July 10, 2006
Mr. Tim McCandless
Inland Northwest Council, BSA
411 West Boy Scout Way
Spokane, WA 99201
RE: The Historic Finch Lodge at the Cowles Scout Reservation
Dear Mr. McCandless:
On behalf of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, I would like to take a moment to comment on the decision facing the Inland Northwest Council regarding the historic Finch Lodge located on the Cowles Scout Reservation. The Washington Trust is a private, not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to safeguarding and preserving Washington’s historic places through education, advocacy, collaboration and stewardship. As such, we heartily encourage the council to embrace a program of rehabilitation for the lodge that would preserve the building’s integrity while retaining the important and valuable historic associations to scouting the Finch Lodge encapsulates.
Constructed in 1922 from designs provided by prominent Spokane architect Julius A. Zittel, the Finch Lodge represents a rustic iteration of the craftsman style. A primary tenet of craftsman architecture is honesty of materials, with much importance placed on the input and handiwork of the individuals involved in construction. Considered in the context of the Boy Scouts, these ideals are consistent with the values scouting works to instill in young people today.
While historic preservation is not explicitly identified as part of the Boy Scout’s mission, preservation does embrace notions of tradition, integrity, heritage and history that are closely associated with many of the activities in which Scouts participate. For instance, one component of the American Heritage merit badge requires Scouts to explain the function of the National Register of Historic Places and/or assist the State Historic Preservation Officer in nominating a property to the National Register.
The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation determined that the Finch Lodge is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. It seems contradictory at best if the Council were to choose a path resulting in the demolition of a National Register-eligible structure. Rather, the Finch Lodge provides a wonderful stewardship opportunity for the Council. Rehabilitation of the lodge would exemplify the type of commitment to cultural resources that is expected of young Scouts as they work toward merit badge achievement.
It seems that the greatest hurdle to rehabilitation is the perceived cost differential between new construction and rehabilitation. Before a final determination is made, the Washington Trust strongly encourages the Council to have a preservation architect evaluate the building. Such an evaluation would have the benefit of providing cost-saving rehabilitation measures that would not deter from the overall historic character of the building. While it is true that rehabilitation can at times be more expensive than new construction, this is not a foregone conclusion. In cases where this does hold true, rarely have we seen a situation where the differential for rehabilitation versus new construction is as great as that suggested for the Finch Lodge. Historic buildings can be rehabilitated to meet code, to be energy efficient, and to possess modern systems such as HVAC without being double the cost of new construction.
In considering the various options for Finch Lodge, the Council has expressed the need to have a building that will meet their scouting needs for the next 75-100 years. In this case we point to time as the best witness. At over eighty years old, the lodge remains standing. Will a newly constructed building, utilizing materials inferior to those employed on the lodge in 1922, survive for 100 years? The stated goal of having a building that will require a minimum of maintenance is a worthy one, but in reality, no building, new or old, that sees year-round heavy use will be maintenance free.
Regarding Option 02 as outlined on the Inland Northwest Council web site, constructing a new lodge modeled after Zittel’s original design is not a viable solution from a preservation standpoint. The original lodge remains standing; why demolish it to build a facsimile. Furthermore, salvaging character-defining features from the existing lodge for use in a newly constructed building does not necessarily preserve the historic building; it simply creates a false sense of history.
Lastly, as a National Register-eligible structure, there are certain regulatory processes that may apply. Review according to the State Environmental Policy Act must be conducted, with mitigation for adverse impacts addressed where necessary. Furthermore, given the structure’s proximity to a body of water and to forest land, certain federal permits may be needed. Again, given the lodge’s historical significance, mitigation for demolition may be required.
Rehabilitation of the Finch Lodge for future Boy Scout use would retain the historical association of Camp Cowles for future generations of Scouts and would embody best practices in the stewardship of our heritage and the sustainability of our landscape. The Washington Trust urges the Inland Northwest Council to gain a better understanding of the lodge’s rehabilitation needs by having a preservation architect evaluate the building. If we can be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this very important matter.