History of the Boise Highlands: when ranch style came to Boise

Special to the Idaho StatesmanAugust 23, 2013 

  • Preservation Idaho Heritage Homes Tour

    10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6

    $20/members, $25/non-members

    Tickets can be purchased online or day of the tour at the starting point: Highlands Elementary School, 3434 N. Bogus Basin Road. Take note that this year's tour covers too broad an area to be a walking tour. (Look for information soon about possible transportation options.) The event benefits Preservation Idaho. Learn more about the tour and other groups at:


    As a statewide, nonprofit preservation organization, it is dedicated to the protection of Idaho and Boise's heritage.


    With mid-century design as the focus of this year's Heritage Home Tour, this is a good time to check out Idaho Modern, an advocacy committee of Preservation Idaho with a focus on the modern design era and all that cool modernism retro stuff.


    Sister historians Barbara Perry Bauer and Elizabeth Jacox founded TAG Historical Research & Consulting in 1993. They conduct historical research, including studies for federal, state and local government agencies. Perry Bauer, a former director of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, has a special interest in the history of neighborhoods and urban development. Jacox formerly worked at the Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives.

In 1956, Boise's first Parade of Homes featured 10 modernistic houses in the city's newest development, The Highlands.

This year, the popular Preservation Idaho Heritage Homes Tour will feature this 1950s-1960s neighborhood with about eight of these classic ranch-style homes. This will be the first time the annual tour has highlighted homes built after World War II.

"It's got that mid-century magic that appeals to a lot of people," said Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho. "There was always something special about someone who identified themselves as living in the Highlands."

"It's really a time capsule of the 1950s," said Barbara Perry Bauer of TAG Historical Research and Consulting. She led the Preservation Idaho ArchWalk of the Highlands area this past July. (ArchWalks feature different parts of town and take place during the summer months. They usually sell out quickly.)

It was the era of the ranch home, which got its start in the 1920s and 1930s in California, Inspired by early haciendas and ranchos in places like San Diego and Monterey with their open corridors or exterior hallways that connected major rooms, it was then popularized by designers like Cliff May, whose name was well known to fans of that style. They were basically one-story, close to the ground with a long, low roofline, and were often built on slab foundations. They featured patios with sliding doors that encouraged easy access to outdoor living, as well as simple floor plans and attached garages.

Another designer associated with this period was Joseph Eichler. These homes were often called California Modern, and the Frank Lloyd Wright influence is obvious. Cathy Rosera's home, featured in this article, falls into this category. (The largest Eichler development in California also happens to be called The Highlands.)

"By the 1940s, this home style was really catching on across the country," Perry Bauer said.

Thanks to popular magazines, especially Sunset, the design gained huge momentum. It was often possible to get floor plans through these magazines, too. They were basically all-electric homes with lots of built-ins, very functional with great use of space and filled with all those modern extras, including color-coordinated kitchens. The kitchens, while modernized, were also made more compact so that everything was close at hand.

In the Boise Highlands, you'll also find curved streets, rolled curbs and no sidewalks. Named for the Scottish Highlands, this development is basically throughout the Crane Creek drainage. It features a mixture of contractor-built homes and architect designs, more likely to be found is the Upper Highlands, the property at higher elevations and with better views. The building CCRs often required the homes on the view side of the street to be more expensively built and designed. Some of those were required to be single-level and set back from the street.

The development was begun by third-generation real estate developer Richard B. Smith, who built and lived in a home in the Upper Highlands overlooking Hulls Gulch. Co-developers with him were Fred Bagly, Ted Eberle and Robert Kinsinger. The Highlands helped transform Boise's North End as the city grew after WWII.

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