Getting the Bandshell Back Together 

"Rather than just rebuild what had been destroyed, we thought, let's improve some features to make the bandshell more performer-friendly and a more attractive venue."

click to enlarge April 23, 2018 - BOISE FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Boise Fire Department
  • April 23, 2018

When a human-caused fire tore through the Gene Harris Bandshell in Julia Davis Park almost a year ago on April 23, 2018, the Boise Fire Department feared it would be a total loss. But the smoke cleared, and the bandshell stood—though the fire had caused significant damage to the roof and walls of the 90-year-old structure.

Earlier this month, Boise Parks and Recreation announced that the plans to repair and restore the structure were very nearly set. And though the topic has been somewhat out of the news since last year, it hasn't been out of mind for many Boiseans.

"I get questions about this almost weekly: What's happening with the bandshell?" Doug Holloway, director of Boise Parks and Rec, told Boise Weekly.

Boise-based Trout Architects presented plans for an estimated $430,000 repair and restoration project, funded by the city's insurance plan. His proposal includes a new roof and walls, as well as a green room for performers, upgraded restrooms and full audio visual capabilities that include LEDs and a new soundboard. After the repairs, performers won't have to bring their own mics and speakers; instead, they can just plug in.

"Rather than just rebuild what had been destroyed, we thought, let's improve some features to make the bandshell more performer-friendly and a more attractive venue," Holloway said. "All we have is a concrete stage with the shell around it. Performers have to bring their own audio equipment. So as great of a structure as it is, it isn't set up to host a lot of cool performances. We wanted to rebuild the structure to be more habitable, which it hasn't been for several decades."

Adding to the opportunity to rebuild, Boise Parks and Rec hopes to secure funding for a new shade structure to protect audiences from the sun, hold connections for additional lights, make space for an accessible viewing area and turn the area into more of a community gathering place. The structure would add another $400,000 to the project, which the department is hoping will be funded internally. As of this writing, the shade structure is not in the approved repair plan.

"When you sit on the grass in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the day, it's extremely warm," Holloway said. "There's not a lot of shade from trees intentionally because we want a clear view of the shell. So we've been working with the architect to come up with a shade design that will provide overhead cover and not obstruct the view of the stage."

While many Boiseans have been eager to see the structure fully functional again, the reality of the repair schedule is a tricky one. After all, it would be six months before structural engineers could clear out damaged timber and install barriers to protect the bandshell from weather and further deterioration.

In the case of the Gene Harris Bandshell, the city is required by law to go through open bidding processes for engineers and architects—that rule applies to every city project over a certain amount of money. Once Holloway and his team got a bid out to structural engineers, the firm could evaluate the integrity of the structure and secure it from future damage. Before architects could get involved, city officials had to know what they were dealing with, a process that took time.

"We didn't want the structure to deteriorate while we were figuring out the reconstruction process," Holloway said. "Once we got through all that, we procured an architect, took the engineering study in and got a design to reconstruct the entire facility back to where it was but with newer amenities."

Add to that the need to preserve the history of the mission-style bandshell and maintain its "character and charm," and repairing the burned bandshell is no small task. Though there is no official start date for repairs, Holloway said he is optimistic that construction will begin at the end of the month, with a dedication of the finished bandshell planned for the days leading up to the anniversary celebration of the Boise River Greenbelt, Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 19-21, with a free concert on the books that Friday.

Holloway said the finished product will be worth the wait, though it will miss summer staples like the Boise Women's Classic and Art in the Park. Not one to hang summer event organizers out to dry, Holloway said Parks and Rec is working to relocate those and other events on the bandshell schedule. In the meantime, the bandshell has been removed from the Boise Parks and Rec reservation request form.

According to Holloway, though the 2018 fire was determined to be human-caused, the Boise Police Department's investigation turned up no suspects. The bandshell was dedicated in 1928 and is named after Boise jazz musician Gene Harris.

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