Why One Boise Woman Continues Fight To Save Historic Idaho Homes

Jan 27, 2015

For three weeks this winter, Samantha Martin spent her days inside a freezing-cold house ripping apart the walls, doors, and windows. She was salvaging whatever she could because the house was set for demolition.

Martin and her group Buffalo Heart Homes have been trying for two years to save a group of historic homes in downtown Boise.

She’s still trying to save the Fowler House and its companion homes on 5th Street. But for the home she was in this winter at 410 S. 4th Street, she wasn’t successful.

That house, which was held by a private owner, was demolished this month. Martin managed to capture the event on her cell phone.

Before it was torn down, Martin got permission to go inside to salvage. “We discovered it was an original pioneer house that was built over twice, and we discovered that by going through the layers in the walls and the ceiling,” Martin says, “it was really fun and exciting,” exploring the skeleton of the house.” The original house was built sometime before 1880.

Some treasures were found, like some old carved marble pieces. Old wallpaper was unearthed, along with pieces of paper, stuffed into the walls. But in the end, Martin had to stand back, and watch as the house was torn down.

Inside the 4th street house, Martin dug through layers of history to unearth the original wooden walls of the house.
Credit Samantha Martin

“I actually felt pretty good about it, I did what I could with what I had,” Martin says, “I felt like I actually put blood, sweat and tears into it. It was quite a thing to witness, but being part of it, made me feel OK about letting go of it.”

Most of the materials she salvaged are being stored until the future of the other houses is decided. The salvaged parts could be used to help restore some of the other homes.

Those five homes, including the Fowler House, are on 5th Street, two on the east side, three on the west. “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods, it’s very important to Boise and Idaho,” Martin says, when asked why she keeps up the fight to save the structures.

“We are the wild West and these are our old buildings,” she continues, “and once they’re gone, we won’t have old buildings anymore. We have to save the old ones now. We have that choice to make.”

Several of them are very well preserved, including the Fowler house. “You probably won’t get that again, here in Idaho. The wood hasn’t been painted over, it’s all original, it hasn’t been divided into apartments,” Martin says of Fowler, “that’s the gem.”

Since our last update, L.A.-based LocalConstruct purchased much of the 5th Street block from Trilogy Development, Inc. Co-President Mike Brown says he's working with preservationists like Martin, to try to save the homes. "Our goal is not to demolish those houses, we're trying to avoid that," says Brown.

He says anyone who has a viable plan for moving the homes to another location, and rehabbing the homes, should contact LocalConstruct. "We'll help facilitate the move," says Brown, even helping pay for it, "if it's a good plan."

In June, Brown plans to start building a new 150-unit urban apartment building on the site. That means the future of the 5th Street houses needs to be decided in April. If the houses can't be moved, Brown wants to salvage vintage materials from the structures and either use them in his project or in other historical homes.

But he'd rather see the houses survive. "I would love to drive by a spot someday and see them and know I had a small part in saving them from the wrecking ball."

Martin, Buffalo Heart Homes, and Preservation Idaho tried, and failed, last year to raise enough money to buy or move the homes. But she’s still optimistic that she’ll find a solution; a donor or builder with the land to relocate, and a plan to transport the homes. “Who knows what’s going to happen,” she says.

“I’m not going to stop until something happens to them. Once [the Fowler House] is taken care of, or demolished, then I feel ready to move on to something else.”

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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