The Anduiza family built their boarding house on Grove Street in 1914. The building offered something special: a fronton, or Basque handball court in its basement.
After the Anduiza era, an engineering firm occupied the building for 50 years. The fronton court remained intact. It looks today like it looked a century ago. Members of the Basque community bought the building in the early 1990s. It's one of the buildings that forms the heart of the Basque Block.
Boise native Mark Bieter, co-author with his brother John of "An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho," nominated the fronton as a Boise icon.
"If for no other reason, I think it deserves mention as one of very few century-old buildings in Downtown Boise that is still used for its original purpose," said Bieter.
It's a big room, more than 100 feet long and 50 feet tall.
Dan Everhart from Preservation Idaho said the fronton building is one of the city's most notable historic structures, largely due to its rare combination of uses.
"Everything about that building was tied to the court. It wasn't like a boarding house with a court attached. It was more like a court with a boarding house attached," said Everhart.
"There are Boise buildings I like better architecturally, but none are more unique than the fronton."
Bieter researched the building for his Bieter Blog.
Frontons exist in other American Basque communities, including Elko, Jordan Valley, Mountain Home and San Francisco. But the Anduiza fronton is the oldest active fronton in the U.S.
Not long after the court was built, the Idaho Statesman reported "shouts and hurrahs coming from the vicinity of 6th and Grove streets," said Bieter.
He recalled a story told to him by an elderly Basque man. The "pelota," or ball used for handball, is hard like a baseball. Local players used to play until their hands swelled up. At that point, they'd enlist the help of boarding house owner "Big Jack" Anduiza, who would press their hands under a board then stand on the board to reduce the swelling.
Bieter recalled meeting Basque handball players who came through town. Shaking hands with them "was like shaking hands with a brick," he said.
Bieter remembers the fronton of the 1970s.
"It was a musty, dark place with lots of echoes. Shafts of light came through the few windows at the top and spread over the walls, on the hundreds of marks on the wall from all those balls over all the decades. You could hear pigeons in the beams."
But the fronton had a rebirth as more American Basques traveled to Europe and learned Basque sports. An active group, the Boise Fronton Association oversees organized leagues for men and women. They have spring and fall league play and tournaments in the winter and summer.
Bieter recalls speaking to a player from California. The player told Bieter that playing at the Boise fronton, hot, cramped and ancient as it is, was like a baseball player getting to play at Wrigley Field.
619 Grove St.
Anna Webb: 377-6431