For the week of May 25, 1999  thru June 1, 1999  

The end of an era

Corner frat house to go up in flames

Express Staff Writer

The ski bum’s grip on Sun Valley is going to loosen a bit Saturday morning.

The Frat House, across from Perry’s and beside Java on Fourth Street, will be destroyed in as appropriate a manner as anyone can think: It’ll be incinerated in one final, gallant effort to appease the snow gods.

One-time resident of the Frat House, Billy Olson, said he remembers a January when Mother Nature wasn’t providing the fluffy white that all dedicated ski/snowboard bums thrive on.

Residents of the legendary corner house all threw their old skis, snowboards and a few ski boots in a pile, poured on some gasoline from Billy’s motorcycle and added a lighted match to the stew.

The following morning, Billy said, there was an inch and a half of snow on the ground.

Imagine the snow Sun Valley will get next season, following the torching of that corner icon, Sun Valley’s monument to the ski bum. It will begin at 8 a.m.

The structure—also known in its heyday as Animal House or the Ketchum Zoo—will be burned as a practice fire for the Ketchum and Sun Valley fire departments, making way for Gail Severn’s new art gallery and office building. It will also provide the fire departments an excellent opportunity to hone their skills in a situation that doesn’t place lives or property in danger.

"That property served its function in its day," Severn said. "So many people here have lived there or have friends who lived there. It’s not an historical building, but it has a sense of history for people who have lived in the valley for a long time."

For more than a half century, Sun Valley has been a haven for ski bums who hailed here from the far reaches of the planet, and the Frat House has been a refuge for passionate ski enthusiasts since at least the mid-1970s.

In some of his ski films, documentary producer Warren Miller is quick to point out that he once lived in an RV in the River Run parking lot, working as a young ski instructor on the slopes of Bald Mountain.

Many other ski bums once lived in various nooks and crevices of Ketchum and Sun Valley. They lived in cars, VW buses, the woods, anywhere it was feasible.

But new city ordinances and increasingly strict Forest Service regulations have eliminated those options. Indeed, Sun Valley’s ski bums are a dying breed. Rising rents, pricey lift tickets and new laws are eliminating the once romanticized and well trod lifestyle.

Rumors of demolition have run through the Frat House for years and are finally coming to fruition.

In a January, 1998 Idaho Mountain Express article, one of the Frat House’s residents said: "I’d imagine one of these days they’re going to say ‘all right, that’s enough.’ It would be this spring or next spring."

And this spring is the one. The death of the Frat House is nigh.

"It was fun. A great group of people lived there, but it’s a dive," Billy said.

Severn’s new gallery and office building will be three stories tall and house two galleries—her own, and another. To be called the Russell Severn Building, named after Gail’s late father, a buffer of green landscaping will be augmented by street-side sculptures.

Severn hopes to move into the new building in February or March of next year.

"It’s exciting to put a new building there that will take us into the new millennium," she said. "It’s a real dream come true for us."

According to Ketchum fire chief Tom Johnson, the structure will be burned in multiple stages to give fire fighters the opportunity to gain more live-fire experience.

Around noon, a final, consumption burn will begin. That is when the entire building will be burned to ashes.

According to Ketchum Fire Department shift captain Ron Parsons, live-fire training regulations are "very strict."

"It’s not just a yahoo. It’s very organized and very redundant," he said.


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