March 2, 2017

Heavy Snows Damage Multiple Historic Buildings in Idaho, Oregon

  • By: Jenna Sauber
Geiser Hotel Extension damage

photo by: Timothy Bishop

The historic extension to the Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon, was badly damaged.

Historic property owners across the country contend with fires, floods, tornadoes, landslides, and hurricanes, but it’s rare you’ll hear about major damage and destruction from snow. That’s just the case, though, for many people in small towns and mountain hamlets across Idaho and Oregon in recent weeks. Several historic structures have suffered from a collapsed roof or been reduced to rubble after multiple winter storms dropped several feet of heavy snow and ice. Now owners and preservationists are left scrambling to determine the steps for repair—if that’s even possible.

In early February, a snowstorm collapsed the roof of The Atlanta Club, a large building that once served as a restaurant, bar, ice cream parlor, and general store in the small former mining town of Atlanta, Idaho. Since 1999, owner Kerry Moosman has been in the process of restoring the building, long cherished by the community, to become an artists’ space. Moosman has been using the space to store his personal collection of antiques as well as local historic records and artifacts—only some of which he has been able to remove safely.

The massive building has been a gathering place in this town of about 19 permanent residents despite it officially closing down in the mid-‘80s.

“At any given time, the porch might be filled with miners, artists, chefs, writers, builders, preservationist, hunters, dirt biker riders, and historians—all coming together, filling the end of the dirt road with life,” says Rachel Reichert, part-time resident of Atlanta.

The Hub

photo by: Allen Ireland

Constructed 83 years ago, The Hub was a bar before being converted into a small art and architecture school.

According to Reichert, Atlanta is extremely difficult to get to in winter, especially if you’re coming from Boise (127 miles away), like Moosman is. Moosman was only able to enter the building a week ago remove some valuables and get a better idea of the damage, but the Club is still under several feet of snow, making it nearly impossible to begin repairs. Any further access to the building is restricted until a structural engineer can complete an inspection and begin stabilization efforts.

The Atlanta Club isn’t the only building to suffer damage in town; another snowstorm a week or so after the first one damaged The Hub, a former bar, built 83 years ago. Reichert says it recently became the home base for a small art and architecture school focusing on revitalizing the town through preservation efforts—making the damage all the more personal, and restoration efforts more urgent.

Moosman and The Hub’s owner, Allen Ireland, have more than 30 years of experience as preservationists, and according to Reichert, have “singlehandedly saved many buildings in Atlanta.” They’re hard at work shoveling their roofs and doing whatever other cleanup they can, but given the enormous amount of pressure that 19 inches of snow and ice can put on a structure, there’s only so much they can do other than wait out the winter. These historic structures are bearing anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds of snow weight right now, and with continuing winter weather and treacherous driving conditions, the potential for more permanent damage is high.

To get assistance when they are ready to begin the process of repair, both owners have reached out to the Idaho Heritage Trust and they will receive financial support through local fundraising efforts.

Main Street view of Geiser extension

photo by: Timothy Bishop

Another block in historic Baker City.

About 230 miles to the northeast in Baker City, Oregon, Barbara Sidway is also assessing snow damage to a historic building she owns on Main Street and was in the process of restoring to be an extension to her other property, the historic Geiser Grand Hotel. Also a longtime preservationist, Sidway and her husband took on restoration of the hotel in the 1990s to save it from demolition, then purchased the former Baker Furniture Company building from the nieces of the former owners, two immigrant brothers who started the business after fleeing Nazi Germany.

Sidway had been using the space to store furniture and decor until she was ready to begin the expansion project, and when she woke to the damage on Super Bowl Sunday morning, she knew it was time to get started. As an ardent Main Street America advocate, Sidway is more determined than ever to move forward with a renewed focus.

“Restoring this building is important for the integrity of the historic district,” Sidway says. “I desire to retain the building to fulfill my plans, but also because it’s what you have to do to have a streetscape that people want to travel to and see.”

So far, a structural engineer has visited the site several times to assess the damage from four feet of solid ice and two feet of snow on top of that. Next steps will involve an evaluation and charge of work. Repairs are needed for the common walls to the north and south of the building, half of the roof needs to be replaced, and of course, it’s time for Sidway to get back to her original restoration plan.

The repairs and restoration will use a combination of federal historic tax credits, insurance reimbursement, and support from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Sidway encourages all historic property owners to take a close look at their insurance and determine if their provider will be ready to rebuild when nature hits.

“As property owners and preservationists, we don’t want a check for a total loss,” she says. “We want to rebuild.”

Sidway acknowledges the months ahead will be intense, personally and professionally. “But I find it really exciting and uplifting.”

Jenna Sauber is a freelance writer and nonprofit communications consultant in Washington, D.C. She blogs about literature, family, and more at jennasauber.com.

@cajunjen

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