When a town is the friend who is in need, a person like Robert Lonning is a friend indeed. Though Lonning only become a full-time resident of Hailey in 2004 (he and his wife, Elizabeth Jeffrey, have come for summers since 1999), he immediately saw a need to involve himself in the historic preservation of the Wood River Valley's largest township. Lonning had just retired from teaching at University of Connecticut and was renovating his home.
Lonning and Jeffreys' home is in Old Hailey, and it was due to an overlarge building on his block that he was inspired to act. Now chair of the Hailey Historic Preservation Commission, he was named a "Friend of Preservation," Saturday, June 21 at the Wilson Theater in Rupert at the 31st Annual Orchids & Onions Awards Ceremony, held by the Idaho Preservation Council.
The "Friend of Preservation" is awarded to non-professionals for services in historic preservation. This includes, but is not limited to, those who volunteer for preservation organizations, historical societies or museums.
"Rick Davis spearheaded the formation of the Historic Preservation," Lonning said. "I got wind that it was forming and applied for a position on that commission. I initially served as secretary."
Among the commission's acts since then has been to become a Certified Local Government that has the ability to regulate and promote historic preservation in its region; to survey historic properties in Hailey, and to be recognized as a Heritage City. This later designation is given by the Idaho State Historical Society and the Association of Idaho Cities to recognize a city such as Hailey that protects and shares information on its buildings, artifacts, photos and other historical documents.
"We're working on setting up our own historic register for homes that have been upgraded but are not eligible because of additions or something. This will be for cute funky old Hailey houses. Now we have design guidelines, and the city government has been supportive about maintaining old Hailey's charm. In 2000, we didn't have that. We're in much better shape now."
The Idaho Preservation gives another award for projects or programs insensitive to historic preservation. It can include individuals or corporations who demolish historically significant buildings or sites or new construction that is insensitive or ignorant of the neighborhood's history.
This year the Buhl School District received the dubious distinction of being given an Onion Award for the "unnecessary and shortsighted demolition of the historic 1920 Buhl High School Building in Buhl," according to an Idaho Preservation press release.
Past winners of the Orchids Award have included Robert and Rebecca Mitchell for renovation of the Sun Valley Fabric Granary Building in Hailey, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts for the sympathetic construction of the Castellano-Wood Family Classroom adjacent to the historic Ezra Pound home in Hailey, and John Sofro for the construction of Bullion Square Retail Center in Hailey.