Top 50 Stories: 1900-1950 — Tourtellotte and Hummel

More than any others, these architects influenced the look of Idaho’s towns, Boise’s skyline

awebb@idahostatesman.comJune 21, 2014 

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Is it possible to stand on most any street corner in Downtown Boise and see a building designed by Tourtellotte and Hummel?

It is, according to the book “Tourtellotte and Hummel of Idaho: The Standard Practice of Architecture.”

Seems reasonable, since the firm operated for 45 years and its commissions included Boise’s most famous buildings: the Idaho State Capitol, St. John’s Cathedral, the Egyptian Theatre, the Union Block, the former Boise Turnverein Building at Main and 6th, the Alexander Building, Boise High School, the Elks Building and many others.

John Tourtellotte began practicing in Boise in 1896. That year he designed the now-gone Lincoln School at Idaho and 4th streets. Charles Hummel became a partner in the firm in 1900. The firm formally became Tourtellotte and Hummel in 1910.

That year alone, commissions included the Children’s Home on Warm Springs Avenue, the Boise and Interurban Railway Depot (gone now, then at 7th and Bannock streets), the Pioneer Tent and Awning building, and a slew of houses and commercial buildings. Both of Hummel’s sons joined the firm.

Between 1910 and 1940 in particular, American architectural tastes were eclectic, said Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho. They ranged from Egyptian revival to neoclassical, to Tudor and Spanish mission styles. The architectural field demanded that firms be fluent in them all. Those that were not fell by the wayside. But Tourtellotte and Hummel were, as their roster of buildings still attest.

The firm had a huge presence in the city, not to mention the state and beyond. According to the form nominating the firm’s work for the National Register of Historic Places, it had more than 900 commissions (including smaller projects) between 1896 and 1941.

Other firms were influential. Wayland and Fennel, for example, designed iconic buildings that are still among us. They include the historic Ada County Courthouse (which will reopen soon as the Idaho Law Learning Center); Longfellow Elementary; and the old Central Fire Station at 6th and Idaho streets.

The two firms often collaborated on projects, especially during the Depression years. But Tourtellotte and Hummel had the edge.

The application for the National Register says: “The firm is the single most important in Idaho architecture.”

No surprise, then, that the names Tourtellotte and Hummel made frequent appearances in the pages of the Idaho Statesman — in advertisements, news of commissions and full-page spreads on the openings of new buildings.

The firm went through various incarnations through the years. Architect Charles Hummel, grandson of the original Hummel of Tourtellotte and Hummel, still lives in Boise. Like his forebears, he influenced the visual character of the city by designing high-profile structures, including the James A. McClure Federal Building, the original library at Boise State University and the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters on State Street.

Hummel also played a large part in renovating St. John’s Cathedral, the iconic Romanesque church designed by his grandfather’s firm.

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