Central Addition lots in Boise set for auction block Friday

Preservationists are trying to raise the money needed to save the area's houses.

awebb@idahostatesman.comApril 11, 2014 

Boise's central addition

LINDSIE BERGEVIN — lbergevin@idahostatesman.com

  • GO TO THE AUCTION

    The event is at 1 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Title, 8151 W. Rifleman St., Boise. 377-2700.

  • CENTRAL ADDITION: A MINI-HISTORY

    City leaders platted the Central Addition neighborhood just outside the city's original plat in 1890. Socially prominent Boiseans built homes there. When the rail line expanded along nearby Front Street, well-heeled citizens began favoring quieter areas, including Warm Springs Avenue. Central Addition took on a more working-class character, signs of which remain today.

Preservationists who want to see the neighborhood north of Julia Davis Park survive have had a rough go of it for a while.

Fire damaged two historic houses on South 4th Street last November. The property owner then razed them.

Now, two properties on South 5th Street are in foreclosure. Washington Federal Bank has put the lots (and the two 1890s-era houses on them) up for auction, and that will take place Friday in Boise.

According to the Ada County Assessor's Office, the value of the two properties is $421,100. Pioneer Lender Trustee Services will conduct the auction and start the bidding at $460,000.

No matter its outcome, the auction represents more uncertainty - and, for preservationists, another incremental chipping away of this once-grand part of town.

Sixteen houses remain, along with newer office buildings and parking lots, in the roughly six-block neighborhood.

Preservation Idaho is helping a community group, Buffalo Heart Homes, in its attempt to raise money to buy 412 S. 5th St. and 420 S. 5th St. Preservation Idaho is accepting donations on its website.

As of Thursday, the grassroots effort had raised just $5,600. If the group is not successful, donors will get their money back.

Preservation Idaho's Dan Everhart is aware that those trying to save the properties have an uphill battle.

"It may not be possible to raise the money, but what did we have to lose?" he said.

The Central Addition neighborhood - bounded by Front and Myrtle streets on the north and south, and 2nd and 5th streets on the east and west - is not a historic district. No zoning overlay protects the area, said Everhart. But the area has been one of concern for the city and regularly makes preservationists' annual lists of threatened historic sites locally.

The city of Boise has been working to expand and redefine what most residents consider "Downtown Boise" to include areas such as Central Addition, said city spokesman Adam Park.

Staffers have met with a number of neighborhood property owners, preservationists and others to talk about the area's future and possible mixed uses. The group will host an open house in May. The public will be able to comment on the proposals.

Following the auction on Friday, "the city hopes to work with the new owner to save the existing structures either on-site or by moving them to an appropriate location," said Park.

WHAT ABOUT THE FOWLER HOUSE?

The west side of the street, across from the lots that will be auctioned, includes the Fowler House, at 413 S. 5th St. Many people consider it the architectural gem of the neighborhood.

The Fowler family owned a jewelry store in Downtown Boise and built the house on 5th Street in 1894, a time when their lot, dotted with apple trees, was a short stroll to the river. The Fowlers lived there for more than 20 years.

The Trilogy Development company owns the Fowler House, two other historic houses and an existing parking lot on the west side of 5th Street. In the past, Trilogy has expressed interest in developing the lots or converting them to surface parking.

Three years ago, the company offered to give the Fowler House to anyone who would move it to another location. So far no one has come forward; the house remains in limbo, with boarded-up windows. The Preservation Idaho website still calls for a "white knight."

"Every time there's a story in the news, there's renewed interest in saving the house," said Everhart. "There are people I talk to who fade in and out. But there's no denying (restoring the house) is a big chunk to bite off, unless you have very deep pockets."

The Fowler House has seen better days, but its woodwork, hardware, stained glass and other historic features are intact - a rarity for houses its age.

Samantha Martin, an Idaho native and manager at Calle 75 Street Tacos, is a founder of Buffalo Heart. The group's plan includes the Fowler House.

If it's able to buy the lots at 412 and 420 S. 5th Street, its next goal will be to move the Fowler House across the street to one of those lots. The group wants to restore all three houses into a mixed-use compound, including a performing arts center.

"It's purely passion. I have to do this. The stars are controlling this," said Martin.

"It feels good to be doing something for Boise. I shop local. I support local musicians."

Trying to preserve a local neighborhood - even against the odds - fits with all of that, she said.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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