Investing in history
Jerry Myers couldn't watch a piece of Pocatello's past head to the landfill. Why he's giving the Gasser house a real, sympathetic renovation
• by Rebecca Long Pyper •
WHAT DO YOU GET when you take a 97-year-old house, add a vacant winter and sprinkle in 268,000 gallons of water courtesy of broken pipes?
You get a messed-up foundation sunken 8 to 12 inches in some places. You get doors and windows hanging from crooked frames and refusing to open. And you get a teardown recommendation from the city.
But sometimes an unknown variable throws a wrench into the most predictable equation, and this time the wild card came in the form of Jerry and Debbie Myers.
As an architect, Jerry has overseen years of new and historic projects and even built three homes south of town. But nostalgia lured him back into the city and convinced him to buy what otherwise was destined for the landfill.
“I grew up three blocks away,” Jerry said. “I like the neighborhood. I like older houses. I like the stories they could tell if walls could speak.”
And to be honest there was a lot to love about the house, damage notwithstanding. Stained-wood millwork meant this home was at one time custom. The original living-room fireplace mantel was pristine. Ceilings were high, the plaster was repairable and hardwood floors hid just below pink carpet. Those features, coupled with a little local history, distinguished the house from others in Pocatello.
“This is not the Standrod house, but it’s only had one-family ownership,” Jerry said. “It’s an important house in the neighborhood.”
The home was built in 1915 for Ivan and Lucille Gasser and later belonged to their son Blaine, who after serving in World War II returned to Pocatello and affiliated with The Peoples’ Store, a clothing and dry goods shop his grandfather George Gasser founded in 1892. After closing the store in 1962, Blaine began work at the Turner Insurance Agency. A champion of Pocatello, Blaine did more than bolster the economy with his locally run businesses; he also served as Pocatello Kiwanis president, Pocatello Chamber of Commerce member and more than 50 years as a Pocatello Chief and was a life member of the local Elks Lodge. He passed away Sept. 28, 2010.
Which left his house vacant until Jerry bought it from Blaine’s daughters after one heck of a winter did its worst to the place. Repairs and renovations started in May 2012, and they’ve been major. The house was jacked up while the foundation was replaced and basement repoured. And maybe as a sign of good karma, when the house was lowered onto its new footings, those crooked frames straightened and the stuck doors swung open.
The house got new plumbing and electrical, and outside the roof was redone, the porch was replaced — right down to the original bricks being cleaned up and relaid — and sod and sprinklers were installed.
And though there are some new features — a new master bedroom where a screened porch once stood and a bigger garage, for instance — the house will largely look as it did in its heyday. The kitchen’s to-the-ceiling cabinets are sticking around; so is the built-in dining-room buffet with leaded-glass doors. Original windows will stay, which will give passersby a peek at the decades-old chandelier being rewired and rehung.
“We’re staying pretty consistent with what it was — [but] we’re certainly taking off seven to eight layers of wallpaper,” Jerry said.
The projected wrap-up date is March, just in time for Jerry and Debbie to move some chairs to the porch and enjoy the fruits of their labors and the fact that they did something good for the community too.
“This house weighs 71 tons, so if you figure out what the cost of that is to the landfill, that’s a pretty big negative (we've avoided),” Jerry said. “I feel pretty strongly about good community development.”
And when all is said and done, Jerry is looking forward to moving back to a bungalow in the neighborhood where he fell in love with houses in the first place. “It’s just a great house,” he said. “It has been a huge project with a capital ‘P.’ It will be a great place to move into and fun place to live. It will always be the Gasser house.”