Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wonderful Wallace, Idaho: Quaint and gritty, town’s charms still glitter

This is from a September 2003 article in the Idaho Statesman newspaper.

Susan Whaley
The Idaho Statesman

It´s easy to see why the town of Wallace, which sits in a narrow forested valley in North Idaho, served as a setting for two films, “Heaven´s Gate” and “Dante´s Peak.”

Don´t blame Wallace for the movies´ poor showing at the box office. A set designer couldn´t create a more quaint streetscape than the brick Victorian-era buildings along Bank Street downtown. Throw in a photogenic railroad depot, historic neighborhoods and a deep green backdrop of trees on steep hillsides and you´re in business, baby.

But Wallace is more than a pretty face.
Visitors quickly learn that what lies beneath the surface is what truly has shaped the town since gold was discovered nearby in 1882. Eventually the mining camps became Wallace and other towns in the world-famous Silver Valley, home to some of the world´s richest mines.
Today, many of the mines have closed, the railroads are gone, the environment is cleaner, and Wallace´s wild and woolly past is past — but not forgotten.

Wallace highlights include:
  • The Oasis Bordello Museum is a reminder that Wallace once was known far and wide for its red light district. The Oasis is just exactly as it was when the “girls” left the building in 1988. The tacky furniture and 1960s-era decor is intact, along with clothes in the closets, butts in the ashtrays and boxes of food on kitchen shelves.
  • While strolling on Bank Street downtown, note the blinking traffic light. Before traffic was rerouted from the middle of town to the interstate, this intersection was the only one that stopped traffic on I-90 between Seattle and Boston.
  • Well-preserved homes dating to 1890 dot the residential neighborhoods. Look for houses that are narrow and long, typical of a town where land is scarce. Also of interest are long sets of steps that take pedestrians to neighborhoods on one-lane streets carved into the hillsides. Ask locals to point out the house where actress Lana Turner was born.
  • Many downtown buildings still retain the architectural details that give Wallace its quaint and gritty charm.

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