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From an 1871 report in the Idaho Statesman--then a tri-weekly paper--there comes this rather patronizing citation: "The Chinese population are planting gardens here pretty extensively. They are so patient and puttering that they do well."
They did their patient puttering so well, in fact, that some Chinese families were able to grow their gardens into thriving truck farms by the 1920s and beyond. However, most of the land the Chinese farmed on was leased, and following World War II, the nature of Garden City began to change radically. The land was sold, subdivided into smaller plots, and the gardeners moved on.
In 1949, the residents incorporated themselves into a village, independent of Boise City. This action was taken primarily because the state Legislature had made gambling a matter of local option, and while Boise opted to ban gambling, Garden City opted to embrace it.
It was at this point Garden City began to accrue the patina of shabbiness that, to this day, refuses to be entirely polished away. Gambling joints, bars and night spots sprung up like mushrooms along the village's main thoroughfare, U.S. Highway 20, which would be referred to locally as Chinden Boulevard. It has never been documented, but there were even rumors of brothels tucked away on dirt back-streets below the Bench and marijuana being cultivated in thickets along the river by itinerant musicians.
Gambling was outlawed statewide only four years later, in 1953, but Garden City seems unable to fully escape that small piece of the past. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the town became a magnet for strip clubs, pornography shops, honky-tonk saloons and people who could not afford to live elsewhere. Mobile homes were then, as now, the cheapest housing available, and by the early 1990s, there were almost 30 trailer parks within city limits.
Adventuring onto the side streets off Chinden Boulevard, there is today a maze of trailers, storage facilities, small industrial concerns, salvage yards, open pastures, one-man garage operations and housing, both up-scale and down, all thrown together as though the word "zoning" had never been heard west of Joe's Crab Shack.
As far back as the 1960s, city officials and business leaders have been holding forth the promise of rehabilitation for their town. But change has never come to Garden City easily, and when it does, it is usually accompanied by a healthy dose of drama.
"The problem is, we don't like people telling us what to do here in Garden City. We know as well as anybody we got a few messes down here. But as soon as someone comes along and says, 'Hey buddy, clean up that mess,' we start getting our hackles up. Know what I mean? That makes Garden City a great place for doing business, but not such a great place to look at," explains Ken Eudighet, owner of Ken's Used Auto Sales.
For longtime Garden City residents, nobody has ever typified the "Don't tell me what to do!" attitude better than Don Smitch, mayor of the city from 1960 until he went to the Idaho State Penitentiary in 1967. It was said that Smitch, owner of what was then the largest pawn shop in Garden City, ran both the city and his pawnery from a barstool in the now-defunct T&A Club, and that on a regular basis, he freely mixed city business with that of his own.
Eventually, the Ada County Prosecutor's Office gathered proof that Smitch, as mayor, was approving the purchase of used bicycles from his own pawn shop. The bicycles were then donated to indigent citizens under a Smitch-initiated program he titled, "Pedal Your Way To A Living Wage." The bikes inevitably ended up back at Don's Pawn, only to be resold to the city.
The mayor was indicted on charges that earned him a nine-year prison term. However, it was well-known among Garden City insiders that Smitch was the power behind the throne and that he continued to run the city from his cell up until his death in 1972 from, ironically, a suspicious accident involving a stationary bicycle in the exercise yard.
Eudighet remembers the incident.
"Yeah, I remember old Smitch. I heard they pulled 17 spokes out of his vital organs and a sprocket chain from around his neck. Some accident, huh?"
Following the passing of "Boss Smitch," the governance of Garden City degenerated into near chaos. Within a two-year stretch, there were four mayors, and between 1977 and 1982, there were five recall elections. The root of this turmoil was inevitably the conflict between those who wanted Garden City's image to improve, and those who wanted Garden City's live-and-let-live attitude to remain inviolate.
Today, with a population of just less than 12,000, Garden City appears to be on the verge of transitioning out of the reputation that has for so long plagued it. Both north and south of the Boise River sit million-dollar homes and up-scale retail sectors. Until the GBGCAF sprung up, the days of rancorous politics and feuding factions seemed to be a thing of the past.
The city even has its own motto--"Catch the Excitement"--introduced in 2007. That spirit of optimism is what has city leaders gnashing their teeth over the GBGCAF initiative.
"We think it's a joke, what these Goodbye Garden City people are trying to do," says Gretchen Hanzle, spokeswoman for the city's administration. "You can't just go around seceding from cities anytime there's something you don't like about it. That would be utter chaos.
"Take Boise, for instance. Would it be OK for the Republicans to secede from Boise just because they don't like having a Democratic mayor? Or in Meridian, should the anti-DeWeerders feel free to secede from the pro-DeWeerders? You see what I'm saying, don't you? It would be like the Balkans, only worse. Soccer mom Kuna splitting off from cowboy Kuna. Nampa throwing the Nampa-Caldwell Strip out of the city limits like it's some kind of undesirable bum or something. This kind of thing just won't work."
Hanzle wants observers to know that even if the initiative passes--and it is expected to--legal challenges will ensue for years to come.
"The city intends to go all the way," says Hanzle. "We even have a lawyer."
Garden City officials could not be reached for comment, but former City Councilman Howard "Howdy" Deauday claims to know how the administration feels about the initiative that has already divided his town regardless of whether it passes or not.
"The whole City Council is staying tight as head lice during mating season on this one," Deauday says. "If that bunch of Goodbye GC snots want a fight, they got it."
Deauday and his brother Cawl T. are owners of a small-engine repair business that has called Garden City home for more than 30 years. Deauday continues, "You know, the way they've gone and redrawn the map, our new City Hall would be in their new town. Does it get any screwier than that?"