In July 1897, shortly after his two-year term as Boise’s mayor expired, Walter E. Pierce told the Statesman that he was contemplating the erection of a brick office building at the southeast corner of 10th and Main streets. In August, architect William Stewart Campbell showed the paper his plans for what would be a two-story brick and stone building 25-by-60 feet in area, the distinctive feature of which was a round corner turret with a conical roof. This building, like the rest of those in this Main Street block, was demolished by Urban Renewal in the 1970s. As far as I know, the only surviving artifact from the building is a gilded sheet metal ampersand that was part of the building’s “W.E. Pierce & Co.” sign. It was dug out of the rubble by a history lover who brought it to me as a souvenir of a historic building I hated to see Boise lose.
On Oct. 18, 1897, just as their new house at 10th and Franklin, later the home of W.E. Borah, was receiving the finishing touches from the painters and plasterers, the Pierces left for California, where they planned to spend the winter.
In the spring of 1898, Pierce & Co. prepared the second in a series of promotional pamphlets advertising the advantages of Boise as a fine place for living and for doing business. Although 20,000 copies were printed, only a few have survived. Pierce & Co. also advertised regularly in newspapers. An example from the Capital News, published in January 1899, reads, “W.E. Pierce & Co., The Old Reliable Real Estate Dealers. All Kinds of Houses and Lots at Low Prices and Easy Terms. Good Lots — only $100. Whole Blocks — only $1,000. WE HAVE THE BARGAINS.”
The U.S. Census for 1900 reports that Mr. and Mrs. Pierce were then living at 1037 Hays St. He was 40 years old and was born in Texas. His wife, Georgie, was 34; she was born in Iowa. They had no children at that time but would have a daughter, Peggy, who married Dr. John Lundy. Many years ago Peggy was kind enough to share with me memories and anecdotes of her remarkable father.
Pierce’s next booklet was published in December 1902, with the title “Boise Illustrated.” The Statesman said, “It will contain much valuable information concerning the city, besides many cuts of important buildings and pretty houses. They will distribute 12,000 copies.”
Shortly after his arrival in Boise in 1890, Pierce became interested in the Boise Rapid Transit Co. which built Boise’s first electric streetcar line. It ran from Downtown out Warm Springs Avenue to the new Natatorium. Pierce was aware of the potential for selling home sites along the route, most of which was then farmland. The “Streetcar Suburb” was a national phenomenon at the time, when development of new residential neighborhoods followed new streetcar lines. In those horse and buggy days, when the automobile was in its infancy, you could ride to the Natatorium for a nickel, in a quiet, smooth-riding, nonpolluting electric streetcar.
Electric line developers built attractive destinations at the end of their lines to attract riders; for Boiseans in the 1890s, it was the Natatorium. When Pierce needed money to start an electric interurban line out State Street to Caldwell in 1907, he traveled to Pittsburg for backers. The Idaho Statesman reported on May 28, 1907, that Pierce had just returned from that city with $250,000 for building the new line and for Pierce Park, which would be its first attraction. Curtis Park near Caldwell would be created for the same reason.
Walter E. Pierce not only had big ideas, he was able to sell them to investors. On April 9, 1919, a Statesman headline read, “PITTSBURG MONEY IS STARTING WEST. W.E. Pierce Returns From East Bringing Best of Cheer From Investors About Idaho.” Pierce told a reporter, “I am glad to say that I have reopened the trail to Pittsburg. Boise need not worry since nearly all of the big development money for street railways, mines, and farms had come from that city of darkness. … I consider now is the time to advertise Boise. Proper advertising will certainly bring people here, for they are going (to go) west and could readily be induced to come here.”
In April 1923, the three founding members of Walter E. Pierce & Co. dissolved a partnership that had lasted for 33 years. John M. Haines had served as mayor of Boise, 1907-1909, and governor of Idaho, 1913-1915. He and L.H Cox, like W.E. Pierce, were ready to retire after careers in real estate that had made them wealthy men.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email email@example.com.