When my friend Candy and I concluded our exploration of Southeast Boise for November’s column, our interest in the history of the urbanized ranch and farm land had not yet been sated.
Consequently, our most recent ride found us traversing through the South Boise Village neighborhood, exploring a portion of Vista Village and then moving up the hill heading west to explore subdivisions around Rose Hill, Franklin and Overland and on westward to Cole Road.
Historian Barbara Perry Bauer’s book, “South Boise Scrapbook,” unfolded the area’s past for us and enhanced our own exploration. Much of the history chronicled in this article came from her book.
Rich in history
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We were aware as we pedaled along Boise Avenue that we were traveling along the same route followed by those who had trekked along the Oregon Trail. A swath of land from Amity along Boise Avenue to Capitol Boulevard is designated as the Oregon Trail Parkway.
The parkway, a project of the National Parks System, was developed in cooperation with the Idaho State Historical Society, Boise State University, the city of Boise and others. A series of strategically placed monuments along this transportation route are inscribed with the history of the trail.
South Boise Village signs grace a residential area adjacent to the parkway. At one time, this area was a true village. According to Bauer, the soil was fertile and hay grown there found a ready market at Fort Boise, where soldiers needed feed for their horses. A flour mill, iron foundry and horse collar factory were also part of the scene in South Boise Village.
The area evolved over time and when the Broadway Bridge was completed in 1892, access to Boise became easier. By 1905, the rapid transit system was completed, and on Christmas Day of that year, passengers could board a trolley at 8th and Main and travel across the bridge to South Boise.
The Village was annexed to the city in 1913. There are homes in the area constructed during the heyday of the village that are still in use, though much of the land has been divided and subdivided and now newer homes, built shoulder to shoulder, stand where large lots with single-family homes once stood.
The large old trees in Manitou Park have watched over the changes and now look down on kids racing down manicured lawns during soccer practice and shade picnickers enjoying a meal under the trees in the summer.
Mary Jane Webb lives in one of the older homes bordering the park. Hers is a home with a history that is detailed in Rita Rodriguez’ book, “The Blue Doorknob.” The book provides a delightful window in time through which to view Boise residents of a different period.
Over the years, Webb and her husband, Jay, remodeled the house, keeping its historic flavor but adapting it to meet their family’s needs. Webb says she appreciates the home and also the area. She likes the convenience of walking to nearby Boise State University and enjoys the mix of housing and people with differing backgrounds that makes the area vibrant.
From the South Boise Village neighborhood we headed to Vista Village, a commercial area. Our first stop was Art Smith Jewelry. I have always liked this shop, where customers can watch jewelers — silver and goldsmiths — create and repair jewelry.
Rick Harvey and his family work harmoniously there, along with Larry West. I had previously thought that the name reflected the work done there, but Harvey corrected my misconception by sharing that the name is that of the original owner, Art Smith.
At the far end of Vista Village is a small but delightful Italian restaurant, Cucina di Paolo. The iconic Betty the washerwoman figure now stands atop the restaurant‘s street-side sign, drawing attention to the Cucina rather than to clean laundry.
The delectable aroma of lasagna and other Italian delicacies draws customers inside. Chef Paul Wegner was busily baking when I stopped by recently. He and his wife, Mary Jean, have been cooking up a storm in Boise for 23 years, first selling their baked lasagnas at the Capitol City Public Market.
For a while before opening Cucina di Paolo (Italian for Paul’s kitchen), Wegner served as the executive chef at the popular Cottonwood Grill. Wegner says the neighborhoods that border the Cucina seem tightly knit, and he and his wife enjoy the people who come in, place an order and then stay to chat and reminisce. Customers often take some of the chef’s cooking home. Glass cases house take-home ready-baked selections.
Something old, something new
As with other neighborhood wanderings, this exploration required more than one trip. At Candy’s suggestion, I headed up Rose Hill beyond the Vista Village to Roosevelt. There stands another Boise icon, the Boise Bench Commission. Now a second-hand furniture store, it was once an auction house.
Photos and a few remnants of the auction house days are displayed on the walls. It’s likely that the motley, life-sized figures seated by the office — two tired Native Americans and a crusty old miner and his dog— were acquired from those earlier days. Now college students and others furnish their apartments and homes with furnishings purchased at the Commission.
Not far away stands the new South Junior High, an updated school that houses a very lovely 900-seat auditorium. There is also an outdoor amphitheater there. The front wall of that theater is an art deco-style wall that was once part of the library in the original junior high school.
Wandering through neighborhoods above Borah High School, I encountered yet another figure, this one more house-sized than life-sized. Lounging on the lawn of a home on Randolph Street is an enormous Frosty the Snowman inflatable. Good thing he has found someplace comfortable to recline this winter, for the owners of that lawn are planning to tear down the home behind him.
Currently, the home belongs to the Blake family. Marcella Blake says the house once was owned by her husband’s grandparents and she and her husband intend to build a new home on the same site. According to Blake, this older area is re-establishing itself, as young families purchase homes then remodel, replace or update them.
Overland Road, on the southern perimeter of this area, sports a wide variety of shops and services and has the feel of a very long strip mall. There are a number of international food markets and a wide variety of restaurants.
Residential areas north of this busy street extend to Cole Road and beyond. There, on Cole, rising majestically above the homes is the Boise LDS Temple — a commanding presence. The interstate bisects the area from east to west at that point. On the other side of the freeway neon lights draw attention to the Edwards Cineplex and beckon further wanderings, but we stop here, our exploration of this portion of Boise completed.
Ellie McKinnon is a freelance writer who lives in Boise.
About this series
Longtime West Bench resident Ellie McKinnon is looking for a new home — somewhere in Boise. After she explores each of the city's neighborhoods by bike — uncovering their best assets, talking to residents, soaking up the vibes — she will pen a monthly column that highlights what she’s discovered.
Housing data for South Boise
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Source: Intermountain Multiple Listing Service Inc.
Why buy in South Boise?
“This area of town has an eclectic charm with affordable homes located in neighborhoods with mature trees, community parks, close to shopping, restaurants and schools,” said Linda Lazaris with Lazaris Realty. “In most of the neighborhoods you will find a community minded spirit and wholesomeness of good old-fashioned neighbors.”