Known in recent decades for its haunted hospital tours, the old St.Ignatius Hospital has rested on a hill at the edge of Colfax for more than a century.
Now sagging from neglect and buried under foliage and undergrowth, the building and adjoined structures were purchased by Colfax couple and small-town tycoons Austin and Laura Storm in April.
The two have big ambitions for the space — if they can fix it up before it falls down.
The Storms, who own the curated vintage shop Bully For You in Colfax, and Moscow consignment shop the Storm Cellar, said their purchase of the space is a saga seven years in the making. They said they first laid eyes on the building in spring of 2014.
“When we saw it, I think we had like two reactions. One was, ‘I can’t believe that this cool building is here and we didn’t know it,’ and the other is that, ‘somebody needs to save this,’ ” Laura said. “Because it could easily fall down and go away ... it’ll join the list of buildings that you’re like, ‘how did people let that go?’ ”
Austin said since that first encounter, they’ve tried to purchase the building in earnest several times, but it never quite worked out. At one point, the space was sold to a Spokane man who turned out to be a con artist.
Among other schemes, Austin said the Spokane man was responsible for organizing “the Fyre Festival of Coeur d’Alene golf tournaments,” and is now serving an 11-year prison sentence.
After St.Ignatius ownership reverted back to its previous owners, they contacted the Storms. The call came just when the couple found themselves in a position to support such a project again. Austin said it had been a tumultuous year as the pandemic choked off revenues from their existing businesses.
At this early stage, the two have a tenuous, multifaceted plan to turn the space into an event center, boutique hotel and community space focused on art, but said “we know there’s room for it to evolve.”
“I always have too many ideas for my ideas — this is the first project where it … feels like, potentially, everything fits,” Austin said. “If you have an idea like, ‘Oh, there should be artists studios and rural artists residencies,’ — it fits, or ‘There should be a brewery or distillery here,’ — it fits.”
However, the Storms’ first and possibly toughest hurdle will be fixing 20 years of water damage that has caused beams to rot and joists to sag through the center of the building, affecting every floor. The two have launched a campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to pay for this early phase of repairs and have an anonymous donor that has pledged to match up to $50,000.
“That initial phase of jacking up the fallen floors so that we can fix the roof is kind of like a rescue mission, and honestly, we’re not totally sure how much that’s gonna cost,” Austin said. “We know we’ve got to do that part of it in order to have any building to preserve.”
Austin said St.Ignatius was founded by nuns in 1893 and was Whitman County’s main hospital until 1968. After that, he said it served alternating stints as an elder care facility and apartment complex until it became uninhabitable in 2003. Since that time, the old five-story facility with its peeling paint and crumbling lath and plaster walls has hosted “haunted hospital” tours, more than a handful of squatters and a pair of pigeons the Storms have named Bert and Ernie.
The property includes a number of adjoined, similarly dilapidated buildings, among them a smaller structure that was once a nursing school, root cellars overgrown with vines and a boiler house connected to the hospital through underground steam tunnels, which are now flooded.
As they walked through high, dark hallways and the occasional pool of musty water, they would often stop to point out arresting, brightly lit rooms or picturesque views framed by tall, arched windows. Throughout the tour, the Storms’s well-documented enthusiasm for old things was on full, obvious display as they cooed over debris-strewn, real terrazzo floors, second empire architecture and original transom windows.
“There’s just something truly beautiful about the way people built and designed things that I really think we’ve lost — I mean there are things on this building you cannot do (today),” Laura said.
“The skills also aren’t there anymore,” Austin agreed in their practiced way of talking past each other without interrupting.
“You just feel like it’s this little jewel and if you can hang on to it, you might make it another 100 years,” Laura added.
The two acknowledged that the project may be their most ambitious yet, in terms of money and time, but they do not seem deterred. Their voices gathered excitement as they speculated on the future of the space.
“We think of it as kind of a lifelong project — I mean we hope it doesn’t take that long, but … if you’re working on your house and you’re like ‘it’s never done,’ I’m like with this thing, for sure, we’ll always be tweaking something,” Laura said.
“Life is about finding projects that are big enough to devote significant portions of your life to them,” Austin agreed.
Those interested in following the Storms as they work to improve St.Ignatius Hospital can follow them on Instagram at instagram.com/stignatiuscolfax/ or contribute to the cause at igg.me/at/stignatius.
Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.