Friday, May 30, 2008

Finally—Louie’s set to be renovated

Plan could end longstanding controversy over historic church

Express Staff Writer

The Louie’s building is moved to the corner of East Avenue and Sixth Street in October 2007. Photo by Mountain Express

Ketchum's historic First Congregational Church—known as "Louie's," after the pizza parlor it once housed—is on track to be refurbished and reopened as a public business.

The 1880s-era building found a new home on the corner of East Avenue and Sixth Street in October. With its new location, the building also received new owners, a group of California investors.

"It is a pretty interesting and generous thing that they are doing for the community, to save and restore an old building," said Jed Grey of Sun Valley Associates, who brokered the deal.

However, Gray declined to name the buyers, saying they wish to stay anonymous.

"They want their privacy, and not a lot of notoriety," he said.

What Gray does know is that the investors are renovating the building in accordance with the wishes of the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society.

"They will refurbish the exterior of the building to its original condition," he said. "In agreement with the Historical Society, the building will also be open to the public in some form or another. The developers are in conversation about doing a restaurant or doing an addition to the back of the building that would be new, but still in character."

A restaurant in the former church would be nothing new. In 1967, the building became home to Louie's Pizza, Ketchum's first Italian restaurant.

With just a couple hundred dollars from the bank, Louie's founder Louie Mallane purchased some food, napkins and other restaurant necessities. He then rented the kitchen of Nedder's Bar and began making about 20 pizzas a day. Six months later, Louie's was such a success that Mellane changed venues, hired waiters, and opened a dining room that sat 40 people. Two and a half years later, he moved into the historic church.

In addition to pizza, Louie's housed an espresso bar and a beer garden. For 35 years, the restaurant flourished until Louie and his wife, Margaret, decided to close shop and move to Boise to be with their family.

After Louie's closed up shop in 1999, the building became a focus of controversy. While some locals thought spending any money on the old building was a waste, others formed a group called Save the Church.

Floyd McCracken and Dick Meyer, co-founders of the historical society's Save the Church committee, raised over $100,000 to renovate the building. With the new investors, however, that money will not be used, but will instead go to other projects in Ketchum and Sun Valley.

To modify a historic building, the developers were required to take their plans before the Planning and Zoning Commission for design review. In October, the P&Z approved the renovations and an addition to the back of the building.

It remains uncertain, however, when Ketchum can expect the renovations to start.

"I don't know if that means a week or a month," Gray said. "But they will at least start on the old part of the building sooner than later, as the longer it sits, the less healthy it is [for the structure]."

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