The Eastman Building will always be the one that got away for Parklane Management Co. owner Ken Howell.
The handsome, six-story building with rows of lion heads along its stone cornice burned in 1987 when Howell was part of a group seeking to buy and preserve it.
Howell can’t get the Eastman back. However, he bought and rehabbed several of Downtown Boise’s most famous landmarks, including the Idanha Hotel, the Alaska Building, the Idaho Building and the Union Block.
Howell, 71, says he admires the architecture, high ceilings and rich wood floors of the old buildings. He likes the stories of ghosts and miscreants that passed through the Idanha Hotel.
“All of those things attracted me,” Howell said. “But the other reason was that, at the time, historic buildings were looked upon poorly. The idea was that newer was better. ‘What will we do with all of these relics?’ Too often, the answer was, ‘Let’s tear them down and make room for parking lots.’ ”
Today, Howell owns a mix of new and used buildings that include 651 apartments, 127,000 square feet of office space and 45,000 square feet of retail space. Nearly all of his buildings are located within a mile and a half of Downtown.
Many of them are multi-use, with retail space on the ground floor and offices or apartments above. It’s the kind of infill touted by Idaho Smart Growth, which recently gave Howell its Charles Hummel Grow Smart Award, named after the architect who co-founded the group.
Hummel and his firm, Tourtellotte and Hummel, designed several of Howell’s projects. Hummel said Howell developed a knack for rehabilitation that most property managers found too risky to be profitable.
“Ken’s talent was bringing old buildings back to life and finding new uses for them.” Hummel said. “He was really genius in doing that.”
The 1970s and ’80s saw a migration away from downtowns to the suburbs in Boise and across the nation, Smart Growth Executive Director Scot Oliver said. Howell may have been the only developer creating housing Downtown at that time.
“Not only did Ken provide housing options, especially some for the lower-income workforce or moderate-income people, he was able to save some impressive old buildings,” Oliver said.
Howell also received the Distinguished Preservationist award in 1997 from Preservation Idaho, the group’s highest honor. Dan Everhart, a spokesman and architectural historian for Preservation Idaho, said the Union Block was slated for demolition before Howell stepped in.
“The Idaho Building, Idanha and Union Block are landmark, iconic buildings that mean a lot to us as Boiseans, but also a lot to the people visiting Boise for the first time,” Everhart said. “That’s the work he’s done. It can’t be overstated too much that he’s had a tremendous impact on the Downtown we see today.”
Howell took an unusual route to Boise. A California native with an MBA from Stanford University, he worked for Hewlett-Packard before moving to Tokyo to work for pharmaceutical maker Pfizer International. He was later transferred to Greece, then New York City, where he met his late wife, Alexa. He left the corporate world in 1973 to oversee 300 head of cattle in Nampa.
That was new for him. Howell found greater success in another area where he had no experience: property management. He and a partner bought a triplex on Hays Street in Boise for $35,000 in 1976. He expanded it into a five-plex, then bought a seven-plex, then built the 30-unit Parklane Apartments off East Warm Springs Avenue shortly after.
Howell said he’s most proud of the Idaho Building because its renovation required approval from more than 10 agencies.
“This business takes an enormous amount of patience,” he said. “And maybe just flat stubbornness, too.”
Zach Kyle: 377-6464, @IDS_zachkyle