7 Wonders of Boise 

Some hidden wonders in the City of Trees

The Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Pharos Lighthouse, the Boise Hole.

OK, so maybe the infamous Boise landmark doesn't quite measure up to some of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but Boise does have a few notable locations/creations worthy of notice. We're calling them the Seven Wonders of Boise, and while none of them measure up to the Pyramids at Giza, wouldn't you rather see a two-headed calf than a pile of rocks, however artistically stacked they may be?



Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

We go both close to the ground and close to heaven with our first wonder: the oldest continuously operating synagogue west of the Mississippi. Nope, you read that right. The Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel (beloved house of Israel) synagogue was dedicated on Aug. 30, 1896. Now located south of Morris Hill Cemetery at 11 N. Latah St., the synagogue began its long, illustrious life downtown at the corner of 11th and State streets about 30 years after Idaho's first Jewish residents arrived all the way back in the 1860s. Founders included Moses Alexander, a successful merchant who later became Boise's mayor and the United States' first Jewish governor.

The Moorish Revival house of worship was designed by architects from St. Louis and features a Romanesque interior, keyhole arches, pastel stained-glass windows and--a novelty for the time--electric lights (no word on whether they've been replaced with energy-efficient LEDs). The synagogue was listed on the United States Register of Historic Places in 1973.

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

But, as buildings with massive sandstone foundations are wont to do, it was up and moved across the river and up the hill in October 2003. Its new neighbor is a post-modern education center that was built after the move.

Just driving by this historic landmark is enough to give you a little spiritual enlightenment, but if you'd rather get a little one-on-one time with this religious wonder, call ahead to schedule a tour.



Deja Moo

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

There's one Boise resident who has been solidly freaking out children and families for more than 50 years. Visitors can find him nearly any day of the week hanging out next to the bar, where he's been almost since the day he died.

The good thing is that he's always got company, he just has to look at the other head attached to his body.

Deja Moo is the stuffed two-headed calf who has been the resident attraction at the Idaho State Historical Museum since not long after he was born on a Jerome ranch in 1950 and died a few days later. He (they?) have stood sentinel in the museum's 1880s C.W. Smith wooden bar, which was used in various Boise locations for more than 70 years.

He proved so popular that a plush, and slightly less-creepy version of Deja Moo was created a few years ago. The two-headed stuffed version sold in the museum's gift shop has its own fan base, and in the process has become a bit like the infamous wandering gnome. The museum keeps a scrapbook of pictures sent in by visitors who couldn't resist taking Deja Moo with them wherever they went. Photographs feature the fuzzy bi-cranial critter at such world-famous sites as the Berlin Wall and the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps the highest-ranking traveler to adopt a mini Moo was Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in town recently to meet with folks at Micron. Lee's photo includes an autograph.



Aspen Lofts

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

Here's a "wonder" that's probably the most noticeable from just about anywhere in the city. Just look up, way up--17 stories to be exact.

Perched on sliver of land, at 851 W. Front St., is The Aspen, the improbable building that had many a Boise driver flinching during the construction phase as they passed the massive cranes hoisting steel beams into the air over busy city streets.

In this epitome of downtown luxury living are three penthouse units, including one that is a roughly 4,200-square-foot, four-bedroom/three-and-a-half bath home featuring finishes and amenities that could have any high-end dwelling weeping in jealousy.

Passersby on the street below (at least those walking around with their necks craning upward) can't help but notice the two-story windows—22 feet tall—that provide one of the most spectacular views of the city's skyline and Foothills to the north and east, and of the Boise Depot and Owyhee Mountains to the south and west.

We wouldn't mind hanging out on the penthouse's expansive terrace as the sun peaks over the horizon, pondering the force with which a water balloon would hit the sidewalk below. We may be able to distract ourselves from small acts of public nuisance by taking an invigorating dip in the 8- by 16-foot lap pool that allows you to swim in place against the pump-generated current. We're used to paddling against the flow, so we're sure we'd feel right at home.

Also high on our amenities list is the indoor doggie area on the ninth floor. The exterior balcony's decking features extra drains and a special K-9 Astroturf covering used in dog kennels that makes maintaining sanitary conditions—and your pooch's potty break—a lot more convenient if you don't have the willpower to take Fido all the way down the elevator to go for an actual walk.

But the most wonder-worthy aspect of The Aspen is the actual building itself. The pride and joy of developer Scott Kimball was shoehorned onto a lot just 33 feet wide and 180 feet long, situated between one of the city's busiest streets and a parking garage. Kimball managed to take in-fill development to a whole new level. No wonder he and the Aspen Lofts won the 2008 Idaho Smart Growth Award. Plus, it's not downtown brown. Need we say more?

The condo can be yours for just $3,599,500--will that fit on your check?



J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

While Deja Moo might be slightly macabre, this wonder is a little hardcore. The J. Curtis Earl Memorial exhibit at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary puts visitors in a life-sized diorama of mankind's quest to build bigger, better and louder weapons.

