150 Boise icons: the Hoff Building

May 28, 2013 

Hoff Building, architecture, downtown Boise

Did you know? Vangie Osborn, founder of the Signs of Our Times project that’s working to save the neon signs that once illuminated Boise, has the entire Hotel Boise sign in safe keeping — all 20 letters. A recent estimate to restore the sign: $2,500 per letter (not including installation).

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

The opening of the Hotel Boise in 1930 was a big deal for a few reasons.

Boise had two other grand hotels in its Downtown core at that time, The Idanha and The Owyhee, but they had been around since 1901 and 1910, respectively.

The Hotel Boise on 8th and Bannock was bigger. It was taller. Boiseans, including the group of local artists who laid the groundwork for what would become the Boise Art Museum, flocked to the hotel's swank Crystal Lounge.

In 1930, only the dome of the Idaho Capitol stood taller than the Hotel Boise. The hotel had 10 floors and an octogonal penthouse. A giant, two-sided Hotel Boise neon sign shone atop the octagon. Each of the sign's letters stood about 8 feet tall.

Residents considered the hotel the first true skyscraper in the city. The hotel opened just before the market crashed in 1929.

As historian Arthur Hart noted in a past column, the Hotel Boise hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in 1934, the heart of the Great Depression. On the menu: a choice of turkey, steak, roast young goose or roast suckling pig with all the trimmings, dessert and music by a live orchestra. The bill: 75 cents.

Architect Frank K. Hummel, one half of the celebrated Tourtellotte and Hummel firm, designed the hotel while working in the firm's Portland office.

The hotel has a few companions in other cities - similar structures designed around the same time by the same firm. They include hotels in Baker City and Ashland, Ore. The Gooding Junior High School in Gooding, built in 1937, also shares design elements.

The hotel underwent big changes in the late 1970s, including the addition of a three-story glass crown.

The Hoff Co. bought the building, renamed it and began a major renovation to convert it to commercial use in 1976. The company sold the building just two years later. The new owners, EBCO Inc. worked to restore some of the art deco detail that had been lost during the Hoff renovation, including re-installing the marquees, flagpoles, door pulls, light fixtures and more.

- Boise 150: "Sesqui-speaks: The History of 8th Street - A Street through the Soul of Boise," 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1, Boise Public Library Hayes Auditorium, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. Greg Hahn, associate vice president for communications and marketing at Boise State, will talk about how 8th Street has and continues to reflect Boise's image of itself.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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