James Pinney was still managing Peter Sonnas Opera House when he was elected mayor of Boise for the fourth time in July 1891. In September, the Statesman noted, Manager Pinney of Sonnas Opera House is endeavoring to make a good booking of attractions for the coming season, and will be able to secure some excellent shows. In February 1892, when the paper published a listing of his choices, Pinney was already planning to build a theater of his own.
Throughout the month of April 1892, ads for the Opera House list Pinney as manager, but on the 29th the end of the business relationship between Sonna and Pinney is noted when Bayhouse & Fritts are listed as managers. Construction of the Columbia Theatre was well under way in October when Mayor Pinney announced that he would positively decline a nomination to run for another term as mayor, citing the fact that he was already a member of the school board and the board of trade, as well as managing a business and building a theater.
Another small Statesman item of the time said, James A. Pinney has purchased for his newspaper carrier a fine pneumatic tired safety bicycle. It is better than a horse, he thinks. Many would agree, as the city and the country were caught up in the 1890s bicycle craze.
The year 1892 was when many things besides James Pinneys theater were named Columbia or Columbian, as Americans prepared to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the new world. These included the Worlds Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (although that did not open until 1893).
German-born Montana architect John C. Paulsen designed six Boise buildings in the 1890s, including the Natatorium, City Hall and Pinneys Columbia Theater. In my book Historic Boise, I describe the theater as a remarkable eclectic exercise. Its stick and shingled upper facade, with two towers, recalled the medieval north of Europe.
When the Columbia Theatre opened on Dec. 12, 1892, it was with Shakespeares As You Like It starring Julia Marlow, a reigning queen of the American stage, and her own traveling company. The event made the Statesmans front page with an article by a reporter who waxed nostalgic: Those who pitched tents along the banks of the Boise River when its swift waters first bore away the sands from the miners sluice boxes in the basin, could not even in imaginations distant flights have beheld the scene of last night. Those who remembered the stirring times of that early day were last night, in contrast, turned back to the barren sagebrush valley where now stands Boise the Beautiful. This dedication of a Histrionic temple worthy of the capital of the great state of Idaho was the consummation of a noble purpose, and a proud moment in the lives of all who call this city their home. Among theatre-goers the question will long be asked, were you at the opening? A negative answer will tell of keen regrets.
When a new mayor and city council were installed on July 15, 1893, it was an emotional occasion. This last meeting of the council over which Mayor Pinney has presided so long was held amid music and cheers. A large crowd was present in the council room when Mayor Pinney rapped for order. Mayor Pinney and Mayor-elect Sonna occupied chairs behind the mayors desk and in front of a lovely floral piece presented by some of Boises ladies. The old and the new councilmen sat two and two behind the different desks.
After several selections by the band S.W. Moody stepped before Mayor Pinney, and in a neat speech, presented him with a beautiful gold-headed cane, bearing the inscription A souvenir to Mayor James A. Pinney by the Citizens of Boise, July 15, 1893. Mayor Pinneys voice wavered and tears sprang to his eyes as he accepted, with a few words, the token of respect and appreciation.
Next week: Pinneys last run for mayor faced opposition by the Statesman.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.