WalkAbout Boise brings city’s history, architecture to life
story and photography by Ken Levy
Steeped in history and classic design, downtown Boise’s amazing architecture acts as a time-machine, allowing passerby to view 150 years of our history simultaneously.
Get an intimate feel for the cultural diversity, beautiful designs, and stories behind these beautiful historic structures during WalkAbout Boise, a weekly guided walking tour that runs every Saturday in downtown Boise.
Led by knowledgeable docents, you’ll see some of the oldest and newest buildings downtown, many of which are associated with the city’s Basque, German, Jewish, and Chinese communities. You’ll see the Idaho State Capitol, the Egyptian Theater, and learn about the most renowned architects in the history of the city.
Taking a tour in this unique way affords new insight into the City of Trees.
For example, Dan Everhart, an architectural historian with the Idaho Transportation Department, took walkers on the one-hour tour in July. It started with the Cyrus Jacobs/ Uberuaga house on Grove Street in the Basque district. Built in 1864, it’s the oldest brick house in Boise. Jacobs was involved with mining and established himself in the mercantile business. The house was later used as a Basque boarding house from 1910-1969. Many Basque immigrants worked as shepherds in the valley, tending to their animals and many living in the field during the warm months. During the winter, however, they came back to Boise needing a place to stay. As the community expanded and grew, some of the earlier migrants established full-scale boarding houses.
Juan and Juana Anduiza developed a boarding house at 619 Grove St. known as the Anduiza Hotel and Fronton, built in 1914.
“It’s perhaps one of the most interesting buildings in the city,” Everhart said. “This is kind of a homecoming place for the Basque people.”
Rooms along the front of the building housed the family. Multiple rooms branched from a corridor where up to four men could stay in individual rooms. But the fascination really kicks in when visitors see the building’s huge indoor fronton, or Basque racquetball and handball court. It stands 50 feet high and 3,500 square feet large, and is an impressive sight to behold.
The city’s first telephone building, on Main Street west of Sixth, was built in 1899. Its façade is built from Boise sandstone, which comes from the hills to the north of the city, including the now famous Table Rock area.
Tourtellotte and Hummel designed the Pioneer Tent and Awning Building, on the northeast corner of Sixth and Main streets—it was completed in 1910. The company made tents and awnings for miners and pioneers that flocked here in the early twentieth century.
Considered by many to be the city’s most important architects of the time, Tourtellotte and Hummel also designed the Idaho Capitol Building, the center section of which was started in 1905 and completed in 1912.
As with most state capitol buildings, it was modeled after the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Stately columns rise from the base, and the dome is clad in terracotta with a gold leaf eagle at the top. The entire façade consists of Boise sandstone, with a beautiful Idaho granite trim.
Two blocks of buildings were removed to create Capitol Park, in order to allow viewing of the state house. Capitol Boulevard, once Seventh Street, leads towards the Capitol Building from the crown of the boulevard at the Union Pacific Depot.
Everhart said the depot, completed in 1925, was built in a Spanish mission style complete with red tile roof and an authentic stucco exterior. It was designed by the New York firm Carrere and Hastings.
Renowned architects Wayland and Fennel designed the 1903 central fire station on the corner of Idaho and Sixth streets. It housed Boise’s first professional fire department, designed to house horse-drawn fire carriages. Horses were housed in the first floor, with sleeping quarters and offices upstairs.
The Alexander Building was built by Moses Alexander, a German Jew who migrated to the U.S. in 1891.
Like many of his compatriots, Alexander was a merchant, and he established a clothing store downtown that bore his name. He was known as the “one-price clothier.” He established a chain of Alexander stores from Oregon to eastern Idaho, and became the mayor of Boise in 1897. He was the first Jewish governor of Idaho, or any other state, when he was elected in 1914.
In unrelated Idaho firsts, the five-story Idanha Hotel, built in 1900, was the most expensive—at $125,000—and tallest building in the state at the time. The French chateau–style grand hotel features turrets, pillars, and the state’s first elevator, Everhart said.
These historic glimpses are just a taste of how WalkAbout Boise brings new life to familiar landmarks during this intimate tour of the city’s historic past and present. Get your walking shoes on, bring your camera and experience a living Boise.
The program is a presentation of Preservation Idaho and begins at 11 a.m. Saturdays on Grove Street downtown in spring, summer and fall. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at preservationidaho.org/walkaboutboise.