CityLove: Boise Edition

Posted on: February 12th, 2014 by Grant Stevens 1 Comment

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Looking for a place to love on Valentine’s Day? The Community Outreach team has a suggestion for you: Boise, Idaho.

Refresher: Back in January we started a new blog series (initially called Cities in Focus, now more enticingly called CityLove), where we’re picking a city and highlighting some of the cool, inspiring things we see happening there, both in the traditional preservation field and beyond.

Last month we took a trip to St. Louis where we learned about some of the city’s highlights, talked with a local preservationist, and took a tour via Instagram. Now, February takes us to Boise, Idaho -- home to a National Trust field office, no less! -- where the following things stood out to us:

Boise is growing, and preservation is part of the conversation. Between 1960 and 2010, Boise’s population grew from 34,000 to over 205,000; especially during the early years of this growth, preservation was most often not considered, resulting in many lost opportunities and holes in Boise's historic fabric.

But this trend is changing and Boise has had major preservation wins in recent years; the reuse of the Alexander, the Empire, the Union Block, and the Egyptian Theater all stand out. A project currently nearing completion is the Owyhee Plaza Hotel.

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In the foreground of the picture you can see the 1902 Richardsonian Romanesque Union Block, which was renovated in 1995 after sitting vacant for 16 years. In the upper right hand side you can also catch a glimpse of the Idaho State Capitol, which is inspired by the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Boise residents of every age are showing a new appreciation for their built heritage. Back in 2010, we profiled the work of Doug StanWiens and his students at Boise's Timberline High School with weekly blog posts (check out the first and last for recaps), and work continues through the Boise Architecture Project and Remnants of Boise.

Art and culture is big in Boise. Boise has a thriving (and growing) arts and culture community, with the city invested in its success. Boise is home a range of music and film festivals as well as the always funky Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Boise State University is home to the Boise Philharmonic and Ballet Idaho, who both perform in the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts (which looks roughly like the state of Idaho from above).

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The Art Deco features of the 1931 Capitol Boulevard Bridge are once again visible after recreation of the original lights were installed in 2013.

In 2008 the Boise City Department or Arts and History was created, which manages everything from the public art collections (including the recent Capitol Boulevard Bridge work), historical walking tours, artists in residence, and dozens of other projects. Their big 2013 project was Boise 150, a city-led program to commemorate Boise’s sesquicentennial through events, projects, and promotion, which the PreservationNation blog profiled.

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Threatened homes in the Central Addition neighborhood bordering Downtown Boise

Central Addition is in flux. Downtown Boise is hot right now, but we wanted to highlight another neighborhood that could use some love and is undergoing significant change: Central Addition, which the Idaho Statesman calls "caught in a half-residential, half-commercial limbo in a rapidly urbanizing part of the city."

The future for this neighborhood will certainly be complicated and something the National Trust will be monitoring with great interest. We're encouraged by the work of the Idaho Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council towards creating an eco- or energy-district, which recognizes the inherently green value of preservation. The decision by Boise architectural firm CSHQA to complete a $2 million overhaul of an abandoned 1950s warehouse, with an focus on making it as eco-friendly and green as possible, is an exciting development too.

Curious about getting involved with the local preservation groups? That's great! We recommend starting with Preservation Idaho and their special Midcentury committee Idaho Modern (whose Modern Masters event is coming up Feb. 21).

We know we couldn’t cover everything and likely missed some of your favorites, so let us know your Boise must-sees in the comments below!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Grant Stevens

Grant Stevens

Grant is the Manager of Community Outreach at the National Trust. He's proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World – Conrad, Iowa! Growing up on a farm, he always loved going to town and looking at the historic buildings. Now a resident of DC, Grant enjoys reading, running, and anything rural.

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One Response

  1. Happy Ford

    February 13, 2014

    As a resident of Boise, for almost forty years, I enjoyed your essay.