Mayor Bieter discusses the importance of preserving historic homes in Downtown Boise
Anastasia Adams still lights up when talking about the history of the apartment she’s called home for the past two years.
How long that apartment will still be standing, however, is up in the air.
Adams has lived in one of the nearly dozen of apartment units at 140 W. Main St. since 2016. She moved in with her husband, Christopher, who has lived there since 2012.
The home itself was built in 1897 by Alfred Eoff and is part of a National Register historic district. It was designed by the same firm that designed the Idaho Capitol, according to local architecture historian Dan Everhart. Gov. James Brady even bought the home in 1908 and lived in it for a few years, Everhart said.
But on Tuesday, an emergency ordinance was put in place by the Boise City Council to prevent the demolition or alteration of the home and 10 surrounding structures after the city learned that the owner of the residence, Bill Hon, had plans to demolish the residence.
“The owner has explained that the plumbing and wiring in the house are in poor condition and that he does not want to upgrade or reuse the house as part of a larger development. He appears intent on obtaining a demolition permit for the house within the next several months,” Hal Simmons and Ted Vanegas of Boise’s Planning and Development Services wrote in the meeting’s agenda.
Hon did not respond to a request for comment from the Statesman and was not on the premises when the Statesman was at the site Wednesday.
Mayor Dave Bieter said such a moratorium has been enacted only two other times in his 15-year tenure as mayor. But for him, it was a move worth making.
“It isn’t about the one structure, it’s about the whole,” Bieter said. “To have had that discussion when this is so central to this neighborhood, I think we would miss a really important opportunity to have the right conversation.”
Adams said she was aware that Hon was planning to renovate to the property after speaking to him in passing. She was unaware of its potential demolition, though.
“If I happen to run into him and ask him, he’ll tell me about it,” she said. “He sent out a couple of text messages when (architects and engineers) were coming to look at it. ... Not really a why or specifics on what he plans to do.”
Adams has heard that her specific apartment was, at one point, a ballroom. It also served as a speakeasy, she said, and has a ticket window in what is now the bedroom. There are still outlets that allegedly connected to an intercom system; no modern plug could possibly fit.
Wooden molding surrounds every wall of the apartment, accompanied by large pipes on the ceiling. There’s a radiator in the living room on top of a built-in bookshelf that serves more as decoration than appliance at this point.
Adams, a Boise native, and her husband are moving to North Idaho in the coming days after the recent addition of a child. But she hopes that she isn’t saying goodbye to the building as a whole.
“I definitely hope they save it. I, for the longest time, thought it was on the historical list to save or keep,” she said. “I was hoping that he would at least keep the outside original. Because it’s cool. You don’t see paneling like this, you don’t see the bricks anymore. It has a sandstone from Table Rock. ... You can tell that is has history.”
The designation of a National Register historic district does not protect property from demolition, said Paula Benson, the board president of Preservation Idaho; it is more of a signifier. The only protection is through local historic district designation, which the home does not have.
“That’s the only thing that has teeth that protects it from being demolished,” Benson said.
The home and surrounding structures were considered for such a local district in 1993 but did not get included. The city will take up the efforts again during the moratorium, which will last 182 days.
The standard for local historic district status is twofold, according to Bieter. The majority of the structures in the area must contribute to the district’s history as a whole, and those structures must be at least 50 years old. Boise currently has nine historic preservation districts.
Though Bieter said he could not speak as to why the area of 140 West Main Street was not named a local historic district earlier, he believes that it has a compelling case.
“I think it makes a lot of sense, but that’s a discussion that we will have,” Bieter said. “It’s rare to find an intact neighborhood right in the center of town. ... I think there’s been an increased awareness in the importance of that heritage when you have homes of this kind in an existing neighborhood that have held up.”
For the ‘common good’
The building at 140 West Main Street itself is adorned with “stunning” and “exceptional” features, said Benson.
“This particular house, this one that sort of triggered this process, is arguably one of the best examples of its particular architectural type in the city,” Everhart said.
That type is Queen Anne-style Victorian. Such homes feature “steeply pitched, irregular roof shapes; dominant, front-facing gable; patterned shingles, bay windows, (and) picturesque massing,” according to Architecturestyles.org.
“There are very few houses of this size and type that exist in Boise,” Everhart said. “There are lot of Queen Anne Victorians in Boise, but few that have that sort of scale, that mass, that architectural distinction.”
The emergency ordinance accounts for approximately two blocks’ worth of land, according to Everhart. The move shows the city of Boise is dedicated to preserving its historic landmarks, he said.
“The moratorium represents an initiative by the city of Boise and its government to be proactive in protecting places that matter to Boiseans,” he said. “A district is a common good …. We all share in that value. And I think the city today has expressed their support for the preservation of the common good.”
Bieter grew up in Boise and has seen the changes his beloved city has gone through. He lives in a historic district in Boise’s East End. For him, preserving structures and creating districts is worthwhile, even if it means stepping on the feet of a homeowner who might not be on the same page.
“Districts are part of the lay of the land here. I live in one,” Bieter said. “The end results are neighborhoods that have withstood the test of time. ... (An emergency ordinance) pulls some of those (property rights) and limits them in some ways, but at the other end is a better result.”