Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Historic building or a tear-down?

Hailey’s preservation goals may not always be welcome

Express Staff Writer

The Episcopal Church Thrift Store on Bullion Street in Hailey may have historical significance, but that doesn’t mean the church wants it on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by David N. Seelig

Preserving Hailey’s historic buildings may run contrary to the goals of private property owners, who may want the buildings torn down to make room for future development. 

In late November, the Hailey City Council authorized a $2,500 application for a research grant from the Idaho State Historical Society to look into the historical significance of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Thrift Store at 19 East Bullion St., as well as the Baptist Community Church on the corner of Second Avenue and Croy Street.

Neither church has officially agreed to be listed on the National Register, nor have they consented to being researched. The research will be conducted using newspaper archives, photographs and other sources. 

The Hailey Historic Preservation Commission is charged with promoting Hailey’s history and working to preserve it. Hailey has 11 buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places already, including the Old Blaine County Courthouse, the birthplace of poet Ezra Pound, and the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. 

The Historic Preservation Commission recommended the grant application for research of the two church properties, but Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said nomination to the National Registry could only come at the request of property owners.

Ann Swanson, grants operations analyst at the Idaho State Historical Society, said Hailey has received more than $20,000 in research funding from the federal government since 2006 to help identify historic properties in Hailey.

“The National Registry is an honorific listing of historic buildings. It makes available other funding sources for restoration,” Swanson said.

Swanson said the state architectural historian has judged from preliminary photographs of the Episcopal Thrift Store that it would likely not be eligible for National Registry status, due to many changes to the building since it was built, perhaps 75 years ago. 

Yet Swanson said the fact that the building served as the assay office and public library at one time could help in attaining a National Registry designation, should the property owners choose to try.

“An assay office is an important building in a community, but how much has it been altered? That is the type of information we are trying to acquire,” said Swanson. “They (the Hailey Historic Preservation Commission) are building the case for its importance in the community.”

A letter written to the city by former Hailey Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Rob Lonning in August stated that the Episcopal Church congregation has been discussing options for upgrading, or perhaps replacing, the Thrift Store building “for some time.”

A staff report issued by the city of Hailey last week indicated that the Episcopal Church was not interested in having the building on the National Register of Historic Places.

“What is to be the future of buildings designated as ‘historical’ by the Hailey Historic Preservation Commission when the present owners are opposed to or not interested in designation on the National Register of Historic Places? Do the present owners have the sole determination of the fate of these properties or, due to their historic significance to the city of Hailey, should attempts be made to protect and preserve them?” the report said.

The council voted to pursue the grant, with the option of shifting the research funding to another Hailey property, if the Episcopal Church remains opposed to seeking a nomination on the National Register.

Shawn McCarty, the head of the Episcopal congregation at Emmanuel Church, said he had no official comment on the matter.

Swanson said Hailey does not have enough of a concentration of historic buildings to designate a historic district, which would be the first step toward establishing a historic design-review overlay, which would provide legal protection of buildings from demolition.

Swanson said Twin Falls has the largest residential historic district in the state, with 900 homes, but that the city has only chosen to create a historic design-review overlay on a commercial area known as the warehouse district near the railroad tracks.

“The city decided that the warehouse area was an important part of their history,” she said.


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