Teaching Preservation: What’s Endangered in Boise?

Posted on: June 8th, 2010 by Guest Writer 4 Comments

Written by Members of the BAP Student Advisory Board   

Summer vacation is almost here, but things couldn't be busier for the Boise Architecture Project. Hopefully you caught our last blog post. If you didn't, here's a quick rundown.    

We were inspired by the recent release of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2010 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places – so inspired that we decided to give making our own list of local sites that could use some TLC a shot. To make it happen, we spent the final few weeks of our school year connecting with Boise preservationists, architects, historians, and media on their recommendations. While we couldn't include every suggestion (we had tons!), we did our best to ensure that those that made the final cut met the National Trust's criteria for its endangered list.    

So, may we have a drum roll please?   

The Central Addition Neighborhood

The struggling Central Addition Neighborhood contains some of Boise’s earliest residential housing, dating well over 100 years.

The Central Addition Neighborhood: This area contains some of Boise’s earliest residential housing, dating well over 100 years. A handful of 19th-century Victorian homes still exist in the area, reminding us of the aspirations of early Boiseans and the “Athens of the Sagebrush” mentality they had. However, a drive through the neighborhood today reveals boarded windows, overgrown yards, and “for sale” signs as medical offices and banks encroach on the historic lots. Current development plans for the area do not support the preservation of these homes, instead promoting "high density” development. Sadly, many of the historic gems of the area has already disappeared.    

Block 44 Downtown: This downtown block is anchored by two historic, turn-of-the-century buildings – the Mode Department Store Building and the McCarty Building. Both are architecturally significant and have played an important role in Boise life. The Mode was a high-end department store that was in business for over 100 years. It even featured live models in the windows in the early 1900's. The Mode Tea House was also a local favorite. Today the building is occupied by restaurants and a North Face clothing store. Aside from the Mode and other restaurants along the popular 8th Street part of the block, the rest of the area has struggled with occupancy during the economic downturn. Since the block is owned by an out-of-town developer and is unprotected, some believe it is open for a complete redevelopment once the economy recovers.      

Old Ada County Courthouse: Built in 1939 by the Public Works Administration, this building has been used as a jail, a courthouse, and recently, the home of the Idaho State Legislature. It features Works Progress Administration murals symbolic of Idaho history, and is a magnificent example of Art Deco and ziggurat style from that time period. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and occupies a central space among other state government buildings. However, it is currently vacant despite an upgrade for the legislature. The building is owned by the state, which is currently experiencing financial difficulties. Future plans for the building are unknown.   

Spaulding Ranch stands today as one of the last of Boise’s original agricultural areas.

Spaulding Ranch: This 20-acre farm was first homesteaded in West Boise in 1896 and was home to Mary Spaulding, Boise’s first female doctor. The ranch had over 100 acres and nine buildings, including a quintessential red barn. It stands as one of the last of Boise’s original agricultural areas. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and is the only legal working farm inside Boise's city limits. Today, it is surrounded by urban development along a connector road. Despite some protection by its historic status, it is threatened by various urban issues like expansion of roads, residential development, and neglect.        

1000 Block of Main Street: This downtown block contains some of Boise’s most historic buildings, including the Gem Building, the Alaska Center, and Hannifan’s Cigar Shop. These buildings stand as the last remains of the turn-of-the-century hotel and mercantile district next to the railroad, and they remind many of Boise’s development from a frontier town into a more mature state capital. Hannifan’s still has the pot-bellied stove that heated the shop during the Great Depression, and many of Idaho’s most important men have purchased cigars there. Though the block is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, the economic downturn and a lack of protection from renewal threaten the block with redevelopment that could compromise its historic nature.    

Reserve Street Armory: The concrete form, Art Deco style Armory was designed by local architect Frederick Hummel and built by New Deal programs in 1937. It housed the Idaho National Guard in Boise’s East End until the 1970's, and was purchased by the City of Boise in 1996 and added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently vacant, the target of vandals, and has fallen into disrepair. The City of Boise is attempting to sell the property to raise funds, and its fate is unknown despite the work of the Armory subcommittee of the East End Neighborhood Association.    

The Campus at Fort Boise: This campus, containing numerous historic buildings, was established during the Civil War to protect miners from attacks by natives. It remained a fort until 1912 when it was virtually abandoned for military use. In 1930, the campus was turned over to the Veteran’s Administration, which manages it now. Many of the buildings on the campus feature a Federal Revival style, some with brick and others constructed with local sandstone. While a new, contemporary style building was just constructed at the entrance of the campus, many of the older buildings are endangered by age, neglect, and a lack of funding and planning for preservation.   

