In one of Jackson’s oldest and best preserved neighborhoods, every building is precious.
That’s how Katherine Wonson, chairwoman of the Teton County Historic Preservation Board, explained the board’s decision to stall the demolition of a home on East Pearl Avenue, a street that begot the broader East Jackson area and that remains remarkably untouched by modern development.
It’s not that any particular building is especially noteworthy — Wonson said they may not have made the effort to save 230 East Pearl if it were an isolated structure — but taken as a whole, the neighborhood represents crucial early eras in Jackson’s evolution.
It’s one of the few places in town, she said, where “you can still get that sense of place on an entire street block.”
Every house torn down and replaced is a chip in its historical integrity.
“This to me is kind of the beginning of the dominoes falling on East Pearl,” she said.
Elected officials agreed to delay a demolition permit for the site by 90 days. That grace period buys time for preservationists to either make a deal with the property owner to keep the building where it stands or arrange to move it elsewhere.
Esther Judge, who transports historic homes to more suitable locations through her company Shacks on Racks, said she has been unable to get in touch with the owner. But the building is “very moveable,” she said. If all else fails, she and her husband are willing to relocate it on their own Hog Island property, rather than see another “fabulous house” go to waste.
“We’ve seen a lot get knocked down,” Judge said. “My heart just can’t take it.”
The building is a white bungalow, built in 1935. It was part of the Van Vleck block on Pearl between Willow Street and Gros Ventre Street, originally owned and subdivided by Genevieve Van Vleck, one of Jackson’s founding figures.
The neighborhood around it retains many of the original buildings from the first half of the 20th century, with the majority dating from 1927 to 1950.
In a 2011 report on the area, architectural historian Elizabeth Engle referenced its “threatened status.”
“Many neighboring streets,” Engle wrote, “which once matched Pearl Avenue with historic homes, have recently seen a great construction boom that replaced many old cottages with larger, modern residences.”
But, in what Engle called an “unforeseen blessing,” the Pearl properties have been spared through every major construction trend of the past few decades — perhaps because, unlike many other parts of East Jackson, they don’t boast views of the Tetons.
The building in question reflects a young Jackson, still a modest ranching town. But its surroundings offer a sweeping view of the town over its formative decades.
From the time of the homesteaders to the post-war era to the tourism boom of the 1950s, Engle wrote that the early buildings “are significant less for their architecture, and more as representations of social developments in the town of Jackson.”