150 Boise icons: Municipal Park

June 30, 2013 

Did you know? Municipal Park includes a bocce ball court, thanks to the Italian American Club of Boise. In 2008, the club submitted a partnership proposal to the Boise City Parks Department to build the court. The joint effort resulted in a court in the east end of the park — and the inaugural IAC Bocce Tournament in 2008. Ann Morrison and Julia Davis parks now have bocce courts as well.

STATESMAN FILE

Municipal Park, one of the leafiest, shadiest and stateliest parks in the city, has a storied past that includes car campers, an almost-baseball stadium and something known as the "hobo jungle."

In 1910, the Boise School District had the job of building and maintaining public playgrounds. The district bought 25 acres beside the river, where Municipal Park is now. The plan was to build a baseball stadium. Instead, the district leased the land to the Boise Commercial Club. The club opened a tourist campground.

The timing was good. It coincided with a national homesteading surge that brought people to Idaho, especially between the years of 1912 and 1917. According to city historians, the homesteaders came by car, earning the nickname "auto-tramps."

By 1918, the Boise Tourist Park was welcoming thousands of campers a season. The camping fee was 25 cents per car. The park offered amenities, including a communal kitchen with 18 electric hot plates, a laundry with natural geothermal water and an "auto laundry" - cement slabs where people could park for easy car washing. The Idaho Federation of Labor donated a bathhouse to the camp in 1919.

The "urban" camping trend grew. In the years after World War I, 20,000 cars a year came through Boise's tourist camp. The average stay: seven days.

A June 1920 Statesman article noted the hometowns and the destinations of a few campers. They included Dr. W.J. Wilson, traveling from Spokane to New York; A. Gerard, traveling from Boston to Seattle, and A.P. Fryan of Blackfoot, headed "anywhere."

The Boise Chamber of Commerce built a communal hall at the tourist park in 1921. The hall featured a screened porch and French doors that opened into a room with a fireplace made of local stone. According to a story in the Idaho Daily Statesman, campers spent their evenings sitting by the fireplace or dancing to music provided by a phonograph, a.k.a. "talking machine," donated by a local citizen.

Heavy use made it hard for the Boise Commercial Club to maintain the camp. It began a gradual decline in the 1920s. A 1921 article in the Statesman included a blistering review from an Oregon camper who referred to Boise's camp as a "dirty, ragged infant," a place where "mosquitoes revel and feast on the hapless tourist."

In 1927, the city bought the land from the school district and renamed it Municipal Park. Campers continued to spend time there until the Great Depression, when public interest in car camping waned and the park earned a reputation as a "hobo jungle."

The city closed the park to camping in 1938. It became a traditional civic park after that.

500 S. Walnut St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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