Boise Depot comes to life with new Sunday tours

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJuly 13, 2014 

When the first Union Pacific Railroad train rolled into Boise on April 16, 1925, the new Boise Depot was considered the "most beautiful structure in the West," history buff Eriks Garsvo told a group of people who toured the building Sunday.

"When this depot was built, depots of this size and this skill were not being built anymore," Garsvo said. "So it was quite rare to have something like this be built in that timeframe."

The Boise Depot, featuring a Spanish tile roof, wooden Spanish trusses and a sandstone exterior with rock mined from the same quarry as that used to construct the Old Idaho Penitentiary, opened 14 years before Los Angeles Union Station, which looks similar.

The Boise Depot was designed by Shreve & Lamb, the New York architects who designed the Empire State Building. At the time, the company was a division of Carrère and Hastings, a prestigious firm that designed the New York Public Library, the Standard Oil Building and the Russell Senate Office Building and the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater in Washington, D.C.

The entrance required 140,000 pounds of sandstone, which had to redone when the depot was refurbished between 1990 and 1993 by the Morrison-Knudsen Corp., Garsvo said.

The Depot served the Portland Rose passenger route between Chicago and Portland. That route was discontinued in May 1971 when Amtrak took over as the nation's passenger service provider. The Pioneer route operated until 1997.

The Boise Depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The city of Boise obtained the depot in 1996. It is open to the public Sundays and Mondays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The next tour by Garsvo will take place on July 27. A maximum of 30 people are allowed on the free tour, which takes about an hour. Register online at least 48 hours before the tour at Eventbrite at

The tour includes a look at both the outside of the structure as well as the interior 3,542-square-foot Great Hall. It includes period wooden pews, ticket windows and the Barkalow Brothers Newsstand that sold periodicals, cigarettes and snacks. A copy of the Idaho Statesman with a story about the first train arrival is also on display.

The tour ends with a visit to the top of the 96-foot-tall bell tower. One of the four sets of bells still sound daily at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.

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