Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Old houses and missed opportunities

| October 2, 2020 1:00 AM

It will be a big surprise if a piece of Coeur d’Alene history avoids a date with the Grim Wrecker.

It’s a pity, really — a downtown house more than 100 years old teetering on the brink of destruction. But when the Kootenai County Commissioners saw Tuesday that the lone bid for the Hamilton House — aka the Romer House — had more strings than cash attached, they handed it off to legal. And when elected bureaucrats hand off hot potatoes to legal bureaucrats, scorched palms and fingers are often the only outcome.

But don't blame the commissioners. The bid did not meet the requirement of having the funding ready for transfer by 5 p.m. Tuesday. That deadline was fairly recently arranged, but the door to purchase the house has essentially been open for several years.

The county, which had purchased the property across the street from its downtown administrative offices to help meet expansion needs, had basically told the public, “Look, if this house means so much to you, come up with the money and take it off our hands.” Considering that the county bought the property specifically to address needs of its own, be it a parking lot or an admin structure or even selling the property for private development, that was a magnanimous gesture.

And now, the gnashing of teeth will likely continue.

“Tearing down the grand old houses of this city that have stood more than a hundred years prominently adding a sense of class and elegance, in exchange for some cheap two bit condominiums that won’t last 20 years is a travesty for all except the developers who’ll make a quick buck and move on,” a Sept. 23 Press letter to the editor said. “Perhaps it’s time we recall our County Commissioners and replace them with individuals who care more about the people and culture of this community than lining their own pockets.”

We’re not sure where the “lining their own pockets” comes from, as commissioners and other county employees won’t pocket a penny from having the house torn down and a public building replacing it. However, we do understand and empathize with those who hate to see local history vanish into the North Idaho ether.

We also are among those who would have enjoyed a music conservatory calling the Hamilton House home. Yet the big donors needed to make the transition from vacant building to house of beautiful music never materialized — not to the tune of half a mil cash, anyway.

It's a silver lining that looks like lead, but perhaps destruction of the Hamilton House would motivate those who are able to rally resources for future cultural, history-preserving projects. In the meantime, though, the commissioners are not heartless villains. They’re elected officials doing what the majority of citizens want them to do.