150 Boise Icons: Union Block

March 10, 2013 

Union Block courtesy photo

Like so many of Boise's architectural treasures, the Union Block, built in 1902, is made of local sandstone and brick. Its designer, John Tourtellotte, was one half of the firm Tourtellotte and Hummel, which helped shape Boise's skyline.

The building's early investors (including Moses Alexander, who became the first Jewish governor in the U.S.), were northern sympathizers in the post-Civil War years.

As the story goes, they named their building the Union Block in keeping with their political allegiances.

Many businesses, including Boise Rubber Stamp and Pig, whose name is still barely visible on the building's alley side, operated in the Union Block. "Pig" refers to pig iron. The company made metal block letters for printing.

Carlton's Dance Studio operated on the second floor in the space now occupied by the Rose Room. Many Boise women (and a few men brave enough to take ballet in the 70s), will remember walking up the long staircase to Carlton's. That meant passing Whipple's gifts and luggage on the left, Fisher's office supply on the right.

Now-grown dance students might remember the dark paneling on the walls and the smells of hotplate meals that came through the walls of the single-room-occupancy apartments next door. The Union Block smelled of liver and onions.

In 1979, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But in the 1990s, it fell into disrepair and was in danger of being demolished. The city of Boise looked for someone to restore it. Boisean Ken Howell got the contract. Renewed, the building reopened in 1995. 720 Idaho St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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