Historic Preservation Part II

In chapter four of our text, I was glad to see that the federal judiciary had granted state, and particularly local government the legal tools necessary to preserve historic building and locations. I had erroneously, as it turned out, believed that a listing on the National Register of Historic Places gave protection to historic buildings and sites. In one sense, local control of designating historic districts and structures is the most democratic means to identifying what is important to a community, what a community supports and is willing to expend resources on. On the other hand, it may allow those with financial power (big business and developers) to deploy their monetary muscle to overpower under resourced grassroots efforts at preservation. Using Boise’s Central Addition as an example, Preservation Idaho, according to their website tried to raise the $450,000 plus needed to buy the land and houses to avoid development, but could only raise about $8,000. Does this show that big money beats local concern, or that in reality the local community is not that concerned? After all, the area is not listed as a historic district, nor are the houses on the National Register of Historic Places. This seems to make the case for preserving the area and the buildings weaker, and conceivably indicates this to developers.

Spurred by the links for this week’s readings I explored Boise’s Historic Districts and discovered that the “castle” on Warm Springs is just outside the Warm Springs Historic District, possibly explaining how it was permitted. Maybe if the site had been inside the Historic District it would not have been built, illustrating the importance of delineating Historic District boundaries as expounded in chapter six. Notwithstanding the aforementioned I do feel sympathy for the property owner in Figarsky vs. Historic District Commission in 1976, where the building itself had been substantially altered, was of no particular historical importance, but blocked the view of encroaching commercial development (122-3). The owner was cited for code violations and decided to demolish the structure. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that it could not be demolished, that it had to be brought up to code and the owner was not entitled to any compensation for repairs to bring the building in to compliance.

A central point in chapters nine and eleven is an emphasis on cooperation amongst public and private entities in historic preservation to forge a win-win outcome for preservation and economic development. The Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor (nation’s first officially designated Heritage Corridor) is not owned or exclusively managed by the NPS, but locally owned with a large degree of autonomy providing a good example of this partnership (333). It makes sense to me that preservation is enhanced by tourism and we are informed that heritage tourists spend more on average than other type of visitors (262, 284). Furthermore, in regards to Heritage Corridors “the economic aspect, particularly … has been critical in the justification of their benefits to Congress in order to obtain Federal designation and funding” (334).

While browsing on the links prescribed by the syllabus I looked at Idaho’s listings on the National Register of Landmarks.  Out of approximately 2500, Idaho has only ten with the Assay Building in Boise and the Cataldo Mission east of Coeur d’Alene being the most recognizable.  On the National Register of Historic Places, many Boise locations are represented.  Under Boise, I noticed that Kuna, historically a small agricultural town about 20 miles SW of Boise that now operates as a bedroom community for Boise, had two listings.  Seeing as my girlfriend Bonnie was born and raised there, I looked at the two listings. It surprised us both to discover that she grew up a few hundred feet from a location on the NRHP, listed in 1999, after she had moved out of her parents’ house and the marker was placed.  It is the visible remnants of a dirt wagon trail, the Boise-Silver City Road, that once linked Idaho City, Boise City and Silver City to “mining communities in Idaho, Nevada, and northern California to San Francisco,” according to the NRHP Registration Form.    In the form’s “Statement of Significance” section, it states the road was part of the “transportation corridor” during the 1860s that reflects the “economic importance of southwestern Idaho gold discoveries to the larger Pacific Northwest region.” 

BoiseSilver CityBonniehouuse

Boise-Silver City Road Interpretive Sign 2015



BoiseSilver City Road 8
Remnants of Boise-Silver City Road 2015


Preserving Downtown and BSU

There are two places in Boise that I am most concerned about preservation; downtown and Boise State University. I love what downtown offers to Boise and I would like to see it thrive and maintain its historic roots. I am vested in BSU, not because it is particularly beautiful (because we all know…it’s not), but because I owe both my undergraduate and graduate degree to this place and I would like to see it become grander, bolder, and more prestigious.

There have already been a lot of mistakes with Boise’s downtown. After the Boise Redevelopment Agency began an urban renewal project in the 1970’s that destroyed entire historic blocks of downtown and threatened beloved landmarks like the Egyptian Theatre, the city faced public outcry over the destruction. L.J. Davis famously wrote about the idiotic project in his 1974 Harper’s Magazine piece “Tearing Down Boise”, saying “If things go on as they are, Boise stands an excellent chance of becoming the first American city to have deliberately eradicated itself.” Although the Egyptian was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it wasn’t until private individuals (with deep pocket books) got involved that the theatre was safe from the chopping block.

I think this is an excellent example of how real and lasting protection for historic places occurs. While much of the public would like to see history preserved, few of them want to do it at the expense of their standards of living. Even Tyler et al. notes in Historic Preservation that, “the preservation of a downtown’s physical elements, including its older buildings, historic facades, and streetscape, (is) important, but only in combination with maintaining functional aspects of the downtown environment.” (pg. 278) Boise’s downtown may seem like a thriving component of our city, but there are many parts of it that are vacant and the entire balance of the area is pretty precarious. Now that Anthropology is leaving, I fear that hole (combined with the obnoxiously STILL vacant Macy’s) will be large enough that shopping in the area will slow and all those small businesses will suffer. I love the old buildings and the history and the character of downtown. But without businesses to keep the history worthwhile, I fear downtown could slide back into its 1970’s rut.

As far as Boise State is concerned, I know that there isn’t a lot of history to preserve besides what we discussed last week; the Administration and Campus School buildings. But I really hope that BSU keeps those buildings. I am uneasy about their intentions (INNOVATION! METROPOLITAN RESEARCH!) and was

Obama is excited about our innovation! Progress! Forward! Tally Ho!
Obama is excited about our innovation! Progress! Forward! Tally Ho!

especially alarmed at Tyler’s assertion that, “State institutions are not subject to local ordinances and need respond only to state regulations. Universities frequently ignore local historic district commissions…and the larger the institution, the more it can disregard local pressure for its structures to be included in a historic district.” (pg. 179) I know that BSU is not, and probably never will be, a historic district, but it worries me that the university has very little interest in preservation or responding to public pressure. It makes me feel a tad hopeless and powerless. I want BSU to become a place of distinction as well. But I think distinction comes not only from progress but also from maintaining links to the past.