A part-time Boise resident who passed away in July 2000, Earl found a flint arrowhead at the age of 7. His discovery sparked a lifelong passion for antique weapons that culminated 60 years later with the donation of his collection­—with an estimated value of more than $5 million—to the Idaho State Historical Society. He topped that gift off with another $600,000 to display and protect the exhibit, which traces the history and evolution of armaments across a span of 5,500 years.

The world-class collection features everything from beautiful and seemingly delicate Bronze Age knives to a Soviet MiG-15 jet fighter. Of course, if you want to gape at the plane, you'll have to make a side trip to Arizona. The museum hasn't been able to locate a pilot who knows how to fly the thing. Anybody out there with that particular skill set?



Basque Tree Carvings

You'll have to leave town to see this wonder. But, if you're not into snowmobiling, snowshoeing or winter survival, we'd recommend waiting until at least late spring before making the trek.

While the Basque tree carvings may be buried in snow right now, you can find them—eventually—on a day trip to the Boise National Forest. The best sites are in the Coulter Summit area northeast of Idaho City and on Thorn Creek Butte.

Just what are Basque tree carvings? Well, if you ask academics, they'll inform you that's the vulgar name for culturally modified trees. We're still not sure exactly what that means, but most of us are like Dr. John Bieter, who heads Boise State's Center for Basque Studies—and who happens to be the brother of a certain mayor of a certain capital city if Idaho—and will tell you they represent a Basque sheepherder's way of staving off boredom.

Since the late 1800s, Basque sheepherders would while away their slack time cutting messages or images into the bark of aspen trees as they trailed sheep through the mountains of Idaho, Nevada and Northern California. The gouges became permanent when the aspen bark scabbed over and healed. They range in subject matter from the Basque equivalents of "Kilroy was here" and "Go Broncos!" to political statements and artwork.

If the patience to wait for the snow to melt is not in your blood, you're in luck. Boise is home to the nation's only Basque Museum and Cultural Center on—where else?—the Basque Block (611 Grove St.). And it just so happens to have a tree carving on display.

In the not-too-distant future, you'll also have the opportunity--thanks, in part, to a BW Cover Auction grant--to enjoy art based on the carvings. The Basque Project made digital images of the carvings for use in a mural, which will soon adorn the yard of the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga house on the Basque Block.

As for that aforementioned spring day trip to the Boise Mountains, Bieter suggests checking in with the folks at the Idaho City ranger station before you go.



The Judge Charles P. McCarthy House

How many homes do you know of that have an actual name? Well, you'd name your house, too, if it were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Yup, that Frank Lloyd Wright.

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

You may not have heard of this abode, but if you traverse the intersection of West Fort and North 15th streets on a regular basis, you've probably driven right by a thousand times. Located at 1415 W. Fort St., across from the North Junior High School athletic fields, this house is downright famous in architectural circles—its been on the U.S. Historic Register since 1979. Its fame comes not from the man after whom it was named but because of who designed it.

You've been driving past a house designed by America's most famous and, arguably, most influential architect without even knowing it. But don't feel too abashed, you're far from being the only one.

The prairie school-style home was built in either 1909 or 1913, depending on whether you want to take the Ada County Assessor's Office or the Historic Register's word on the matter. The home was valued at $343,000 in 2009 and $503,100 a year earlier, according to the Assessor's Office.

The home was originally designed with four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, but the two-story 4,876-square-foot home has since been subdivided into two units. Do you think Wright actually rolled over in his grave?



Neighborhood Markets

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

Even if you can't afford to live in a famous turn-of-the-20th-century house, you can still shop in one of three historic neighborhood markets that have been around almost as long as the city has, or at least it can seem that way.

The Hollywood Market at 1319 N. Eighth St. is the grande dame of the trio, with its actual founding lost in the pre-1900 mists of time. And Hollywood owner Margaret Lawrence is the indisputable grande dame of proprietors. She'll turn 94 in March, and she's been working at the store pretty much every day since she bought it more than 30 years ago.

While Lawrence may be the most famous a neighborhood fixture, the signs, posters, knickknacks and kitsch that line the market's walls and shelves rank a close second in the strangely hypnotic appeal of the place.

click to enlarge GLENN LANDBERG

The Roosevelt Market at 311 N. Elm St. was established in 1900, around the same time as the Hollywood Market. It's also owned by women, but proprietors Susan Wilder and Nicki Monroe have been at the game only since June 2004, when they purchased the store, which was a shuttered shell at the time. Neither knew what they were getting into, Monroe admitted, but they've made a go of it by running the establishment from what she called "a mother's perspective."

That means that in addition to the basics, the market features a coffee bar and a host of baked goodies, soups and sandwiches, as well as a handful of indoor tables and a front patio, making Roosevelt market the most lived-in of the neighborhood markets.

Jerry's 27th Street Market (pictured above) at 819 N. 27th is a gem of its own description. We just love the fact that Jerry's is actually owned by a guy named Jerry. What's more, he bought it in 1948 from another guy named Jerry. Try and find that kind of wonderful serendipity at your big-box or franchise.

Sure, the markets all features a full line of the prerequisite convenience-store essentials: beverages, chips, candy, smokes and other unhealthy things, but you can get those anywhere. What you can't get at a gas stations is that century-old vibe.

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