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Sniffed out: Inconsistency between private and public historic preservation in Boise

Sniffed out: Inconsistency between private and public historic preservation in Boise

Lindsay Atkinson
November 30, 2018
November 30, 2018

In early August, the City of Boise implemented a 182-day moratorium that prevents the demolition, alteration, or relocation of homes located between Main and Idaho Streets and 1st and 2nd Streets. The moratorium was a reaction to rumors surrounding the fate of the historic home at 140 W. Main St., which falls within these boundaries. The owner, Bill Hon, had expressed interest in demolition or relocation of the home to make room for a new housing unit.

By year’s end, the city may extend additional protections to the historic home and surrounding properties by designating this area of Boise as a historic district. However, the restrictions that come with a historic district status would allow the city to impose heftier regulations on privately-owned historic property than on the city’s, publicly-owned historic property.

The Boise City Council passed the moratorium at practically the same time that it also supported a proposal for a new library—which would require the removal of The Cabin, another historic structure in Boise.

Both The Cabin and 140 W. Main St are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house at 140 W. Main St. was built in 1897 and was designed by the same architects who worked on the Idaho Capitol: John Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel. Former Idaho Governor James Brady bought the home in 1908 and resided there for several years. The home has always been privately owned.

On the other hand, The Cabin is publicly owned by the city of Boise. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940 to honor Idaho’s 50th anniversary of statehood. Until 1990, the Idaho State Forestry office managed The Cabin and it was transferred to the city in 1992.

Currently, before designation of the area between Main and Idaho Streets as a historic district, The Cabin and the 140 W. Main St. home are on roughly the same playing field: They are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

However, if the 140 W. Main St. property becomes part of a historic district, it will be governed by stricter regulations than The Cabin. Historic districts restrict what property owners can do with their property, and almost every type of change to a home requires city approval. These changes include less dramatic alterations than demolition, like remodeling a garage, let alone relocation. When private residential properties are put under historic district protections, they cannot be relocated except in rare circumstances.

Meanwhile, it is unlikely that The Cabin will ever be included in a historic district because it is, firstly, just one building and, secondly, it is owned by the city. The city imposes a historic district status on an area to have greater regulatory control over private structures.

The Cabin’s publicly-owned status actually contributed to approval for its relocation. On November 27, city council determined the structure will be moved in order to make room for a new main library.

When the city wants a big new library, then it can relocate The Cabin. However, when the owner of 140 W. Main St. wants a big new condo, he is met with a moratorium preventing him from touching his own property, let alone relocating it.

This shows hypocrisy—restricting relocation and alterations of a privately-owned historic home while allowing a publicly-owned historic structure to be relocated.

However, it also shows an alternative solution: If a party, like the city or a historic preservation organization, is willing to go to any means necessary to preserve a historic structure, be it at the current location or elsewhere, let them buy it and take on the responsibility. As it currently stands, the designation of a historic district would only impose responsibility for preservation on the current owner, who never signed up for such duties, and who has other plans for the property he owns.

Photo credit: The Cabin Facebook page. 

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