Eagle historical home built during Great Depression might be demolished
For the community of Eagle, what will become of the Orville Jackson House is a matter of high interest and no set plans.
For owner Shari Sharp, the only child of Orville and Floy Jackson, there’s more urgency. At age 80 — five years younger than the grand Tudor-style house — she believes she can’t care for her family’s home and nearly 2.5 acre site much longer.
Orville Jackson, the longtime proprietor of the town’s historic drug store and mercantile, holds a special place in Eagle lore, and his daughter would like to see the family’s heritage live on.
Sharp had long hoped the city would buy the landmark home in downtown Eagle and turn it into a community center and possibly a park, she said, but those hopes have fizzled. This spring she put up a “for sale by owner” sign in front of the house on busy South Eagle Road, and she’s now hoping some other group or individual will come forward and ensure a future for this slice of local history.
“That’s one reason I’ve persevered this long,” said Sharp, who moved back into her childhood home after her father’s death in 1984. “I just keep hoping, hoping, hoping.
“I think this home deserves to live.”
Sharp is far from alone in that opinion, but her property’s fate seemingly rests on a clash of values, pitting development potential vs. preservation and community identity.
The family’s home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is stop No. 5 on the Historic Eagle Walking Tour. At No. 1 is the nearby Orville Jackson’s Drug Store, which now houses a bar but maintains the store’s iconic side mural and front sign emblazoned with the motto: “Orville Jackson. He is never *just out*.”
“If we lose the house, we’re going to lose a large piece of history in every sort of way: because of Orville Jackson, because of Tourtellotte and Hummel, because of the architectural style,” said Alana Dunn, curator of the Eagle Historical Museum.
Jackson, who ran the town’s drug store from 1922 until 1974, “was just a huge part of the community, helping everyone he could,” Dunn said.
That was especially true during the Great Depression, she said, when the Jacksons hired John Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel to design their family home. Famed for their work on the Idaho Statehouse and other Treasure Valley landmarks, the architects “were almost like the Frank Lloyd Wright of the Northwest,” Dunn said.
Tourtellotte and Hummel designed few homes, and none of their other projects were in the “picturesque English cottage mode” chosen for the Jackson house, according to the Idaho State Historical Society. They were available for that project, she said, in part because of a lull in their business caused by the Depression, Dunn said.
The distinctive beauty of the Jackson House, with its stucco, clinker brick and half-timber gables, captured the imagination of the community, said Dunn. Like Sharp, she’d like to see the interior open to the public, “so the entire community could come in and see the grandeur.” Among its features are leaded glass windows, massive hand-hewn oak beams, and inch-thick, random-width oak floorboards.
FOR SALE BY OWNER
Sharp is asking about $1.7 million for the nearly 2.5 acres on Eagle Road near West State Street. That includes the Orville Jackson House and two smaller, plainer homes that in the past were used by Jackson’s mother and a pharmacist who moved to Eagle to work at Jackson’s store.
“I’ve shown the house to an awful lot of people,” including various developers, Sharp said.
Some give lip service to the house, its beauty and history, she said, but “by and large they see the (land’s) square footage and talk about highest and best use.”
“They say, ‘We’ll demolish the house,’ like it’s nothing ... like they’re going to throw a toothpick in the garbage.”
On the plus side, she said, there are a couple of people who seem seriously interested in buying the property and keeping the house. Options that have been mentioned include a bed and breakfast or Sharp’s favorite idea, an events center.
She doesn’t expect there’s much hope another family will want to spend their lives on the Jackson homesite, once bucolic but now a bustling part of the central business core.
Although Sharp has been careful to keep the house as her parents had it, she says she won’t be particular about prospective buyers’ plans.
“I don’t care about them keeping it as it is,” she said. “I just don’t want to see it torn down.”
CITY AND COMMUNITY INTEREST
Sharp approached Stan Ridgeway, now Eagle’s mayor, in 2015 while he was running for office, inquiring about potential city interest in taking over the property when she was ready to move out. Last fall, the city drafted a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase the property for her asking price and ordered an appraisal, Ridgeway said.
That’s when the hoped-for deal went south. The appraisal, based on the land’s value after all of the buildings were razed and deducting the cost of that razing, came in at between $950,000 and $1 million — much lower than the parties expected, Ridgeway said. Sharp said she based her price on $16.50 per square foot of land in the parcel, substantially less than the sum sought for other land ready for development nearby.
Some questions were raised about the accuracy of the appraisal, Ridgeway said, but the city isn’t in a position to pay for another appraisal. And even if the city and seller had agreed on a price, he said, there’s no guarantee the City Council would have authorized the purchase.
Like curator Dunn and the Eagle Historic Preservation Commission, Ridgeway wants the house to survive intact as a part of the community. But the entity that achieves that will almost certainly not be the city, the mayor said Monday.
Community interest is high, he said, and efforts are underway to stoke that interest and reveal other potential buyers.
At the annual Eagle Fun Days event in July, the historic preservation commission circulated a survey asking residents whether the city should pursue buying the Jackson House and how the property should be used. Response was overwhelmingly in favor of making the house public, and most also favored establishing a park on part of the property to provide much-needed green space downtown, commission chairman Zach Pence said.
A public-private partnership is one promising idea for preserving the house, Pence said, but no specific proposal has surfaced yet.
One last-ditch idea, he said, might be to sell the land for development and move the house, intact, to another site.
Sharp said she’s not opposed to that, and notes that the house’s next-door neighbor, Rembrandt’s Coffee House, was initially a church at another location. But she worries that relocating the house to preserve it might prove cost-prohibitive.
More community ideas will soon be solicited at City Hall, when the Orville Jackson display from the city’s historical museum is moved to a spot near the City Council Chambers, complete with suggestion box, Ridgeway said.
KEEPING THEIR HOME AND HISTORY ALIVE
For Sharp, preserving the memory of Floy and Orville Jackson is the prime reason for preserving the house.
“It meant the world to them,” she said. “I was blessed to have two mighty fine parents. And, you know, they sure did do a lot for this community.”
When Eagle’s only bank closed in 1932, Orville Jackson cashed workers’ paychecks and often was the only source of money for cash-strapped families, Dunn wrote in a Historical Value Report of the Orville Jackson House last December. Jackson also was one of the few to extend credit in that era, and Sharp recalls her father handing people a bag of candy whenever they made a payment on their tab.
Orville married Floy in 1926, and the couple worked side by side in the store, which they regularly kept open until midnight, Sharp said. They had a soda fountain, an ice house out back, and a penchant for finding and stocking anything their customers might want.
“They worked so hard,” she said, and they saved up cash to build their dream home. When the Great Depression hit, Floy urged her husband to hold off on the project because of the economic uncertainty, but he went forward with the $10,000 project “because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Sharp said.
The 3,100-square-foot Tudoresque home cost $7,500, she said, and landscaping the grounds cost $2,500.
Orville talked the contractor into rotating crews of workers so that more than one set of workmen could get much-needed jobs. Their pay was $1 a day, she said.
Dunn noted that it’s too late to preserve the historic drug store, although its facade and murals remain intact. But it’s not too late for the house, and she and commission chair Pence are among the many who hope Sharp can find a buyer who will restore and preserve it.
“The last thing she wants to see is that house demolished,” Pence said. “The good news is that’s the last thing that anybody wants to see.”
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447