Armies come, armies go. We live our lives in their wake.
The Salvation Army’s plans to decamp from its Booth Home campus on North 24th Street for a greener bivouac west of town represent a tremendous opportunity for creative re-use of one of the last contiguous blocks in Boise’s North End.
What use to which this quiet, leafy corner in a venerable streetcar neighborhood is now put depends upon institutional will in “America’s most livable city” and the public’s right of participation in the fate of their surroundings.
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Much depends upon the functionality and adaptability of the 1921-vintage core building on the Booth property. No independent engineering study of the structure, its outbuildings, and much deferred maintenance, yet exists. Usability remains an open question.
But judging from how well this historic landmark has aged and integrated into its surrounding neighborhood, Boise would do well not to let the Booth Home succumb to unimaginative redevelopment.
A new survey by the North End Neighborhood Association suggests area residents’ vision may be far ahead of the Salvation Army and the city of Boise. Over 200 respondents produced suggestions ranging from affordable housing to mixed-use redevelopment to neighborhood-compatible commercial uses.
From a mini-civic center providing community meeting space to a “landing pad” for historic homes seeking relocation from elsewhere in the city, their creative ideas are myriad. Demolition and maximum-density housing attract far less favor.
Boise, still reeling from the loss of historic properties to “urban renewal” in the 1970s, ignores such imagination at its peril. The Booth property presents a fresh palette from which to paint a brighter picture.
One Salvation Army officer recently professed love for history, but said of the Booth Home “once it’s sold, it’s no longer in our hands.”
Respectfully, I disagree.
Charities and nonprofits are adept at soliciting money. Imaginatively returning such generosity, though, has yet to fully catch on.
The Booth Home remains a visible monument to Boise’s munificence. Philanthropy, in the form of donated and later re-sold land, made the 24th Street property’s purchase and the school’s startup possible. For a century, the North End provided a safe and nurturing environment. Boiseans’ financial support fostered the Salvation Army’s worthy programs for young mothers. Now, renewed civic generosity is making the move to a new West Boise campus possible.
Boise has been very good, indeed, to the Salvation Army. It’s time the Salvation Army creatively paid that debt forward.
Yes, private landowners may have every right to treat idle parcels of land as “cash cows,” disposing of them for top dollar. But a charity whose work has been sustained for 100 years through the generosity of others now has greater moral responsibility to do right — and to exit as gracefully as it entered.
There could be a bright future — as yet undefined — for the Booth Home, representing wins for both neighborhood and city, while permitting the Salvation Army ample seed money for new aspirations.
And wouldn’t such an outcome be an enduring legacy for any army of salvation?
David Klinger lives on North 24th Street in Boise’s North End.