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Arts & Culture

After Snow Damage, Preservationists Work To Restore Historic Building In Rural Idaho

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio
The Atlanta Club was largely destroyed over the winter, which set snow and cold temperature records. Byron Folwell (left) leads a group of amateur preservationists working to restore the historic building.

It’s hard not to pick up a hammer and start working when you see the nearly destroyed Atlanta Club up-close. Built in the 1940s by a Yugoslavian bootlegger, the club has survived wildfires and the collapse of the mining industry in this tiny town northeast of Boise.

But this year's record winter was devastating for the building; after an unlucky mix of conditions the old roof couldn’t take it anymore. It collapsed one day, emitting a cloud of dust so thick it looked like smoke.

“When the snow and ice load reached a certain point, the entire roof sort of caved in in two pieces," says Boise architect Byron Folwell. "So for most of the winter, water and snow were coming into the floor area here."

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
A view of Greylock Mountain is now visible from inside the Atlanta Club, as Atlanta School students work to fix the water-damaged original dance floor.

Folwell specializes in historic preservation, and is consulting with a construction crew to make sure the historical integrity of the building remains intact.  

“So they’re going to end up doing wall repair first and we'll have a stable wall to start with, and then the contractors will come in after that and build a temporary floor that goes all the way across here along the top of the walls and they'll build their replacement roof trusses on that floor," he explains.

The contractors are working against the clock to install a new roof before the snow comes again.

“One thing Idaho lacks is – and desperately needs – are preservation-minded contractors. Those projects just typically I think pay less than your typical construction project,” says the architect.

In the absence of specialists, Folwell is teaching a class of artists and history buffs to work on the details of the restoration. The class is part of the Atlanta School, which hosts week-long immersive workshops in arts and crafts. Amy O’Brien is one of the school’s founders.

“So we thought it would be a great way to help our friends that own the buildings," says O'Brien. "And we do like to teach the preservation so we thought it would be a perfect pairing.”

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Photo of the "Hub," another beloved gathering place in Atlanta largely destroyed by compacted snow and ice.

Along with one other building that collapsed over the winter, O’Brien says the Atlanta Club is a cornerstone in the tiny town, and describes how she felt when she heard about the damage:

“A sickening feeling," she says. "And then not be able to see what it looked like . . . We did get some photos and then that was even more horrible because you could see all the snow. The Atlanta Club was just completely full of snow.”

Part of the problem is Atlanta’s remote location. The town is three-and-a-half hours northeast of Boise, much of it on a narrow dirt road, right at the edge of the Sawtooth Mountains. Only a couple dozen hearty people live there year-round. For a good portion of the winter, the road was closed, which kept Atlanta Club owner Kerry Moosman in some suspense until he could drive up there this spring.

“I always thought 'well if it’s going to go it would probably go with fire.' But it was actually ice and snow that pretty much took it out," Moosman says. "So now we’re in the process of rebuilding the building.”

Moosman bought the Atlanta Club in 1999, when the building was already in disrepair. He’s spent the better part of two decades restoring it to its former glory as a beloved gathering place complete with a bar, dance floor and pool table.

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Close-up of the damaged floor.

Now, the dance floor is buckling after months of water damage and the pool table broke through the floor from the pressure of the fallen roof. But the building owner is committed to giving the Atlanta Club yet another life.

“Periodically a threatened building would come along, and so I had no choice but to move them," he says. "So I've moved some and then restored some in place. It’s always a work in progress; it's never finished.”

Besides the 1940s-era building, Moosman has saved a number of structures dating back to the late 1800s. Restoration is more than just a hobby to him. It’s a labor of love. Moosman grew up in Atlanta and his parents and grandparents were gold miners. As mining dried up, many of the buildings began to decay.

Moosman moved to Boise where he’s a ceramics artist and teacher. But he always kept an eye on his hometown and slowly began saving Atlanta’s historic character – putting structures back together bit by bit, summer after summer.

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Kerry Moosman started the preservation movement in Atlanta, Idaho decades ago. Atlanta is both his home and his never-ending project.

“You know you have to sort of add parts that are missing and figure out what was there and it’s just sort of like creating a big sculpture or big installation with these buildings and the interiors."

Now, the Atlanta School’s preservation students are doing what they can to help repair the old club. They brush oil into the water-damaged hardwood floor and then layer heavy materials on top, coaxing the wood back to its original place. It’s tedious work, but hopefully this time next summer they’ll be celebrating on a revamped dance floor.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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