Boise's Building Blocks: A life on the Bench

In a neighborhood of constant change, the Hardy family has been a constant

FOR THE IDAHO STATESMANMay 26, 2013 

  • ABOVE THE HUBBUB

    Before European settlement, trails criss-crossed the desert south of the Boise River, leading animals and native people between two important water sources: the Boise and the Snake rivers.

    In the late 19th century, a much-heralded irrigation project turned the scrubland into fertile farmland, transforming the area above the city.

    The first train depot was built in 1887. Warehouses sprouted up around the depot to store goods brought in by steam engines. "Getting the 1887 railroad was monumental to the life and sustainability of Boise," said historian Ann Felton, author of "Living on the Edge: A History of the Near Depot Bench."

    Electric railroad service in 1907 opened the area to new housing: Boiseans could escape the noisy, dusty city to a quiet suburb above all the hubbub.

    The iconic Spanish Mission-style train depot, built in 1925, gave the neighborhood its name and decades of passenger traffic. Paved roads opened the Bench to residential and commercial growth. The result is a neighborhood that diverges in style, form and function, not just district to district or block to block, but house to house and yard to yard. New houses are just a few doors down from a cottage built in 1930; midcentury ranch-style houses are mixed in with turn-of-the-century farmhouses.

    Joe Jaszewski: 377-6218

  • ABOUT THIS SERIES

    In this, the 150th year since Boise's founding, the Statesman is looking at the stories behind some of the special areas and neighborhoods that make Boise what it is today.

    - April 14: River Street

    - April 28: Fort Boise

    - May 12: Warm Springs

    - May 26: Depot Bench

    - June 9: Pierce Park/Collister

    - June 23: South Boise

    Have a special story or memory about the Boise neighborhood where you live or grew up? Email awebb@idahostatesman.com.

  • ABOUT JOE

    Joe is the Statesman photography and tablet editor. He was a photojournalist intern here in 2000 and came to work full time in 2003. He's a graduate of the University of California, Davis and a native of Sacramento.

  • ABOUT KAY

    Kay and her husband, Gregory Kaslo, an architect, live on Kootenai Street, two blocks from where she grew up and two blocks from the office her father built. They irrigate their yard with water from a lateral and like the fact that they are connected through water to the agricultural history of the area. Kay remains active in preservation and serves on the Boise Arts and History Commission and the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

When the Statesman asked for memories of my Bench childhood, I wondered what I could say that would be relevant today. As the photograph of my young girlfriends shows, it was a life of simple pleasures and good friendships that endure. The past really is present if we keep it alive.

For nearly all of my life, I've called the Depot Bench home.

I grew up on Windsor Drive, surrounded by houses built by my father's company. When Dad built our family home in 1956, the Bench was relatively undeveloped. Dad hunted pheasants on the ground that later became Vista Avenue.

Much of the Bench was still rural, and I remember the "ribbit" of frogs at night, either along the Ridenbaugh canal or smaller ditches that laced the area. The background sound of Union Pacific trains rolling into and departing town on their daily schedule became familiar music marking the time of day.

My father, Earl Hardy, began Cain and Hardy Construction, which built residences on Windsor Drive, Glen Haven Drive and in other areas. Cain and Hardy also built the All Saints Episcopal Church at the corner of Cassia and Latah, the 1963 Bogus Basin ski lodge, the Technical and Education building at Boise State, and an office development on Vista Avenue. In the late 1970s, my father bought and rehabilitated a Downtown theater, scheduled for demolition by the Boise Redevelopment Agency. In 1999, the Egyptian Theatre was extensively restored.

Real estate development in the 1950s and '60s was different from today - it was small-scale development linked to the city's modest growth. Dad was also an early preservationist, saving one of the older homes at 1302 Vista Ave., now Rapunzel's salon, hand-built by Grant Weaver in a vernacular Tudor style.

When the Day family built Vista Village, Albertsons offered free ice cream to everyone on opening day. Vista Village had some of the nicest stores in town: Brookover's for ladies clothes (and a nice hair salon), Starkey's for children's clothes, and Lee's candies, which continues to make homemade chocolates and remains very popular. Neighborhood kids and our hunting dogs piled into our station wagon and Dad took us to the A&W drive-in where car-hops served the best root beer floats in town.

Across the street, the Pac Out (now Bad Boy Burgers) was popular with teenagers for great shakes and burgers. Farther south on Vista, Betty the Washerwoman marked the location of the Maytag laundromat and a building housing a seamstress, later the location of Baird's. The building is now Cucina di Paolo.

Highway 30 connected with Federal Way, which was the main arterial into town. Manley's Cafe on Federal Way was a real mom-and-pop cafe, which became famous for homemade pies and prime rib. When Manley, the owner and cook, decided to take a vacation and close the restaurant, he would simply hang out a sign that read "Gone Fishin' " until he was ready to start cooking.

Another great place to eat was the Downtown Royal Restaurant, owned and operated by Vince Aguirre, my girlfriend Kathy's father. The Royal Plaza condominiums are in the same location today. Vince's parents owned the Star Boarding House, which Kathy and I visited - smiling a lot because we couldn't speak Basque.

Our neighbor Bill Campbell, instrumental in forming the Boise Hawks and Boise Braves baseball teams, taught the neighborhood kids how to play ball, which we did regularly on hot summer evenings in the street.

I grew up snow-skiing at Bogus Basin, water-skiing at Lucky Peak, swimming at the beloved South Junior High pool and playing tennis under the legendary tutelage of Barbara Chandler, one of the first women locally to excel at the sport.

It snowed much more in Boise when I was a child and I remember the many times Dad pulled sleds loaded with kids behind our station wagon. Mom made homemade chili afterward for us all. It felt like an idyllic childhood, then and now.

People were friendly and Boise was a welcoming community. Backyard barbecues were popular, as were Sunday brunches in the neighborhood. Triangle Dairy delivered milk to homes.

Service station owners and attendants personally pumped gas for customers. Neighbors helped each other and civility was the norm.

Neighbors, like many Americans at that time, were "joiners," and they volunteered time in such organizations as the Lions and Elks clubs, the PTA and YWCA, as my parents did.

America was growing in a post-war economy and people were eager to create community and move America ahead. Dad's small construction company helped house a postwar-generation population boom. Many women stayed home and volunteered, like my mother did.

The Depot Bench neighborhood was a big world as a child. It is still the same size and I am still exploring.

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