Velma Morrison’s home has new owners. They’ve made it beautiful — and theirs.
Buying a house is a big deal for anyone. But buying a landmark home of a prominent citizen who was also a cultural touchstone is, well, an epic adventure.
Just ask Bill and Calie Wendlandt. In 2016, the couple purchased the former home of Boise benefactress Velma Morrison, who was the widow of Morrison-Knudsen founder Harry Morrison. The sale actually benefited the Treasure Valley Family YMCA. Morrison’s family donated the house to the Y by after she died in 2013.
Once known as Camelotview, the house is perched on Crescent Rim Drive in Boise and boasts spectacular views of the city from nearly all of its rooms and the rooftop patio. And it’s easily one of the most unique homes in the state. How many houses have a grand ballroom, a spiral staircase and an elevator?
Velma Morrison’s husband’s company completed it in 1992, and it was “definitely built to last,” Bill Wendlandt says.
“When I learned it was built by Morrison-Knudsen, I was really excited. It’s built like a commercial building. Steel construction, everything is bigger. Walls are stronger, there’s a commercial elevator. Everything was done first-class.”
The bones of the house are great, he says – but it needed work. Now, 18 months in, they’re just nearing the end of the first phase of the work on the interior.
Taking on this house, with all of its quirks, turned out to be more than the couple anticipated — even for Bill, who is a commercial developer and has remodeled several historic properties, including Idaho’s oldest bar, the White Horse Saloon in Spirit Lake.
“I’ve done this all my life, but this is huge undertaking,” Bill says. “I had no idea. What was it? Something like 13 tons of debris came out of that house. That’s a lot. She had all these concrete fountains and rock planters. They were everywhere. And they were massive. You had to smash them up until there was nothing left.”
The new owners
Bill Wendlandt, a former professional basketball player, grew up in Austin, Texas. Calie Harper grew up in the Treasure Valley, where everyone knew about Camelotview.
“I remember as a teenager driving by this house and thinking, ‘That’s such a beautiful house,’” Calie Wendlandt says. “And now when I sit in here, I think, ‘Thank you, Velma.’”
One of the reasons the wanted to buy this home is to turn it into a showplace where they can host events and benefits — mostly for the YMCA, an organization that Bill especially feels a strong connection.
“ I grew up in the Y in Austin,” he says. ““That’s where I learned to play basketball and about teamwork. I learned about coaching and responsibility. “
The couple met in Coure d’Alene, where Bill owns the Blackwell Hotel, a boutique establishment in a historic house. They married two years ago and Bill moved to Boise. Bill also owns several properties and a nonprofit that uses basketball to support at-risk youth in Austin. Calie is a dietician and founder of College Fit Box, a Boise-based subscription delivery service to help students make healthier food and lifestyle choices.
Both were very involved in the house project. Bill and Calie worked with Brian Visser Construction and Casey Cook Construction on different phases of the remodel. Calie oversaw the interior design by working with several local designers. But really her aesthetic drove the style of the home.
The new look
Transforming the interior from a 1990s pink palace into a sleek, 21st century modern home has been an adventure and a way to get to know Morrison, Calie says.
Pink was Morrison’s favorite color, and it was everywhere. Calie’s palette features hues of slate, charcoal, black and silver. Where Morrison had a flair for the ornate, the Wendlants’ tastes are understated.
The interior is a mix of architectural styles, from French provincial to Italian Renaissance to the American West. There were Roman columns in the ballroom, a ceiling in what now is their home office that is French rococo. Most of the bathrooms, done in a nostalgic nod to the 1950s, had saloon doors on them.
“She was a world traveler and she would come home excited about something architectural she saw, and then have it done in the house,” Calie says. “There’s stuff from all over.”
Keeping it real
The couple decided to keep as many of the house’s elements as possible, as a way to preserve the history of the iconic home and save some money.
“You have to pick your battles,” Calie says.
They redid two of the five bathrooms, including the luxurious master bath, which contains a sauna and now an S-shaped shower seat that allows you to stretch out as you bathe, and an extra-long infinity bathtub.
But they kept three of the bathrooms with the pink, blue and green 1950s-style tile.
“We did two, and taking out the tile ... there’s chicken wire and lots of concrete. We were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, let’s wait on the others,’” Calie says. “So we cleaned it and made it pretty.”
She also changed up the paint on the cabinets and took out the wallpaper.
“It’s amazing what you can do with paint. These are the original floors, we just stained them gray,” Calie says.
She did the same with the kitchen by painting the rose-toned cabinets and walls with bold shades of gray, and then swapping out the clear glass on the cabinet fronts for frosted. Along with new quartz countertops and some new fixtures, the look is easily updated.
The size of the doors was all over place, Bill says, but mostly 6 feet, 8 inches tall. Now they’re all 8 feet. That’s a good thing, because Bill stands at 6-7.
They also kept and replumbed the wall-size interior water feature that brings water trickling down into a small pond in the foyer, and the blonde-wood spiral staircase, which will get an update with metal panels on the steps.
What couldn’t stay
”We wanted to keep the Camelotview sign as an homage to Velma, but it could not be preserved,” Bill says. Years of exposure to weather and water meant it couldn’t be saved.
And then there is the stained-glass window.
Morrison had an 17-foot-tall, 7-foot-wide stained-glass art piece depicting a knight in armor in her two-story dining room. The figure of Lancelot, from her favorite musical “Camelot,” rides a white steed in a field of tulips, with an American flag sky in memory of Harry Morrison, who was known for his patriotism.
It was one of her treasured possessions, but the Wendlandts had a different plan for the room. They took it down carefully and crated it in the garage. Now they are looking for a nonprofit that might want it.
“We want it to find a good home,” Calie says
The new plan? They divided the two-story room to create a family media room for them and their two sons, Brooks, 15, and Brody, 14. Now there is abstract art in the dining room, and a foosball table and big-screen TVs upstairs.
“And we’ve created another beautiful view,” Calie says with delight. It looks out to the northwest side of the front of the house, and offers an extended Boise/Garden City view. “Nobody saw this view before.”
Work in progress
There are a few rooms that still are in transition, but the Wendlandts are trying to wrap things up before they host their first big event at the end of August: a Treasure Valley Family YMCA fundraiser, which will be during the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic.
They are planning another public event later in the fall.
Elements that were still in the works at press time were the entertainment room off the main living room, and the upstairs master suite.
They’ve repaired and replanted the landscaping, and plan to clean and paint the exterior next spring.