Historic Highlights 

Architectural treasures of Boise's hidden past

The Central Addition

Idaho State Historical Society

The Central Addition

Some of Boise's architectural and historic treasures are easy to spot. Two of the most famous sit at either end of Capitol Boulevard and a third sits in between—the Idaho State Capitol, the Boise Train Depot and the Egyptian Theatre.

But others are less obvious. Whether they've faded into obscurity or never made it into the limelight, there are cultural jewels hiding in plain sight. We consulted Todd Shallat, director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics at Boise State, and Terri Schorzman, director of the Boise City Department of Arts and History, to uncover some of their favorite cultural gems.


Gov. Frank Steunenberg statue

Idaho Statehouse, 700 W. Jefferson St., Boise

A statue of a murdered governor dramatically stares at the current governor's office--slightly creepy. Steunenberg was killed in 1905 when a bomb planted at his home by a radical labor activist blew up.


The Cabin

801 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise, thecabinidaho.org

What is now a center for literary pursuits was built in 1939 with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps as the headquarters of the Idaho State Forestry Department. Each room in the building was built with materials donated by different Idaho timber companies, giving each its own personality.


German Turnverein Building

100 S. Sixth St., Boise

click to enlarge German Turnverein Building - IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The 1906 structure--which now houses the China Blue nightclub--was once a social and athletic club for Boise's large German population. "They drank beer and did gymnastics--that's hard to do at the same time," Shallat joked. But in the wake of anti-German protests after the outbreak of World War I, the club disbanded and the sandstone sign above the door was sandblasted. Remnants of it are still visible, though. There are also numerous ghost stories associated with the building, stemming from a long-ago murder.


R.Z. Johnson Block

515 W. Idaho St., Boise

The building, which was designed by architect John C. Paulsen in 1892, now houses Davies Reid but is one of the few remaining structures from a time when the city had an early master plan. Paulsen was hired by the city to build the Natatorium and the original Boise City Hall (located on the site of the current City Hall). The attention-grabbing building has touches of Queen Anne, Tudor Revival and even Flemish Romantic styles. Paulsen himself met an unfortunate end after it was discovered he embezzled money. He committed suicide under some questionable circumstances.


Church of the Good Shepherd

Corner of Fifth and Idaho streets, Boise

click to enlarge Church of the Good Shepherd - IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Built in 1919, the church is the only one built for and by Basques, with services held in the Basque language.


Old Ada County Courthouse

514 W. Jefferson St., Boise

click to enlarge Old Ada County Courthouse - IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Built in 1938, the building is one of only a few examples of 1930s art deco design in Boise. The building was a Works Progress Administration project--part of the Depression-era New Deal--and is home to a series of now-controversial murals, including one showing the lynching of a Native American, and one in which a phantom hand rests on a man's shoulder.


Central Addition

Between Front and Myrtle streets and Fourth and Fifth streets, Boise

click to enlarge Central Addition - IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

One of the first additions to the city, the district was once home to a wide variety of early Boise residents, from seamstresses to judges. A few of the original, ornate homes remain, although most are in a state of disrepair. Schorzman hopes that someday the homes can be part of a historic preservation effort.


U.S. Assay Office

210 W. Main St., Boise

Now home to the Idaho State Historical Society's Historic Preservation Office, the building was completed in 1872 as a place where regional miners could turn their hard-earned ore into cash. Situated in the middle of a square-block-sized piece of land, the building is both attention-grabbing and a bit hidden.


Former Downtown Macy's Building

918 Idaho St., Boise

click to enlarge Former Macy's Building - IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

While both Macy's and its predecessor, The Bon Marche, are now gone, the large multi-story building has a history hiding beneath its exterior. Built in the 1920s, the building originally boasted a traditional Spanish Colonial Mission-style design, complete with tiled roof and stucco exterior, much like the Boise Train Depot, which was built around the same time. The exterior was covered in the early 1960s, but Schorzman theorizes--hopefully--that the original structure may someday be found safely underneath.

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