he said. Hallmarks of that style include the squarish Mansard roof and elaborate decorative details around the windows and doors.

A group of about eight volunteers, including Noel Weber Jr., of nearby Classic Design Studio, and artist Kerry Moosman, collected as much exterior trim as they could, including brackets and trim surrounding the porch and front door.

In addition to rescuing building parts, the volunteers did a final documentation of the structures — photographing and taking measurements of the elements that are left, including the building lots.

“We want as thorough a record as possible,” said Everhart.

There was one curious find as well — a strip of raffle tickets Everhart discovered dangling from a door frame.

“I brushed off the grime. They were for the ‘Boise Jubilee and Festival,’ 5 cents apiece, good for once dance each,” said Everhart.

He did some research. Boise held a Jubilee in 1922 to honor the veterans of World War I and raise money for those who were struggling.


Platted in 1890, the neighborhood was highly sought-after real estate, home to Idaho Supreme Justice George Stewart, Surveyor General of Idaho Joseph Straughan and U.S. Marshal Frank Ramsey, among others.

Originally surrounded by orchards, the Central Addition declined when the railroad track first came through the area. Well-heeled residents began relocating to new and thriving neighborhoods.

Commercial buildings and roads have encroached on what’s left of the Central Addition. Included in the Statesman’s “150 Boise Icons” book, Central Addition perennially makes the lists of the city’s most endangered sites.

Historic houses remain in the area, including the Fowler House on 5th Street. Its owner, Trilogy Development, has offered the house free to anyone willing to move it. So far, no one has come forward. Its interior trim, hardware and more, is intact.

Everhart said there’s been some discussion about transforming the neighborhood into an eco-district pilot project where sustainable building practices would be the rule.

“And what’s more sustainable than existing building stock?” he said.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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