News Column

Century-old Knudsen House to celebrate its moving history

July 30, 2014

By Anna Webb, The Idaho Statesman



July 30--The Knudsen House's new home is on Franklin Street two blocks west of where construction icon Morris Knudsen built it in 1905.

The house was slated for demolition last year so the state could build a parking facility north of the Capitol Mall.

Instead, Boise real estate investor Burr Boynton bought the house. He moved it to its new site on a frigid day in January.

He's spent the months since renovating from foundation to ceiling, leaving many original elements -- wavy glass casement windows, a section of fir flooring that someone had painted to resemble oak, built-in cabinets, a sleeping porch and more -- in place.

"Everything we could leave intact, we did. Anything else, we re-created as closely as we could," said Boynton.

The house's first tenant, the Idaho Democratic Party, will move in Aug. 1.

The party's executive, Sally Boynton-Brown (married to Boynton), said she's happy the organization will help carry on Knudsen's legacy. It needed more space for its staff, she said, and the location near Downtown Boise and the Capitol is ideal.

Burr Boynton is hosting an open house on Thursday to let the public tour the house and hear more about the renovations.

The Knudsen House turned up a few surprises and mysteries. An excavation in the rear of the house revealed sawdust used as wall insulation. Boynton and contractor Jeff Toothaker got a small thrill when they found a gunny sack stuffed into the sawdust. They opened it and found more sawdust.

"It was our Geraldo Rivera-Al Capone moment," said Boynton, referring to the time the TV journalist opened up the gangster's safe on live television, only to find nothing inside.

Better discoveries included a clever window system in the upstairs sleeping porch, allowing opened window panes to slip into pockets in the walls.

The house has a new basement and foundation. Sandstone veneer covers the foundation, compatible with the house's turn-of-the-century Dutch Revival style.

The house has a new electrical system, plumbing, insulation and communications wiring. False ceilings have been removed. The new tenants will enjoy airy, open rooms.

Boynton removed the original radiators -- save one to be transformed into a bench in the house's entryway. He donated the others to Preservation Idaho, and they will be installed at the Boise VA Medical Center at Old Fort Boise.

Preservation Idaho is partnering with the VA to restore the Surgeon's Quarters at Old Fort Boise.

Burr saved and reinstalled the wrought-iron fence that circled the house at its original site. Crews put in landscaping Tuesday, just in time for the open house.

A FEW SNAGS

The road from the house's old site, 603 Franklin, to its new site, 812 Franklin, was not long, but it was bumpy.

In order to move the structure, Boynton had to make room for it by tearing down a historic house he owned at the new site.

The Boise Historic Preservation Commission turned down his request, saying the 812 Franklin house was a contributing structure in a historic district. Boynton appealed to the Boise City Council, which overturned the commission's decision and cleared the way for the move.

Before tearing down the small yellow cottage at 812 Franklin, Boynton invited local preservationists, artists and builders involved with projects in Atlanta, Idaho, to salvage wood and fixtures.

Mark Baltes, a local historian and preservationist, will help celebrate the Knudsen House's new life at the public event on Thursday.

"Knudsen has very few things associated with his name. There are many more reminders of (partner Harry) Morrison. If this house had gone, we would have lost a tangible artifact of one half of the Morrison-Knudsen firm," said Baltes.

Boynton had intended to renovate the original house at 812 as office space. He'd never taken on such a project, but when he heard the Knudsen House was available to restore, he was immediately interested because of its size, beauty and history.

He said he hasn't figured out how much money he's spent renovating the house. His motivations, he said, included helping the community.

"We wanted to give this house a good foundation for its next 100 years," said Boynton.

Others share the sentiment. A number of people and groups have dropped by during work days, including neighbors and students from Boise High. Resident Winnie Caldwell presented Boynton with a drawing she'd made of the house. He said he plans to frame the drawing and hang it inside.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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(c)2014 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)

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Source: Idaho Statesman (Boise)


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