IDAHO HISTORY: A bevy of bakeries, and the last of Davis Levy

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANNovember 10, 2013 

In 1876 Davis Levy, proprietor of the California Bakery, had the Boise market all to himself. His competitors had gone out of business, probably because the town was too small to support more than one bakery. And, of course, most housewives still baked their own bread, pies and cakes.

Levy appreciated the value of maintaining good relations with the local newspaper, as when he baked a “Centennial Cake” for the nation’s 100th birthday, on the Fourth of July 1876, and delivered it to the Statesman office. “The boys are feasting on it and find it melts like sugar in one’s mouth. Read Levy’s ad, and be sure to call on him Centennial week.”

A year later Levy again had competition, this time from saloon keeper James H. Hart, another man who knew how to cultivate the press. Not only did Jimmy advertise regularly, but he began submitting short humorous quips that the paper printed for years.

Hart’s ad of May 26, 1877, reads “IDAHO BAKERY and SAMPLE ROOM, Next Door to the Post Office. Fresh Loaves of Bread: 6 Loaves for $1.00. Soda Crackers: 6 lbs. for $1.00. FANCY GROCERIES, Cakes, Candies, Nuts, Etc., and a neat little SAMPLE ROOM to refresh the inner man.” A “sample room” as you have guessed, was a saloon.

In March 1888, John Krall, who was in the bakery business for a short time in 1865, had a brick building erected on 7th Street to house the Idaho Bakery. It was to be run by the firm of Clark & Allen, who were, the paper said, “experienced in the bakery business.” Even before the building was finished, the partners started baking bread and cake in a borrowed oven. They peddled their bread from a wagon at 14 loaves for a dollar.

By the 1890s, Davis Levy owned several buildings in the block now occupied by Boise City Hall.

His rented rooms were notorious as the city’s red light district, and were referred to frequently in the Statesman as “Levy’s Alley,” “Old Levy’s den of iniquity” or “Levy’s den of horrors.”

The police were called on several occasions to arrest the hot-tempered Levy for some act of violence against one of the women who occupied his rooms. This was usually because they could not pay the rent, which he collected from them daily.

When Davis Levy was brutally murdered onOct. 3, 1901, there were none to mourn a man who had once had friends and had run a respectable and profitable bakery on Main Street.

As Boise grew, in the early years of the 20th century, there was enough business for several bakeries. John Fauth’s Capitol Bakery at 717 W. Main St., which advertised itself as an “old reliable and first class establishment,” was in business at that address for nearly 20 years with different owners.

Chester G. Brink, at 824 W. Main, is listed in the 1909-10 City Directory as “Manufacturing Confectioner, Idaho’s Largest Confectionery, Candies, Cakes, Ice Cream.”

The Imperial Bakery, run by A.J., R.C. and Louis Stephan at 922 Front St. advertised “The famous milk bread and Malto bread our specialties.”

The Scott Bakery at 1509 W. Main St. stated in its ad: “We are the originators and bakers of the famous Perfection bread and Perfection brand fruit cake.” Other bakers active in those years were James W. Wilson and Earl W. Rummersfield at 1619 N. 13th St..

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914, had an immediate impact on Boise’s bakers and the price of bread.

The Idaho Daily Statesman reported on Sept. 8, 1914: “Four Cent Loaf Decide Bakers at Meeting. Boise bakers met Monday night at the Imperial Bakery where the proposition of raising the price of bread was threshed out. It was decided that stores must pay four cents per loaf instead of three, which means that the cut rate groceries can no longer retail at the four-cent price. This raise comes as the result of the rise of the price of flour last week. Today bakeries must pay $7 per barrel for the Kansas and Minnesota product.”

The local rise in the price of bread was moderate, thought the Statesman, when it was considered that the price of flour had gone up by more than a third.

In the years ahead, bread and bakery products would be produced and marketed under national brand names like Holsum, Hostess, Orowheat, Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee and Wonder Bread, but local bakeries continued to do well against the giants, and some still do.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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