Frank Eld has his passions.
Among them: George Washington. You’ll find images, mementos, even a life-size bust of our first president at Eld’s home. Then there’s Columbia University. Eld attended Columbia in New York City in the 1960s, a dizzying culture shock for a young man from a small town in Central Idaho.
Eld’s Columbia diploma, framed, hangs beside the pale blue beanie he wore as a freshman more than 50 years ago.
And he’s devoted to his Finnish ancestry. A loaf of Finnish bread from the last batch his mother made before she died hangs like a relic in a box frame in his kitchen.
His love for cataloging history as well as for old buildings inspired Eld to spend the lion’s share of his adult life restoring the village of Roseberry in Valley County, not far from his hometown of Donnelly.
Today, largely because of Eld’s efforts, Roseberry is a charming tourist destination, a time capsule with old barns, cabins and a general store that he ran for 12 years.
Eld, who is retired, taught history and industrial arts in Pennsylvania and worked on preservation projects there, such as leading efforts to restore a pre-Revolutionary War tavern in the Pennsylvania borough of Trappe.
While teaching, Eld was able to return home to Idaho each summer to work on projects in Roseberry. He also worked in Idaho in the manufactured-homes field and served as a county commissioner in Valley County.
Fortunately for Boise and lovers of old buildings, Eld has shifted his preservation focus from Roseberry to the state capital.
Eld has devoted the last year-and-a-half to restoring the Jones House.
The 1893 house was among those on 5th Street in Boise’s Central Addition neighborhood threatened with demolition to make way for new construction.
“The first time I walked in the door, I knew this house had to be saved,” said Eld.
He was struck by the house’s beauty, its sense of openness and proportion, not to mention its stairway decorated with unusual carved acorns, “even though everything at that point was covered by thick layers of paint,” he said.
The stars just lined up
LocalConstruct, a development firm, owned the 5th Street houses and offered them free to anyone willing to move them.
Eld secured the financing for the project. That took a “lot of juggling,” he said, including putting his properties in Roseberry on the market and working with Mountain West Bank to secure a loan until his properties sold.
Moving the house, which took place in the middle of a warm July night, wasn’t a big deal for Eld. He estimates he’s moved 25 buildings during his long preservation career. The biggest challenge, he said, was finding an empty parcel of land in an established neighborhood — Boise’s North or East End — that was big enough for the house. At one point, four Realtors were helping him search.
“We were under a deadline. But we obviously couldn’t move the house until we had some place to put it,” said Eld.
Finally, Dan Everhart, then a Preservation Idaho board member, spotted the lot at Krall and Reserve streets. Developer David Hale already had plans to build there, but he was sympathetic to Eld’s cause and sold him the lot.
LocalConstruct also contributed $40,000 toward the move. The development firm is now building The Fowler, an apartment building, on 5th Street at the house’s original site.
“That’s really what made it possible,” said Eld. “The stars just lined up.”
By September 2015, the house was on its new site and on a new concrete foundation just north of St. Luke’s Downtown campus.
“By Christmas, we started work,” said Eld.
Everhart, who is now preservation programs manager at Restore Oregon in Portland, and John Bertram, head of Preservation Idaho, say they’re gratified to see a house from the Central Addition filled with new life. Both worked for years through Preservation Idaho to raise public concern for the neighborhood and its historic buildings. Everhart can’t count the number of tours he gave of the Jones and other houses to prospective new owners before Eld and others stepped up. Moving the houses, though it represents a victory, is also bittersweet for Everhart and Bertram.
“In the perfect situation, we would have kept the houses in the neighborhood,” said Bertram. “But it was exhilarating to see the houses moved and to know that they would be saved.”
But the houses’ moves and the loss of original historic context “shouldn’t dampen the real achievement that has been made in getting those houses to new locations and in the hands of new stewards who love and respect them,” said Everhart.
Another benefit: Eld is treasurer for Preservation Idaho. He’s always been generous about sharing his knowledge and keeping lovers of history up to date on his many projects through blog posts, public talks and informal tours, said Bertram.
Eld lives with his wife, Kathy Eld, who works for a Head Start home visit program through Western Idaho Community Action Partners.
“The more people we can invite in, the better,” said Kathy. “The history of the people who lived in the house is real for me because people will stop by who knew its past occupants. They will share their stories. The house feels loved.”
And she loves her new East Boise neighborhood.
“It’s filled with people walking dogs and running. I’ve met neighbors just because they were walking by. This is not a dead neighborhood,” she said.
Letting the house do the talking
Restoration work is demanding, even in the hands of experienced restorers. Eld and his brothers, Larry, Dale and Mac, have handled most of the restoration themselves. Larry spent three weeks just stripping more than a century of paint off the newel posts and hand rails in the front stairway. The space now gleams with light and shining wood.
“And my fiddleback newel post,” said Eld. “I still hug it every time I pass by.”
Eld is a perfectionist who lives history — meet Eld for a cup of coffee and chances are he’ll be wearing a top hat and spats. Bertram has known Eld since his Roseberry days. Bertram helped Eld convert a barn there into a public performance space and helped Eld reglaze some of the windows in the Jones House. He remembers the first time he saw Eld’s carpentry shop in Roseberry.
“Frank had all of his chisels lined up, carefully from largest to smallest,” said Bertram.
Like any good historian or artist, Eld tends to the details. In the Jones House, that includes historically accurate carpets and light fixtures, art and wallpaper. In a middle-class home like the Jones House, it was common, Eld said, for gentlemen to remain in the dining room after the meal to smoke cigars. Accordingly, Eld styled the dining room with a subtle “masculine” sensibility. The wallpaper features pheasants — game birds — not the floral prints found elsewhere in the house.
