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Roosevelt Inn sale may lead to development of property

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | April 3, 2024 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Representatives of a Washington company are expected to meet with Coeur d’Alene city staff soon to discuss their plans for The Roosevelt Inn.

Blue Fern Development based in Redmond is in the process of buying the historic Wallace Avenue property that was home to the Roosevelt School, originally built in 1905. 

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was converted to an inn about 30 years ago.

“Unfortunately, their proposal would demolish this historic resource,” said Hilary Patterson, Coeur d’Alene’s community planning director, on Tuesday.

Walter Burns, chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, told the City Council his understanding is that The Roosevelt Inn would be demolished to make way for 19 townhouses. He said word has spread to Boise about the sale and planned development and more people oppose it.

“They’re not convinced there is not a way to stop this,” Burns said

A Blue Fern representative recently declined to comment on the project and noted the deal is not finalized.

The Roosevelt Inn’s longtime owners, John and Tina Hough, have been trying to sell the inn with hopes of retiring, but have not been successful.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Burns said The Roosevelt Inn's brick building was one of the earliest schools in Coeur d’Alene. He said being on the National Register does not protect it from being torn down or altered, but there is still hope.

“The mere recognition of its significance can discourage demolition and become a rallying point for the community,” he said.

“If we all work together, there are several ways,” Burns added.

Through planning, Burns said preservation and progress can work in concert for the benefit of the community.

He said public outreach and education can lead to action.

“People joining forces to preserve a piece of history can send a powerful message,” Burns said.

He cited the Hamilton House, near The Roosevelt Inn, as an example of what can happen when citizens unite for a cause. 

The Hamilton House was built in 1908 for the second mayor of the city, Boyd Hamilton, and his wife, Alta.

It was on the brink of destruction a few years ago, before then-Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer and Windermere/Coeur d'Alene Realty Inc. owner Donald "Pepper" Smock stepped in. They bought the property for $500,001 from Kootenai County. Today, it serves as the home of the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene.

Burns said the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot and the old Elks and Wiggett buildings in downtown Coeur d'Alene are also examples of historic structures that were renovated and serve as office and retail space today.

"We cannot tell somebody what to do and we acknowledge that," he said, but added they would like to be a voice of alternatives.

Burns said by working together, some historic buildings can be kept for “future generations to enjoy and appreciate.”

Resident Deb Mitchell asked what was Coeur d’Alene's history preservation plan. She said if The Roosevelt Inn is lost, there will be no more examples left standing of early 20th century school architecture in the city.

“This building offers one of the few opportunities to retain a specimen for future public benefit,” she said.

Resident Zoe Ann Thruman said a historic building of “iconic proportions is in danger of being destroyed," which was an “ever-increasing occurrence in town."

She said the voice of the people, “is growing louder and this community is uniting behind this movement, the movement to save our historic buildings.”

They can be saved in ways that benefit both the property owners and the community, Thruman said.

“This destruction has to stop,” she said.

She said the people would continue to call on the City Council to use its authority "to preserve and protect these beautiful structures, and the connections they represent."

Patterson said the city would like to see The Roosevelt Inn property preserved, but it does not have the authority to protect private property from development.

The city also does not have a process that requires the Historic Preservation Commission to review sales of historic properties.

Just as the Hamilton House was saved, The Roosevelt Inn could also possibly be saved, but as its value is around $3 million, that would be a lot of money to come up with in a relatively short time.

“The community can come forward and try to get a developer to see a way to preserve the structure,” Patterson said.

Blue Fern is also looking to develop property to the north of the Roosevelt Inn on Garden Avenue with townhouses, Patterson said.