Grandchildren of a co-founder of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum are trying to kick the museum out of its 105 N. Glenwood St. location.
In a lawsuit filed against the museum in September, Susan Scarlett Walker and James R. Richards claim the museum has failed to keep the historic building in good condition, in violation of their lease.
“The defendant had a contractual obligation to maintain the property in good repair including structural repairs during the term of the lease,” the landlords, represented by attorney Inga Parsons, state in their initial complaint. “The defendant defaulted on that contractual obligation.”
The complaint goes on to ask Judge Timothy Day to declare that the museum illegally refused to leave the property after landlords terminated the lease and to require the museum to vacate the property.
The 105 N. Glenwood building dates to 1906 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. History Museum co-founder Homer Richards signed over the property to co-founder Slim Lawrence in 1977 for use as a history museum for a rent of $1,000 per year through 2076, according to the lease obtained by the Jackson Hole Daily.
It’s one of three locations the Historical Society and Museum currently uses. The museum owns its main facility on North Cache, but leases the land underneath the building. It will soon lose its property on Mercill, currently used for storage and educational programming, when the county converts it to affordable housing. The 105 N. Glenwood land is used to display primarily Native American historical exhibits, but it operates only in the summer season due to its age.
The museum is asking voters to approve $4.4 million in specific purpose excise tax funds in an election Tuesday, to help it purchase a permanent home at the downtown Cafe Genevieve block.
Museum Executive Director Morgan Jaouen said the landlords’ suit underscores the museum’s need to buy its own land for a secure future, as leases have proved unstable.
But Jaouen said the historic Glenwood property remains essential to the museum’s operations, regardless of whether the SPET is approved.
“It provides that additional satellite exhibit space in the summer when we see so many visitors at the museum,” Jaouen said. “It allows us to display more of our collection, which is a real benefit to the organization, to our community, to our visitors.”
Homer Richards died in 1989. His grandchildren Susan Scarlett Walker, of Idaho, and James Richards, of Oregon, inherited the property this year, according to land records.
The lease states that the building must be kept in good condition, the exceptions being natural wear and tear or a structural fire. The building’s owners say the Historical Society is in violation of those terms, citing items like minor cracks in the foundation, peeling walls and water damage in the roof.
“It is undisputed that the roof in this case was not in good repair and there was damage due to the tenant’s failure to timely have the snow removed,” the lawsuit states.
In its answer to the complaint, the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, represented by attorney Matthew Turner, denies the allegations.
“My position is the museum has maintained that property in very good condition and repair,” Turner said.
Jaouen said the museum has maintained the functionality and safety of the historic building for years. She said Homer Richards entered into this lease to benefit the Historical Society and Museum for 99 years, and the museum is the beneficiary of the space for the next 57 years.
“We’re in the space providing a public benefit to this community, which is what Homer believed in, it’s what he hoped for,” Jaouen said. “We wish his heirs were sympathetic to his intentions and we are not really sure where this is coming from.”
In 2018, the Historical Society commissioned Dubbe Moulder Architects and Y2 Consultants to complete an inspection as part of a routine review of its properties.
“While the building is in need of some very minor work, the overall condition of the building is good and if proper steps are taken to maintain the building, it could remain a great asset to the area,” the inspection report states.
Kurt Dubbe, who completed the 2018 assessment, said the building is in good enough shape to house “historical artifacts and human beings.” The 113-year-old building has “structural integrity challenges” because of its age, he said.
In court records, the museum further claims that the new landlords are violating a good faith and fair dealing agreement by trying to terminate the lease, and because of that the complaint should be dismissed by the court.
The museum’s attorney argues that the landlords are “responsible for repairing any structural deficiencies within the subject building” and that the museum “has been and continues to be in full compliance with the terms of the lease.”
Parsons, the landlords’ attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.