Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Louie’s to be converted into offices

City approves plans for historic First Congregational Church


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

The old church known as Louie’s, which has been the subject of a variety of plans in the last decade, will be converted into office space. Photo by Willy Cook

Plans have once again changed for Ketchum's historic First Congregational Church, commonly known as "Louie's" after the pizza parlor it once housed. The church will be turned into office space and will receive a 1,686-square-foot addition attached to the back that will match the church's exterior.

Since October 2008, the church has sat on the corner of Sixth Street and East Avenue North, next to the Picket Fence store.

The Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the plans at an Oct. 12 design review meeting, with the understanding that some kind of plaque detailing the church's history will be displayed on the property.

"You could make the plaque look like [a sign notifying] what the sermon is going to be this Sunday," joked Commissioner Michael Doty.

Since the church is a historic building, any planned renovations or additions must go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for design review.

The name listed on the design review application is Old Mill Development. According to the manager of the Picket Fence, both the store and Old Mill Development are owned by San Francisco Bay-area residents John and Lynn Simpson.

A year ago, the same owner had plans to restore the church into a restaurant, but—like many construction projects in town—a weak economy has forced the property owners to scale back their "grand" visions, according to the project's architect, Bernie Johnson.

"There's no sense in pumping money into a restaurant when restaurants are closing all over town," he said.

Johnson said he's ready to apply for a building permit next week and break ground on the addition, which will include a basement and ground floor, this fall. As part of the project, the church and Picket Fence retail store, also owned by Old Mill Development, will be made into one lot with the picket fence extending all the way to Sixth Street and around the church.

When the addition is complete, both buildings will total 8,919 square feet.

In fall 2008, the church was approved for a different design for a restaurant. The building and Picket Fence were to total 1,000 square feet more than the current plans.

A year before that, the church was approved for a remodel and many structural elements were in such poor condition that they couldn't be saved during renovation. Still, the remodel was as historically accurate as possible.

"Now, it's ending up as a computer terminal," said Ketchum resident and mayoral candidate Mickey Garcia during public comment at the Commission meeting.

Garcia was the only person to speak during public comment and was only there by coincidence, not seeing the church on the agenda. He said it's a shame that such a fought-over piece of Ketchum history has ended up as office space with no one there to fight it.

"This is an ignominious end for that church after all the fire and brimstone," Garcia said.

The previous plans for a restaurant seemed more fitting. 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 Mallane 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 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 more than $100,000 to renovate the building. However, when the current owners purchased the building, that money went to other projects in Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Garcia said that with the church now being turned into offices, a commemorative plaque is the least that should be done to let people know what it once was.

"To see the church's final disposition is kind of amusing," Garcia said.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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