He has also, he said, let the house “talk to him,” as old houses do. It’s churned up its secrets: an old red toy wagon found in the back porch attic and “date pennies” deliberately sealed into walls and other structures in the house by builders to mark when work was done. Eld suspected a plate rail in the dining room dated to around World War I. A 1917-dated penny embedded behind the wood confirmed that he was right.
Eld has preserved original elements like a pass-through built-in china cabinet, apparently so unusual the Idaho Statesman mentioned it in an 1893 article about the house’s construction. He kept the 1940s linoleum floor in an upstairs study. The kitchen is modern — that was Kathy Eld’s only requirement after years of cooking on a 1920s stove in Roseberry — but the kitchen sink was salvaged from one of the few houses in the Central Addition that did fall to the wrecking ball. The Elds decided not to keep the cast iron tub in the upstairs bathroom. But discard it? Of course not. They gave the tub to a former Jones House neighbor who remembered it from her childhood and was delighted to have it.
The Elds have settled into their new old Downtown home. And they’ve welcomed others in. In February, they spent an evening with Jones family members, descendents of attorney T.J. Jones, who built the house at the turn of the century.
“Mr. Eld did a wonderful job. The house is beautiful,” said Robert Jones, 93, T.J. Jones’ grandson.
Robert Jones, whose father, Paul, was born in the house, spent his working life as a civil engineer. He praised LocalConstruct for the firm’s willingness to work with preservationists.
“There’s not a lot of old Boise left,” said Jones.
He and his son, Chris Jones, presented the Elds with a special housewarming present: tax receipts for the house dating from 1893 to 1900. Framed, they adorn the front stairwell.
Anna Webb is a native Boisean and longtime Idaho Statesman reporter who is endlessly intrigued by the history of the Gem State and its capital city. She wrote the book “150 Boise Icons” to mark the city’s sesquicentennial in 2013.
Central Addition: Where did the other houses go?
The Fowler House, built in 1894, was a 5th Street neighbor to the Jones House. New owners moved the house to 12th and Fort streets in Boise’s North End. A local builder, Ryan Myhre of Western States Homes, bought the house and is restoring it. Recent improvements include new framing and a new roof as well as plumbing and other mechanical aspects. Myhre said he intends to leave as many of the house’s original elements, in particular its woodwork, as intact as possible. He is building a two-car garage behind the house. He hopes to have the restoration work done by July.
The Wood House, built between 1893 and 1899, stood across the street from the Fowler and Jones houses. New owner Rita Sturiale moved the house to a vacant lot at 15th and Jefferson streets. She will open it as a cafe/gift shop in May, initially on a part-time basis.
The Beck House, which stood just north of the Fowler House on 5th Street, was built around 1906. Artist Rick Jenkins dismantled the house and has moved it to Atlanta, a historic former gold mining town in Elmore County.
The Stewart House, which stood across 5th Street from the Jones House, was built in 1893. No one wanted to move the large house, which was in disrepair. Crews demolished it in 2015.
Looking back at the Central Addition
The once-grand Central Addition neighborhood was bounded by Front and Myrtle streets on the north and south, and 2nd and 5th streets on the east and west. City leaders platted the neighborhood, then outside Boise’s core, in 1890. It was home to some of early Boise’s most prosperous citizens, including attorney T.J. Jones, who built his house at 5th and Myrtle. The Idaho Statesman published a brief note in 1893 about the “handsome residence,” noting its pleasing furnishings, built-in china cabinet and construction cost: about $2,000.
The neighborhood saw a rapid decline when the railroad expanded its tracks onto Front Street. Residents decamped to quieter neighborhoods, including Warm Springs Avenue and other parts of the growing city. The Central Addition became a working-class neighborhood and eventually shrank against the city’s growing urban core.
The Jones family went on to work with the celebrated architectural firm Tourtellotte and Hummel to build the Jones Apartments, which still stand at 10th and Fort streets in Boise’s North End. After leaving the Central Addition, T.J. Jones lived with his family in a two-story apartment in the building.
Jones/Eld project team
Preservation Idaho (preservationidaho .org); Dan Everhart, John Bertram
LocalConstruct (localconstruct.com); Jason Osterburg
Mountain West Bank (mountainwest bank.com); David Bruce
Tiger Prop (tigerprop.com)
Hale Development (haledevelopment .com); David Hale
Cobblestone Construction (cobblestoneconstruction.net); Norm Zachary
H A M Excavation & Trucking; Huck Garrett
Treasure Valley Exteriors (treasurevalleyexteriors.com)
Nampa Floors (nampafloors.com)
Carol’s Design House (carolsdesign .com)
Heating Equipment Company (heatingequipmentcompany.com)
Go Green Insulation (gogreeninsulation .com)
City of Boise Planning, Building and Parks Departments (cityofboise.org)
Classic Design Studio (classicdesignstudio.com)
Jak’s Refinishing (jaksrefinishing.com)
Foundation Technology; Rob Stout
Capital Lumber (ww3.truevalue.com)
Home Depot (homedepot.com)
Reimann’s Paint and Window Covering (reimannspaints.com)
Crows and Crown Antiques (crowsandcrown.com)
Antique World Mall (antiqueworldmall .com)
What’s next for Frank Eld?
Eld has written one architecture book, “Finnish Log Construction — The Art: The Story of Finnish Log Construction in America” (Finlandia University/North Wind Books, $29.95). He’s preparing for a three-month research trip to study Finnish cabins in the Northeast and Canada. He plans to write a second book.
He has other ongoing projects as well. The University of Pittsburgh is home to the “Nationality Rooms,” a collection of 30 classrooms designed to represent the various cultural groups that settled near Pittsburgh. Eld is working on a new Finnish room. He’s also working with the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation in Wilmington, Del., to create a permanent exhibition about Finnish log construction.