Sergeant City: In the late 1930’s, as America slowly prepared to go to war, Boise’s air base at Gowen Field grew busy and local housing was needed. The U.S. government decided to build a residential complex where single and multi-family homes were constructed. The homes were mostly occupied by non-commissioned officers or sergeants, hence the name of the neighborhood. Homes are accessed by the appropriately named Custer and Pershing Drives. While the area remains about 85% intact, neglect, development, infill housing, and a lack of knowledge about the importance of the area make it endangered in the long run.    

In 1969, this building was constructed as a Sambo’s Restaurant in the futuristic Googie style, and is the only example of its kind in Idaho.

Googie-Style Restaurant: In 1969, this building was constructed as a Sambo’s Restaurant in the futuristic Googie style, and is the only example of its kind in Idaho today. Sambo’s fell out of favor in the late 1970's and the restaurant closed, being reoccupied in 1989 as a Japanese Tepanyaki restaurant. It is located in a semi-industrial area and the building is suffering from some disrepair. Furthermore, it is not protected and few are aware of its architecture significance as an important example of that time period.      

The Works of Arthur Troutner: Boise features three homes designed by Idaho architect Art Troutner. His works feature Frank Lloyd Wright inspired designs and stand as quintessential mid-century modern style. His use of natural materials, clean lines, and unique elements make his houses historically and architecturally important. The Edith Klein Home was built for one of the first women in Idaho to pass the bar exam and to serve in the state legislature. While current owners appear to support  preservation, they are not currently protected by a thematic historic designation like several of Troutner’s homes in Idaho Falls. Age and disrepair will test their preservation.     

The University Neighborhood: The campus Boise State University contains a number of historic buildings, dating from its founding in the 1940’s through its recent growth into a nationally-recognized university. While its elegant Administration Building has been preserved, at least three other structures face threats. The former University Inn – built in 1957 as a Thunderbird Lodge and the site of a famous Boise "watering hole" – is now vacant and used as a campus parking lot. It is slated to be torn down soon to make way for a new building for the School of Business and Economics. The Old Campus School was built in 1953 as an elementary school where Boise College of Education students studied to become teachers. Its Collegiate Gothic style is one of only a few on campus and represents Boise State's early history as a well-styled junior college. The building’s demolition is proposed under the current campus master plan. Finally, Boise State is expanding south of University Drive where new buildings are already underway. The University Christian Church, built in 1980 with its international style bell tower, is potentially endangered by this expansion. It remains to be seen just how the campus expansion will treat its older, historically-significant sites.    


The BAP Student Advisory Board consists of students at Boise’s Timberline High School who serve as leaders of the Boise Architecture Project. You can follow the students here on the PreservationNation blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, get daily updates from their teacher, Doug StanWiens, on Twitter.    

Are you an educator interested in teaching preservation in your classroom? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources, tips, and ideas to enhance your curriculum with lessons that will teach your students to recognize and appreciate the rich history that surrounds them.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.


4 Responses

  1. Dave Green

    June 8, 2010

    I recall the Immanuel M.E. Church was put on this list the first year it came out when we started the first campaign to raise money to purchase and rennovate it. Since then, of course, it has been purchased by the Treaasure Valley Institute for Children’s Art – TrICA. The building rennovations are in no way underway with the exception of cleanup and removal of “most” hazardous materials.

    TrICA is a long way from having the funds it needs to save this historic and irreplacable building. Please continue your good work and remember to help us save the Immanuel!

  2. lucille ball

    June 8, 2010

    i’d love to see boise keep its heritage and preserve these and other historic places in/around the city. it’s sad seeing a town as old as boise turn into a modern city with modern buildings and modern lifestyles.

  3. Alan Hess

    June 9, 2010

    Glad to see the Sambo’s on the list. Buildings of the 50s and 60s –especially ones like this–are getting the attention they deserve all across the country — and particularly in the west where they developed. But they are on the verge of disappearing entirely unless preservationists see that this Googie style is just as legitimate to save as Victorian, Craftsman, or Art Deco. Those styles were also once dismissed and on the verge of vanishing until their value was finally rediscovered.

  4. PreservationNation » Blog Archive » Teaching Preservation: That’s a Wrap from Boise

    June 11, 2010

    […] Student Advisory Board are already gearing up for next year’s BAP events. And certainly, the endangered list we put together for Boise helped create an extremely important interaction with our community that […]