Just a couple of years ago, the future of the historic downtown block that is home to the Van Vleck home, now Cafe Genevieve, was up in the air: Developers had targeted the valuable parcels for another new hotel, though they had left the door open for someone to pony up to save 1910 home of early settler Roy Van Vleck and his wife, Genevieve, a member of the historic 1920 all-woman Jackson Town Council, along with other historic structures and cherished green space.
A massive community-wide “Save the Block” movement was launched, and the more than $7 million raised not only spared the block from the wrecking ball, preserving the historic buildings in perpetuity, but also gave the owners of its resident businesses — Cafe Genevieve, Persephone Bakery, and Healthy Being Juicery — the chance to permanently secure their homes there.
It also preserved much of the north side of the block for coveted green space, which has become more and more scarce throughout the town — particularly on property in such close proximity to the pricy downtown area and Town Square — as condominium, apartment and hotel development has thrived.
And a chunk of the southeast side of the block, where the red house currently sits, will soon become home to a new headquarters and museum for the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.
While the red residential structure that currently occupies the space will have to be removed to make room for the new museum, “we are working with [local house preservation organization] Shacks on Racks to move this house and have it continue being used as a residence,” said Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum Executive Director Morgan Jaouen.
At the same time, the historical society is forging ahead with fundraising for its planned museum, which Jaouen said will adhere to the town’s western character guidelines and ideals, and take into account input of the public.
Jaouen declined to give an estimated cost for the museum at this point, citing the moving targets of construction costs and potential changes to design elements of the facility. Some of the overall cost is covered by $4.4 million of special purpose excise tax funds approved by voters in November 2019. Other big chunks of funding came from an anonymous “angel investor,” said Jaouen, the Jackson Hole Land Trust and community donors who stepped forward to prevent the looming hotel construction.
“The museum is currently taking public input and refining the initial design of the new museum and campus,” she said. “Our next steps will be working on construction documents and cost estimates, which should be ready near the end of 2021.”
However, Jaouen and historical society Communications Director Kirsten Corbett did take time to walk the News&Guide through the schematics of the planned structure. Among the many features of the planned two-story structure, plus a basement, will be space for rotating exhibits highlighting the area’s past and classroom space to accommodate up to 30 people for educational opportunities.
Perhaps most exciting about the new museum will be the inclusion of the historic “Shane” and “Karns” cabins. The Shane Cabin was built in 1951 for the Alan Ladd-Jean Arthur film of the same name, while the Karns Cabin has an even longer history. It was built in the 1890s as part of the original Karns homestead. Both will be moved to the property from where they are currently being stored in West Jackson and incorporated into the design of the museum, Jaouen explained.
“So, we have these really great, authentic cabins that we’re excited to let shine on this property,” Jaouen said. “And then we are designing what we believe to be complementary new space that complements our historic buildings, is sensitive to our historic neighbors, is connected and kind of integrated into the new space or into the green space, but then is also ... meeting the needs of a modern museum and community center, which is essentially what the Historical Society and Museum is.”
The two cabins are sited to the north of the new facility. Visitors will be able to walk through the Shane Cabin, famous from the 1953 George Stevens film “Shane,” but the age of the Karns Cabin and its unique “V-notched” architecture will preclude patrons from entering it, though they will be able to view it from outside, Jaouen said.
The rest of the block will be filled by the now-completed 1.2-acre green space, or Genevieve Park, where visitors and passersby can view a sliver of Cache Creek, and existing businesses it waters. The whole block was replatted by the town to allow the owners of Cafe Genevieve, Persephone and Healthy Being Juicery to buy the property on which their businesses reside, as long as they were willing to abide by newly applied conservation easements, which require the buildings to be maintained in perpetuity.
It was an opportunity not taken lightly by the business owners.
Persephone Bakery owner Ali Cohane, for example, told the News&Guide last year that they jumped at the chance to keep their business in its home essentially next-door to Town Square.
“We love our home there,” she said. “That’s why we’re purchasing it, so we can stay there forever.”
In keeping with the communal spirit of the Genevieve block, the historical society has no plans to overshadow — literally or figuratively — its neighbors.
“We were very intentional about stepping back from the Healthy Being Juicery cabin, which is a one-story, small log cabin,” Jaouen said. “And so we certainly did not want to overwhelm them, and the log cabins beyond. So that’s why we made sure to kind of complement that height [on the west side of the museum], and then concentrate the two-story mass on Bruun Boulevard and Broadway and this kind of matches the height of the development and buildings across the street.”