150 Boise icons: Boise High School

awebb@idahostatesman.comMay 15, 2013 

0515 local icon bhs.JPG

Did you know? Boise High’s many architectural decorations include lion headed-rain spouts. And that’s a bust of Plato gazing down from the school’s pediment. Here’s another bit of old school trivia: The bell from Central School was cast in the East in 1883. The Idaho State Historical Society gave it to the city in 1990, the state’s centennial. Today, you can see the bell in the plaza in front of City Hall.

ANNA WEBB — awebb@idahostatesman.com

Boise High's predecessor, Central School, opened in 1882. It stood on what's now the Capitol Mall. As one indicator of Boise's growing population in that era, enrollment at Central was 700 students in just a few years. The crowds inspired the school district to buy land on Washington Street for a new, larger building.

The first Boise High School was built in 1902 on the site where the central portion of Boise High is today. District leaders, according to a school history, proclaimed that the two-story red brick building was large enough to accommodate Boise students "for all time."

But in 1908, the district added the first of many expansions, a white brick addition to the building's east side. In 1912, it added a white brick addition to the west side. The addition of a white stucco Industrial Arts building (on the site of the current library) came in 1919.

In 1922, the district replaced the original red brick central building with the white three-story structure that anchors the school today.

In 1936, the school got its Art Deco-style gym, a contemporary of the Hotel Boise a few blocks away. Like the Boise Art Museum and the old Ada County Courthouse built in the same era, the gym was a Works Progress Administration project that helped put builders to work during the Great Depression. According to one article, students saved their own money to contribute to the project. Fans of Deco style should be sure to check out the decorative sunburst panels near the gym's roofline. The school added a modern music building on the west side of the gym in 1957.

The school now stands as a kind of architectural tour through the ages. Upgrades in the late 1990s meant the loss of the Industrial Arts building (and its art studios, auto and print shops), but the school's Greek Revival main building is intact, Ionic columns and all.

The school has many claims to fame: Bing Crosby and Duke Ellington performed in its auditorium. Boise's first radio station transmitted its signal from the school roof in the 1920s. Like many historic Boise buildings, BHS is heated with geothermal water.

Construction of Boise's other traditional public high schools followed in the next decades: Borah in 1958 and Capital in 1964. Timberline opened in 1998.

1010 Washington St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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