They Don’t Make ‘em Like They Used To – Commemorating Historical Architect Frederick Walters’ 27 Years with IHT

2022 saw the retirement of one of the nation’s most respected historical architects, Mr. Frederick Walters. It has been a tremendous privilege to be associated with someone of such knowledge, integrity, skill, and grace as Fred. It is impossible to understate the impact he has had on preserving Idaho’s most beloved buildings and the stories they represent.

In order to commemorate his innumerable contributions, IHT has created the Frederick Walters Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation, which is awarded to projects that have demonstrated outstanding adherence to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Special consideration is given to projects that have demonstrated exemplary craftsmanship in the execution of the materials and methods of the project.

Fittingly, the first recipients of the award carrying his name are The Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Old Mission State Park of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation for their work preserving National Historic Landmark the Mission of the Sacred Heart and Parish House in Cataldo, ID. Fred holds this project as a highlight of his storied career. He worked closely with both groups on many aspects of this wide-ranging restoration effort, including fabricating period-appropriate 4-foot-long cedar shake shingles to bolster the roof and replacing several of the imposing classical columns on the church’s impressive exterior.

Fred took a long and winding road before being entrusted with such an important piece of Idaho history. In 1972, he was hired as a curator for the Idaho State Historical Society and undertook a survey of the 22 buildings under their remit. In doing so, he noticed that while talented, the architects in charge of these projects were ill-equipped and untrained to work on buildings of a certain age. Seeing a need, Fred went to England for a year to study the conservation of historic buildings. This experience cemented in him the desire to become an architect. In researching avenues to achieve this dream, Fred found that the National Organization for Architectural Accreditation had not yet removed Apprenticeship as an avenue to licensure. Following 14 years under the guidance of a pair of Boise architects, Fred challenged the registration exam, passed, and found himself a full-fledged architect despite his lack of a degree in the field.

Fred spent his first seven years as an architect doing historic preservation in Boise, then a subsequent seven years based out of Pennsylvania and working all across the East Coast. He and his family yearned to be back in the Northwest, however, and soon returned to Oregon. Shortly after their return in 1996, Fred was contacted by IHT’s then Executive Director Gaetha Pace for help with assessing the technical needs of IHT’s potential grant projects. The rest, as they say, is history, with Fred lending his considerable talent and expertise to all manner of projects in every nook and cranny of the Gem State.

In addition to Cataldo Mission, Fred’s other favorite project is the Experimental Breather Reactor at the Idaho Nuclear Lab facility near Arco, Idaho. Designed by Dupont engineers, it was the first nuclear reactor in the world. Fred found it so intriguing, because it helped answer the question, ‘How do you design a building that has never been done before?’ Things we would normally take for granted like, ‘How thick should the walls be and how should they be reinforced?’ just scratch the surface of the ingenuity that went into such a monumental project. And even with all the planning, there was still much trepidation among the scientists and engineers as to whether they could pull it off. Fred has in his collection a diary from one of the scientists working on the reactor, which has an entry that simply states: ‘I hope this works.’

And this is what truly sets Fred apart from his compatriots – his capacity to see the human element behind the façade of the buildings on which he works. Of the Cataldo Mission, he says, ‘It is really meant to tell a story, the story of the West. After Luther nailed his theses up, the Catholic Church decided to embark upon a 150-year mission of architectural renaissance to make Rome the city it is today, and for that influence to be felt all over the world. It is the story of the Jesuits undertaking this mission, being kicked out of Quebec, but not before converting many of the Iroquois. The same Iroquois who were hired as guides to take the Jesuits to Idaho. The story of conflict between the Salish people and the Plains Indians over buffalo hunting grounds. The ‘powers’ the Plains Indians expected to receive from the Jesuits in order to secure their lands against other tribes and settlers, and the fallout when these powers failed to manifest. That is the story of the Cataldo Mission to me.’

Fred was as much a teacher and storyteller as he was an architect and historian. His attention to detail was legendary, as were the lengths to which he went to replicate historical means and materials. But in all that, Fred never lost sight of the reason why such details are important – to accurately characterize the people and stories these buildings embody. They may not make ‘em like they used to, but, thanks to Fred, we can remake them all the same.

Congratulations to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Old Mission State Park of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and many thanks to them for exemplifying Fred’s principles in such an impactful way.

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