History Rolls Through Boise 

Two big changes for two historic Boise homes

It cost $80,000 to move the Knudsen House two blocks down W. Franklin Street on Jan. 27.

George Prentice

It cost $80,000 to move the Knudsen House two blocks down W. Franklin Street on Jan. 27.

The New Year is barely a month old and two historic Boise properties have dramatically changed: One has become victim to a wrecking ball, while another was shoved away by the Idaho Legislature's desire for a parking ramp.

On a rather perfect August afternoon in 2013, Boise Weekly sat on the stoop of the century-old Knudsen House at 603 W. Franklin St., with trees lining the neighborhood street providing plenty of shade. But it was the shadow of the Idaho Statehouse, only a block-and-a-half away, that was providing little relief to John Bertram. That's when the president of Preservation Idaho first used the word "bully."

"I took a little flak for calling the state a 'bully,'" Bertram told BW recently, "but we were given an ultimatum and we didn't have any choice."

BW readers will remember the dilemma caused by the 2013 Idaho Legislature's decision to fast-track an $8 million, 600-space parking garage for its colleagues. The project included the state's purchase of two properties, 603 W. Franklin--the Knudsen House--and another next door at 605 W. Franklin. And the state wanted the homes gone sooner than later.

"It was an undoable deadline that was meant to fail from the beginning," said Bertram.

And just to prove it meant business, the state's wrecking ball destroyed 605 W. Franklin Aug. 29, 2013 (BW, Citydesk, "Knock, Knock. Who's There? Crash," Sept 4, 2013), and made it clear that they wanted 603. W. Franklin--the former home of Morris Knudsen, co-founder of Morrison Knudsen--cleared out by Dec. 31, 2013.

In spite of the pressure, Burr Boynton had a plan to save the Knudsen House by moving it to the 800 block of West Franklin. But there was a major wrinkle: The home sitting on the 800 block was also a historic structure.

"Yes, we went through another battle because, philosophically, you don't want to tear down one historical building to put in another," said Bertram.

Boise's Historic Preservation Commission initially balked at the idea of tearing down the home in the 800 block, but the Boise City Council overrode that decision.

"I credit the Boise City Council for making that 5-1 decision to allow the move," said Bertram. "I really see some plusses now. We get to maintain the Knudsen house two blocks away, also in the city's Hays Street Historic District."

And indeed that's what happened Jan. 27, as Boiseans watched the rare operation of moving a home from one address to another.

"Fifteen giant wheels on dollies below the house," Boynton told BW, explaining the elaborate move. "I had a lot of confidence in Western States Movers; they worked on this project for three months and they've moved a lot of other houses. I was excited and only slightly nervous."

But there is much work to be done at the Knudsen house's new location.

"We have to pour the foundation, but we couldn't pour it until the house was over the site. That's when we'll lower the house down," said Boynton. "Then we have three or four months to update the building's electrical and heating."

The cost of moving? $80,000.

"The state offered to help with the costs," said Boynton. "They offered $15,000."

But Boynton is looking to the future, with hopes to bring the building back to life by the end of 2014.

"We have to finish off the inside of the house, building an ADA-compliant bathroom on the first level, landscaping, sidewalks and bringing the parking up to code," he said. "I have a tentative agreement with a business--more of a nonprofit--that has expressed interest in moving in."

Meanwhile, Bertram said he was still "having some real heartburn" over the loss of three homes in Boise's Central Addition neighborhood. Two of the homes--416 and 420 S. Fourth St.--were extensively damaged when fire tore through the historic structures Nov. 8, 2013.

"But we really never knew that they were also going to tear down 414 S. Fourth Street as well," said Bertram. "It was a total surprise when I walked by there just last week and saw that the third house was coming down."

Boise's Central Addition neighborhood was platted in 1890 and was once one of the city's most prestigious areas--home to Idaho Supreme Court Justice George Stewart and Idaho Secretary of State Charles Bassett, who lived at 416 S. Fourth St.

"I counted up the homes this morning. I think there were 13 historic houses in the Central Addition just two months ago, and now there are 10," said Bertram.

He added that Boise citizens aren't as quick in coming to the rescue of a historic landmark when it has fallen into disrepair.

"When we say, 'Let's save these old buildings,' people aren't too sympathetic," he said. "But when we get a chance to fix them up, people say, 'It's the best thing and we're so glad to have these homes.'"

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