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:
Spokane Preservation Advocates (SPA) is a non-profit, 600-member organization whose mission is to encourage historic preservation and compatible new development throughout Spokane County. We have recently read, with a mixture of anticipation and concern, of the decision the Inland Northwest Council currently faces with regard to the historic Finch Lodge, located on the Cowles Scout Reservation. The lodge, which has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, is an excellent example of the Craftsman style, executed with an especially rustic sensibility in acknowledgment of the unique mission of the Boy Scouts of America. That mission is, in part, to instill a sense of integrity, self-reliance, camaraderie, and tradition in young people today. The Boy Scouts have also long promoted an ethic of wise conservation and stewardship of natural resources; of using ingenuity to get the maximum value out of what you have. What better way to reinforce these values than to preserve the fine 1922 lodge that not only represents these values, but serves as a testament to the long history of the Boy Scouts?
We understand that economics necessarily plays an important role in your decision whether to preserve the lodge, or demolish it to build a new one. While preservation sometimes costs more than new construction, this is not always the case. Renovation and expansion of existing buildings just as often turns out to be more economical for the simple reason that reusing an existing structure reduces the need for that much new construction, not to mention the saved costs of demolition and disposal. Also, historic construction materials are typically of superior quality to materials available today. Finch Lodge is surely constructed of dense, clear grain, old-growth timber that could not be replaced today. Furthermore, wood hardens and becomes more durable with age. While a percentage of old material must often be replaced in a historic renovation project, this percentage is usually small enough to offset any increased labor costs that may result from working with existing construction. In order to be able to evaluate the economics of a potential preservation project compared to new construction, it is essential to engage an experienced preservation architect to prepare a feasibility study. Those not familiar with the principles and methods of historic preservation typically estimate excessively high costs, to account for uncertainties.
Finally, I do not think it inappropriate to talk about “the magic” of historic buildings. Finch Lodge has always been a magical retreat for young scouts, a place of rich forest smells, the sound of old wood boards underfoot, and the strong sense of the long tradition of scouting. That magic accrues over time and cannot be built into new construction, even when old materials are salvaged and reused. There is no substitute for the experience of occupying a historic lodge that our predecessors have used for over eighty years. The value of this experience, especially for an organization that emphasizes traditional values, is priceless.
Again and again, we at Spokane Preservation Advocates have seen how this magical quality of historic buildings can lead to economically successful rehabilitation projects. Historic buildings have a unique kind of value – a richness of experience – that cannot be replicated in new construction. The Davenport Hotel is one particularly prominent example of a recent preservation project that has turned this magical value into economic value. People want to stay at the Davenport because it is historic, and because it is historic, the Davenport has become one of the premiere symbols of Spokane. Surely Finch Lodge, if properly renovated and modernized for continued use, would similarly become not only a wise long-term economic investment, but a new symbol for the long history of the Boy Scouts in Washington.
We strongly encourage you to preserve the historic Finch Lodge for future generations. If we can be of any help as you weigh your options, please do let us know.
President, Spokane Preservation Advocates