Bank Street: Wallace, Idaho


During the course of its 126-year history, Bank Street has brushed up against fate — and total ruin — three times. The street was rebuilt twice after two devastating forest fires around the turn of the 20th century, including the largest in U.S. history in 1910. Sixty years later, Bank Street began its third dance with death when the Federal Highway Administration proposed razing most of the street's historic buildings to route Interstate 90 through the center of town. The small mining town of 900 residents, led by businessman Harry F. Magnuson, defeated the federal proposal.

Designated Area

Ten blocks between I-90 to the east and King Street to the west.

The proximity of the Panhandle National Forest creates a picturesque backdrop for Bank Street's historic buildings, rebuilt twice after devastating forest fires around the turn of the century. It is not uncommon for pedestrians to see elk or deer grazing in the hillsides. Photo courtesy of Scott Lasley.

Planning Excellence

Just as compelling as its history are the magnificent views Bank Street affords of the surrounding Panhandle National Forest. Hillsides press so close it is not uncommon for pedestrians to see grazing elk or deer. Unbroken rows of three-story, brick Queen Anne architecture line both sides of the street, forming a perfect foreground to the picturesque mountains. Just a few hundred yards from Bank Street is the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, an abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way that hikers and bikers now use to reach the surrounding wilderness.

The town's mining culture still resonates strongly along Bank Street. Settled at the end of the 19th century, Wallace became one of the country's most prosperous silver mining towns and the heart of the "Silver Valley" almost overnight. Ore carts from the mines are now used as outdoor flower pots by many of the businesses along the street, while old style trolleys take visitors on narrated tours around Wallace and to a nearby silver mine for an underground walk guided by retired miners.

Wallace citizens defeated a federal proposal to transform Bank Street to a six-lane highway to accommodate I-90 traffic. Seen in the distance, I-90 is routed on an overpass at the east end of the street. Photo courtesy of Shauna Hillman.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Silver Mining Heritage

  • Wallace's first street rebuilt after the 1890 fire and a significant portion of Wallace Historic District (added to National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and expanded in 1984)
  • Town originally settled in 1884 by its namesake Col. W.R. Wallace, a prospector who was looking for gold but discovered silver
  • Architecture from turn of 20th century because of devastating fires in 1890 and 1910 (second fire burned three million acres of forest, still the largest fire in North American history)
  • Neoclassical Revival-styled Shoshone County Courthouse (700 Bank St.,  built 1905); famous lawyer Clarence Darrow argued cases there
  • City's planning, zoning, and historic commission responsible for review, approval of new construction and renovations to keep historic character intact

I-90 Litigation and Overhead Bypass

  • Bank Street originally part of I-90; before 1991 the interstate followed Bank Street through downtown, then resumed as freeway on east side of Wallace
  • In 1970 Idaho Department of Transportation (IDT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) propose expanding I-90 through Wallace; virtually all of Bank Street's buildings would be removed
  • Wallace resident Harry F. Magnuson sues IDT and FHA for failing to file an Environmental Impact Statement for the project; first time a government proposal is challenged under National Environmental Policy Act
  • Compromise reached in 1984 to construct an overhead bypass for I-90 east of Wallace; city's victory piques interest of national media, including CBS's "On the Road" correspondent Charles Kuralt
  • Famous stoplight at intersection of Bank Street and 7th Street ceremoniously removed after bypass completed and given elaborate, New Orleans-style funeral; on exhibit at Wallace District Mining Museum (509 Bank St.); was only stoplight along 3,100 miles of I-90 between Boston and Seattle
  • Original routing of I-90 through Wallace, including part of Bank Street, designated Harry F. Magnuson Way in 2010

Serves as Town Center

  • No vacant lots or abandoned properties along street; 37 total buildings in commercial district, all of which contribute to historic designation
  • In 1996, Universal Studios spiffed up facades along street for filming of the action film Dante's Peak starring Pierce Brosnan
  • Local improvement district created in 1991; funds used for early 1900s-styled lampposts, trash receptacles, street banners and flower baskets, and pedestrian bridge with access to large parking area one block from Bank Street
  • The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is just a few hundred yards from Bank Street; 72-mile-long hiking and biking trail spanning almost the entire Idaho Panhandle uses abandoned Union Pacific rail line

A U.S. Forest Service procession of mules makes its way down Bank Street during the 1910 Fire Commemoration parade prepared to fight forest fires as they did 100 years ago. Photo courtesy of Dean Cooper.