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It’s been a while since I’ve explored downtown Boise, especially in the early morning light. It’s a great time to be there, before the summer heat coats everyone with a sheen of moisture and after-work activities clog the streets with traffic. (Yes, even during times of COVID, Boiseans love to love their evenings downtown.)

In the 1920s, Henry Cook built a service station at the above location which had previously hosted a rooming house. At some point it became Skillern’s Veltex Service Station. In 1935 two Spanish brothers purchased the property and it became the Alegria Brother’s Service Station. In 1968 Dick Bengoechea purchased the property. Dick, born in eastern Idaho of Basque parents, started out herding sheep, then enlisted and came home from WWII with a box full of medals, including a Purple Heart. Like many resourceful men of his generation, Dick mastered nearly as many trades as he had stories to tell. His mechanical skills served him well at the Veltex, which in later years evolved into more museum than service station. He sold the property in 2002. Two years later the old building was torn down to make room for a high end Condoclave. Bucking trends of the past, the new property owner saved the original Veltex sign and used the Veltex theme in décor features throughout the new building. In a delightful nod to the past, the traffic box art out front is appropriately themed.

Art Deco Entryway

This is the west entrance to the Adelman Building, erected in 1902. The building has had a rich life as host to everything from Fong’s Tea Garden to Stearn’s Auto Repair, and Starbucks.

More high end condos and banks and attorney’s offices
Modern meets Art Deco

The Banner Bank building was built in 2007 and earned a platinum rating (the highest available) from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). From the outside, the Art Deco touches are somewhat lost in the grand façade, however they pepper the décor throughout the building.

Empire strikes back

The Empire Building was built in 1909 and originally housed the Empire Hardware Company as well as other retail businesses. The building combines a mixture of styles including Louis Sullivan architecture, with Greek Revival and Art Deco elements. The interior brags a bunch of marble and gold.

From grand hotel to pricey low-income housing

The French Chateau architecture of the Idanha Hotel stands apart. Back in 1901 the Idanha was quite the grand dame of Boise. With the first elevator in Idaho, she provided elite lodging for presidents, attorneys, and a crook or two. Some of the prime characters in Idaho’s “Trial of the Century” stayed at the Idanha during the 1907 trial of labor leader Big Bill Haywood and notorious Harry Orchard, who were accused of assassinating Idaho Governor Stuenenberg. Clarence Darrow successfully defended Haywood against Idaho prosecutors, James Hawley and William Borah. Poor Harry didn’t fare so well. There was no end to the excitements in the grand hotel through the years, some of which resulted in troupe of poltergeists roaming the halls.

When I first came to Boise in the late 70s, the main floor of the hotel had a glorious, fine-dining restaurant owned by Austrian Chef, Peter Schott. It was the place to impress a date or out of town guests. During those same years, when he wasn’t at the Blue Note or touring with Ray Brown, jazz great Gene Harris tickled the ivories and ebonies in the lounge. It was a gorgeous place to go and to be seen.

Though the exterior has been nicely restored and preserved, the interior has deteriorated. The restaurant now features an Indian Buffet with the same, once luxurious carpet and brass accents. The rooms upstairs are listed as income-based affordable housing, mostly 1-room or studio apartments. The elevator hasn’t worked in years.

Boise loves public art. Instead of whining about graffiti, building owners hire graffiti artists to beautify the backsides of their establishments.

The Owyhee Hotel was built a few years after the grand Idanha. It was named for the Owyhee mountains some 40 miles to the southwest–a bit of local trivia reveals that the term Owyhee is a bastardization of the word Hawaii. The story involves three miners from the Hawaiian Islands who went in search of pelts and/or minerals in these mountains. They marched off together, never to be seen again. The mountains became known as the Owyhees, and from that we have Owhyee County, Owyhee River, and the Owyhee Hotel. It was originally a red brick building, which after a rather frightening remodel in 2013, became the stark, painted paint with black trim you see above. This hotel was, until the doldrums of Boise in the early 1980s, another bastion of prestige. My mother-in-law loved dining at the Owhyee hotel, which I frankly found lackluster, boring, and snobbish. But I didn’t grow up with it being the place to be seen. (Nor would I have cared.)

There’s not much to say about this bit of an urban strip mall that has been “updated,” a word I loathe. But I the sign and colorful façade always make me smile. Tablerock itself is a plateau southeast of town that rises 900 feet above the city, guarding the Boise foothills. In bygone times it was a sacred site for indigenous residents of the region. The quarry on the northeast side is the source of most of the sandstone used in local architecture, including the State Capitol and trim on the new Veltex Building. Tablerock’s current claim to fame is the large B painted on it’s flanks and the gaudy, lighted cross erected on top in 1956 by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, a landmark that has stubbornly resisted frequent threats to it’s life.

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