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The Threatened and the Lost

The Struggle for Central Addition

Historic preservation is often the art of bringing back to sight that which has been in constant view but is no longer seen. Boise’s diminished but still existing Central Addition is a place many of us have driven by en route to somewhere else, a neighborhood of passing glances and brief impressions at best, but most likely little more than a peripheral blur as you accelerate down Myrtle heading east, or chase the timing of the lights driving west on Front. Yet tucked in between those two corridors, hidden behind the WinCo, is the last remnant of Boise’s earliest urban residential development.

The Fowler House at 413 S. 5th St.

 

Once a neighborhood of beauty and dignity, the Central Addition has broken down and gone to seed —yet it is no less valuable to us today for all its faded Victorian glory. The shabby but sturdy remaining homes remind us of a time when Boise aspired to urbane greatness. Throughout its first decades, Boise, despite its remoteness and size, believed it could be a city the equal of San Francisco, Portland or Salt Lake. The citizens who first established the city had no intentions of being a mediocre, provincial town, and the great homes and buildings they built put proof to their ambition. While Warm Springs Avenue still exists intact as a showcase of this aspiration, the original inner-city neighborhoods of old Grove Street and the Central Addition are entirely, in the former case, and nearly, in the latter, gone.

 

401-409 Broad St.

 

Very little of the Central Addition still exists, and what does is under great threat. The Fowler and Beck homes, two of the anchors in the neighborhood that have survived from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries until today, now face demolition in order to provide that cruelest bane of the modern urban landscape, surface parking.  Despite that Capital City Development Corporation, an entity that in previous incarnations eagerly smashed down old buildings for the sake of car parking, doubts the need for yet another parking lot in the vicinity, Trilogy Development, the company in possession of the properties, insists otherwise.

 

The Beck House at 411 S. 5th St.

 

Trilogy's error is their utter failure of imagination. Where they could possibly see the potential for restoration and the enrichment of the campus of Concordia College, they see only the easiest, cheapest, most reductive and destructive option. If they were to restore and utilize the existing structures, they could create a unique urban block that contributed to the ongoing growth and culture of the city, while preserving an essential element of its history. To destroy that which is unique to build that which is ubiquitous is a pitiable act. When the uniqueness is aesthetic and the ubiquity vacant, the destruction is tragic. Boise once aspired to be the cultural equal of San Francisco—do we now aspire only to carry on our own mistakes and the mistakes of failed cities across the country?

The perilous fate of Central Addition has received some good press this week, and Preservation Idaho has posted a short history and a summary of the threats looming over it. This Thursday, my esteemed colleague Dan Everhart is leading this season’s inaugural Arch Walk through the neighborhood. Demand has been high and after the two original walks sold out, Dan added a third, which promptly sold out as well. So now a fourth has been added, and if you are interested, you must sign up soon. For make no mistake—even if the homes are saved and moved, this is our last chance to see them in their original urban context. And let’s be frank—this may very well be our last chance to see them at all.

 

The Straughan House at 405 S. 4th St.

 

To their credit, Trilogy has offered the homes to anyone willing and able to move them, but barring some amazing change of heart out of the blue, they will not abandon what is an unfortunate acquiescence to the worst aspects of modern convenience, and they will turn over our last downtown residential neighborhood to the inevitability of urban blight. A neglected old home can be revitalized and reutilized. Surface parking is a scar that can rarely be healed. Destruction in the pursuit of empty commercial aims betrays the promise and effort of those who built this city to rise above the merely utilitarian tasks of commerce and instead be a place of innovation, culture and heritage in the service of the future.

As it is, only the sorriest of Boise’s legacies will be handed down in this instance: To walk with your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren past an empty site of urban desolation and say: Once there was Something here. And now there is only Nothing.

 

 

Comments

In what year did these houses

In what year did these houses were built? Are they for sale?


Atty. Krista
DUI lawyer Tampa

Trilogy

It's cheaper for Trilogy to have somebody take the houses rather than demolishing them. It's all about money. It's not because they are nice guys...

Parking Lots

We just returned from a trip to Seattle where we had to pay for parking. Our receipt included a 12.5% Parking Tax. Maybe that's one way that Seattle and King County pay for their great public transportation system.

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