Community October 22, 2010
The Wood River Land Trust

The venerable old building that contains the Wood River Land Trust’s new executive offices is comfortably situated on a highly visible corner in Hailey. Graced with stately trees, it emanates a presence that comes only with time and thoughtful restoration.

It’s not surprising that the color of the paint on the clapboard siding—a soft moss green resonant of sagebrush-covered hills—immediately connotes history and place. Both that particular shade of green and the rich burgundy of the trim were discovered at the bottom of 96 years’ worth of layers that were painstakingly removed as part of the recent and extensive renovation. Land Trust Executive Director Scott Boettger, Assistant Director Dan Gilmore, architect Brandis Sarich, and contractor Kim Nilsen were pleased that the original paint could be matched so perfectly.

This was not the first remodel for the wonderful old building, which grew to its current size through a series of additions layered onto the original structure—a one-story, two-room log cabin constructed in the fall of 1881 (one of the first houses in the new settlement of Hailey). C.B. Fox had purchased the land, four city lots laid out in the pioneer plat, for $25 from founder John Hailey. In 1883, Fox added two more lots on the northern property boundary, and by 1885 the building had gained height and breadth with western and northern additions and a front porch. The logs had disappeared. Another addition on the northwestern side, in 1888, also included some modification to the porch structure. The building then took a slow, deep breath, remaining essentially unchanged until 1907.

The Land Trust’s renovation has returned the building to that period in time, at least in exterior appearance. A January 1906 photo served as the template for architectural reconstruction, and was useful in the builders’ attempts to mimic the porch design and other details. In a real coup, Scott Boettger discovered the original front doors (there are two) stacked in the back of the shed/garage behind the main building. With the years scraped and sanded off, they once again form the authentic and unique entrance to this historic structure.

The expansion of the second story at the northeast corner (to add space for the nonprofit organization’s summer intern housing) necessitated the incorporation of new roof lines—beautifully accomplished in spite of what the contractor described as "a total lack of true and square," a common challenge in older structures that have bowed and settled. The builders, with the help of many volunteer hours from the Land Trust’s members and board of directors, managed to mask seams between the original and the addition’s wood siding, execute complex rooflines with new metal cladding, and replace windows (many of which were salvaged from the attic and crawlspaces) in their original positions.

The interior of the building is now a wonderful, eclectic mix of modern and restored elements. Clean, white plasterboard walls and built-in ceiling spotlights have been deftly melded with the original vertical-grain plank fir flooring and the pocked, wavy glass of the antique windows. Many of the other design choices display an apt sensitivity for this historic blend. Exterior lights of opaque glass are subtly caged in baskets of a matte charcoal iron, just the right look for a preservation project. The interior doors have a simplicity that is also in sync with original details. It is apparent that architect Brandis Sarich, whose recent work also includes the in-process Ezra Pound Association’s restoration of Roberta McKercher’s Third Avenue home, understands the need for functional practicality in the reuse of historic buildings.
When the group set out to bring this old house back to life, many questioned the wisdom of such a plan. Why spend so much—comparable dollars would fund a completely new construction project—to inhabit an "old" structure? Scott said, "We wanted, literally, to support our beliefs and put our money behind those beliefs. We’re here for the long haul."

As a preservation organization with the primary goal of conserving land and leaving it free from development for future generations, the Wood River Land Trust works with individuals, public agencies, and corporations to raise consciousness about the community’s need to honor its origins and maintain a sense of place.
Local history is inherent in untrue walls and bubbling glass, in what remains of an original townsite and its inhabitants. Treasures are inevitably found in the course of a restoration project as the walls are stripped and rearranged. Pieces of our common stories, unseen for generations, come back into view: a penny, an old love letter, diaries and bills, scraps of wallpaper covered over, shades of paint in former—and perhaps recurring—tastes and styles.

At the corner of Bullion and Second, as two layers of exterior siding, roof additions, abandoned kitchen areas, and decades of porch alterations were slowly peeled away, the Land Trust’s sleuthing provided a timeline of the house’s history. The tale parallels the growth of Hailey itself—starting small and "pioneer," expanding in scope and grandeur as years of change obscure its original face.

In the 1906 photograph, Second Avenue stretches north, seemingly broader than it is today. Lofty trees flank the building, and Baldy crowns the northern view, lightly sprinkled with white. Yet our village is clearly recognizable, and already looking quite domesticated.
By the end of its first quarter century, Hailey had evolved from a frontier town into something proud and grounded. Thanks to the Wood River Land Trust, a portion of that rich tradition has been preserved for present and future generations.

Currently Director of Development for Blaine Manor in Hailey, Faus Geiger has restored three historic structures on her property in Corral, ID.




This article appears in the Fall 2002 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.