Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hemingway House plan is no Coney Island

Love him or hate him, Ernest Hemingway was indisputably one of the most influential and significant writers of the 20th century.

In 1959, Hemingway and his wife Mary purchased a home on 13 acres of land off East Canyon Run Boulevard in Ketchum, the site where the author wrote "A Moveable Feast" and portions of "The Garden of Eden." He ultimately took his own life there in 1961.

What to do with the property and house has been a bone of contention for nearby homeowners and the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation, a nonprofit group in part founded by Hemingway's granddaughter Mariel.

When Mary Hemingway died in 1986, she left the house and property to The Nature Conservancy. As the core mission of TNC is the preservation of natural areas, the group has since decided to turn management of the property over to the IHHF.

The foundation's plan is reasonable and tasteful. Some provisions of the plan include:

· Restoring the house to its 1961 condition, a cost the IHHF has said would be covered through a fundraising effort.

· Guided nature walks from the Park and Ride lot, across the river, and through a nature preserve.

· A library available to scholars and educators by appointment only.

· Literary workshops and a writer-in-residence program.

· Small tours—15 people or fewer—who would access the property by one van no more than four times per day.

A number of residents near the property have been stridently opposed to even the hint of restoring the house into a cultural and historical site for others to see. They fear unacceptable noise and traffic impacts.

The naysayers should step back and take a breath. It's not as if someone is trying to put a Coney Island in their backyards. Ketchum is, in part, what it is today because of the Hemingway legacy. That includes the skyrocketing property values that no doubt nearby residents are fearful of losing—a highly unlikely scenario.

The other options available to TNC are far less appealing: Selling the home to a private buyer with some tour restrictions and a transfer of memorabilia to the Kennedy Library in Boston, selling to a private buyer with no restrictions, or letting the house deteriorate under the TNC's control. (They have no funds to maintain it.)

Done appropriately as the IHHF plan promises, a cultural center would be a boon to valley residents and literary history in general.

A community meeting on the issue is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn. TNC will present the four options for the property and solicit comments. We encourage all to attend.

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