Boise & Garden City

Preservation Idaho eyes Erma Hayman house on Ash Street in Boise’s River Street neighborhood.

The way Preservation Idaho sees it, making the 108-year-old, 900-square-foot Erma Hayman house on the corner of Ash and River streets its headquarters would help solve one of Boise’s renewal agency’s problems as well as giving the historic preservation group its first full-time home.

The house is the clearest symbol of the River Street neighborhood, which was once the only place in Boise where blacks and other nonwhites could buy property. The renewal agency bought the house from Dick Madry around 2010. Madry grew up in it. He was cared for by his grandmother, Erma Hayman, a black woman who bought the house in 1947 after being denied the opportunity to buy a house on the Bench.

Hayman died in 2009. Madry sold the house to the renewal agency despite more lucrative offers from other would-be buyers because the agency gave the house its best chance to be kept intact. For years, the agency has hoped a use for the house would materialize. Some suggested making it a short-term artists’ residence.

Now, Preservation Idaho is talking about using the house as a venue for small educational workshops and a sort-of extension of the Black History Museum. The group could start moving as soon as this summer, architectural historian Dan Everhart said Wednesday.

“We’re just trying to figure out a way that this little house can be used and have a new life,” Everhart said. “We know that vacant homes don’t always have a good outcome.”

John Brunelle, executive director of the renewal agency, said board members were responded positively to Preservation Idaho’s proposal. They want to save the house, Brunelle said, and this is an opportunity to do that. He said the proposal could be “a win-win” and has “a lot of upside.”

Preservation Idaho has proposed not taking ownership of the building until it shows it will be a good tenant, Everhart said. Some upgrades will be needed, he said, including access points for people with disabilities.

Urban renewal staffers will work with the preservation group over the next month to refine the proposal. The renewal agency’s board will have final say.