CEDAR CITY Time is running out for a Cedar City landmark that once was mortgaged to build the city's first high school.
The Hunter House, 86 E. Center, slipped from the family's hands years ago and now belongs to the Catholic diocese. That purchase isn't sitting well with family members and friends of the 139-year-old dwelling, now that plans for the house involve a wrecking ball.
"We tried to buy it back. We said, 'Name your price,' but they said 'No,' " Haze Hunter said of his great-grandfather's brick home, built in 1866 on a corner lot in the thick of town.
Hunter, a former state legislator, heads a committee that hopes to move and restore the original portion of the home, which has been added on to twice over the years.
"I hope we can save part of it. People are knocking bricks off and stealing them," the 81-year-old Hunter said of the house, which was placed on the National Historic Register in 1982. "It makes me mad."
The Catholic diocese bought the property the house sits on to add parking for the church's thrift store, said George Vasconi, manager of the expansion project.
"It was a real estate purchase, a business decision," said Vasconi, adding the diocese purchased the property after being told rent would rise by 40 percent. "The seller knew he needed to raze the house and put in more parking, but it was also for sale, so we bought it. The house really can't be used for any purpose unless it can be moved."
Moving the original 1,500-foot section of the house to the Iron Mission State Park a few miles away could cost around $100,000, said Hunter. Another $50,000 is needed to build a new foundation, and to renovate and restore the moved section.
To Scott and Barbara Hunt, who own a bed-and-breakfast inn not far away, the idea of moving a portion of the old house doesn't make sense. Tearing it down to build a parking lot is nearly obscene to them.
"If you move it, then it loses any sense of history," said Barbara Hunt, who is pushing to save the entire house in its present location. "The only way it's going to be saved is if enough people voice their concern to the Catholic Church. I'm so sick of hearing that it's a business decision. No one is sticking up for this home."
But a business decision is likely what it will stay, said Vasconi.
At a June meeting of the Cedar City Redevelopment Agency, members voted 3-2 to allocate $100,000 to help move the original section of the house to the Iron Mission State Park. Those funds haven't materialized yet and time is running out, Vasconi added.
"I met with the city and gave them a 60-day extension," he said. "Those 60 days are up at the end of this week."
Both May Hunter and Barbara Hunt said they appealed to the producers of "Three Wishes," an NBC reality show that filmed an episode in Cedar City last week, to try and save the home.
"I talked to them and tried to get them to consider our wish to save the Hunter House, but they weren't interested," said May Hunter. "I think the project would have taken too long for them."
Barbara Hunt said "I guess it didn't meet their criteria. I also wrote the producers of 'This Old House,' to see if they want to help."
"Three Wishes" stars Amy Grant, a five-time Grammy Award winner, and centers on granting three major wishes proposed by residents of select cities around the country. The Cedar City episode should air sometime in mid- to late October. Among the wishes granted by the show were vacations for two couples with disabled spouses, and a gift of two fire engines for the Cedar City fire department.
If the city is unable to provide the money, the Hunter House is very much in danger of coming to a violent end.
"The position the council took was that they were supportive of the project, so long as the funds were available," said City Manager Jim Allen. "We should know by the end of September if we have the money. We need to make sure we have the funds to cover projects already approved."
May Hunter is saddened the family's old homestead is threatened.
"We are trying so hard to save our house," she said last week while showing another cousin the outside of the boarded-up home. "I love this house. When it was an antique store, sometimes I would just sit in it and imagine how it was when the family lived here."
May Hunter worries there is little time left to save the house.
"I know we'll get people to help if they just know about it," she said. "But we've got to hurry and do this or we could wake up one morning and it would be gone."
The Hunts also wish more people were aware of the home's likely demise.
"People don't know it's going to be razed for a parking lot," said Barbara Hunt. "Let's make it a landmark. It's on the corner of Center Street and U-89. It's rich in community and (LDS) church history."
Joseph Snedon Hunter arrived in Cedar City as a founding father at the request of then-LDS Church leader Brigham Young. He later mortgaged the house to help build the city's first high school and died there in July 1904.
To the Hunts, and to many of their patrons, saving the Hunter House means leaving it where it is.
"It's a very simple thing," said Barbara Hunt. "The oldest house in town can easily be saved and shouldn't be moved."
To others, it's a complex, expensive notion that doesn't fully address the rights of the property owner."I'm still waiting to hear back from the city," said Vasconi. "We don't have a time line (to raze the house), although we did remove the asbestos and have a demolition permit. We haven't put dates to it, but we're planning to go ahead with the project."
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