150 Boise icons: Owyhee Hotel (Plaza)

awebb@idahostatesman.com csewell@idahostatesman.comJune 11, 2013 

0611 local icon owyhee.JPG

Did you know? The Owyhee Hotel was a grand place, both with its imposing exterior and elegant interior. The gold, stained-glass dome, removed from the lobby during the hotel’s 1977 renovation, is now installed at the Idaho State Historical Museum. In this image from 1924, note the colorful rooftop garden, the Main Street streetcar and the east-side awnings shading the sun for late sleepers.

PROVIDED BY JOHN AGUIRRE

The Owyhee, the city's second grand hotel, opened in Downtown Boise in 1910 - a decade after the Idanha's construction just up the street. The buildings remain two of Main Street's most notable historic anchors.

Local businessmen Leo J. Falk and E.W. Schubert hired the Tourtellotte firm to design the Owyhee Hotel. Tourtellotte consulted with a Chicago design expert who urged him to increase the hotel's floors from four to six.

The opening of the hotel was a big deal. Owners presented then-Gov. James Brady with a key. An ad in the Idaho Statesman claimed the Owyhee was the "most modern and complete commercial and tourist hotel between Chicago and San Francisco."

The original Owyhee had 125 guest rooms with mahogany furniture and what were then upscale amenities, including electric lights and connections to light switches so guests could plug in their curling irons. Guests could enjoy water from the hotel's own artesian well.

Barbara Perry Bauer, a board member at Preservation Idaho, shared more details about the hotel's intriguing offerings:

"The Orange Room," decorated in shades of orange as its name suggests, had its own custom china and silver patterns. Ladies sipped tea in "The Rose Grill," separate from the men who patronized the "beefsteak dungeon" downstairs.

Candles lit this basement space. It featured a cell with a padlock for "obstreperous members."

The hotel also had a rooftop garden and dining area. Old postcard images show something reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - but with lanterns. The rooftop may have offered guests one of the first, best views of the Boise Foothills.

Idaho enacted statewide prohibition in 1916, but the Owyhee roof garden remained popular, wrote historian Arthur Hart. One could still enjoy "dancing, refreshments and music." And people still had to make reservations at what some billed as "The One Cool Spot in Boise" - cocktails or no.

The hotel continued to figure prominently in the life of the city. The Arid Club set up clubrooms there in 1934 during the Great Depression. The hotel added a new wing on its west side in the 1960s. Major remodels in the late 1970s drastically altered the hotel's interior. The lobby lost its stained-glass dome and its mezzanine level with iron railing.

The hotel is in the midst of another renovation, this time to convert it to apartments and office spaces and to reopen its rooftop garden.

1109 Main St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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