Imagine taking an X-Acto knife and cutting a particular chunk of Boise out of the fabric of the city. Begin slicing along the Greenbelt at the bike and pedestrian bridge that spans the Boise River just below Plantation Golf Course and follow along the river heading east toward the soon-to-emerge Esther Simplot Park. Then cut north along Whitewater Boulevard and jog slightly up 30th Street to Hill Road. Skirt the Foothills as you cut westward toward Pierce Park Lane and slice south back to the starting point.
Set that chunk of territory on a table and study it; you’ll discover one of the city’s most eclectic and diverse segments — culturally, economically, geographically and architecturally.
As my friend Candy and I began biking along the Greenbelt weaving among bikers, joggers and dog walkers, we overheard conversations in several languages. On the river, fly fishermen tried to tease trout from the cold waters as ducks bobbed on the surface of the water and a heron flew overhead.
As we passed by ponds and wide stretches of the braided river, we imagined how the area will look just a couple of months from now. Swimmers, paddle boarders and canoers will be plying the flat water on the area’s many ponds — ponds that were once gravel excavation sites on former riverbed. Kayakers and surfers will challenge the whitewater at Boise River Park.
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Soon the city will celebrate the opening of the much-anticipated 55-acre Esther Simplot Park, featuring playgrounds and picnic sites, wetlands and boardwalks and, best of all, a series of interconnected ponds for flat-water boating.
It is a beautiful area soon to become even more lovely, but that was not always so. In the past, the area housed an airstrip and a number of commercial enterprises, including a beef rendering plant that often used the river as a dumping ground for waste products. No longer.
As we headed north to busy State Street, we couldn’t help noticing the mix of contemporary commercial development. Mixed among the thrift shops and gas stations are a wide array of restaurants, including upscale State & Lemp whose chef, Kris Komori, was recently named a James Beard Award semifinalist, and newly opened Kibroms, an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant featuring tangy injera and meaty sauces.
There are other restaurants mixed between the bars and fast food stops. We decided to return again another time to sample the burgers at The Lift, taste the vegetarian fare of Kind, enjoy the Zen Bento’s teriyaki and sample some of Smoky Davis’ famous jerky. Maybe later we’d wander through the antique stores in the 4500 block of State and stop by Bargain Books to see what gently used books have reached the shelves.
But on this wander we were determined to explore neighborhoods. So we crossed State and headed up 30th and into the Sunset Neighborhood that sports a park and all sorts of homes: large and small, old and new, some on large plots, others nearly butted up against each other.
A sign stopped us in our tracks on the corner of Good Street and 30th. Someone had created a “yarn bomb” encasing the sign’s post in a yarn cozy, turning the post into the whimsical stem of a plant with a red stop sign blossom.
It is an eclectic neighborhood that draws a range of residents, including Robin Butler, a retired psychotherapist. She chose the neighborhood because it seemed less “homogenized” than many others and was shaded by large trees. She found a newer home and settled in, pleased that it felt like living in the North End without the North End prices. Her son and daughter-in-law, Aaron and Johanna Butler, also nearby, love the easy access to Foothills trails and were delighted to find a home in the family-friendly Collister neighborhood — a home that offered a big yard for the kids to enjoy with plenty of space left over to grow a garden.
This area was once filled with the orchards of Dr. George Collister. His land, and adjacent land belonging to his sister, was subdivided, and 101 acres were divided into dozens of 7/8-acre plots — each with room enough for a small home, plus space for one cow, one horse, a garden and 150 chickens. The lots were designed for residents wanting to be self-sufficient. Horses are pastured in many of the larger lots that still dot the area.
Unfortunately, Dr. Collister’s mansion, designed by the architectural firm Tourtellotte and Hummel, who also designed the State Capitol building, was eventually torn down. Boise’s Fire Station Number 9 now stands on the original site.
We continued north to Hill Road and stopped to visit the 36th Street Garden Center and Bistro. This striking area is dominated by a handsome conservatory-style building that houses a restaurant and garden-oriented gift store.
Life where you work
Adjacent to the conservatory is a small garden center and a complex of live/work units featuring apartments above first-floor businesses. One of these live/work units houses Stacy and Jim Powers and their business, Bike Touring News, a specialty bike shop that caters to riders who enjoy biking tours and appreciate specialty gear such as bike seats and paniers that make their trips more comfortable and enjoyable. Next door, artist and jewelry designer Karen Klinefelter enjoys her work/home space that allows her to work whenever the creative urge draws her to her workbench to sculpt a new design. A handful of single-family homes and townhomes flank this appealing plaza along with some professional offices.
Leaving this area we biked west on Hill Road, eager to sample spring at Edwards Greenhouse, currently headed by Erin Monnie, great granddaughter of the original owner. This nursery is the nation’s oldest geothermal greenhouse. Classical music piped into the greenhouses drew us inside for a pleasant wander. I gathered a few tips from Anju Lucas who has provided advice for aspiring gardeners for a couple of decades at Edwards. She also designed the beautiful legacy garden adjacent to the greenhouses that Garnette Edwards later donated to the neighborhood.
Back on our bikes we headed west and stopped to consider a house under renovation at 5015 N. Eugene, on the corner of Eugene Street and Castle Drive. Now being restored by the city, it once was the home of James Castle, a self-taught artist who was born unable to hear. He communicated mostly via images created with materials that he scavenged — such things as cardboard packaging and food containers — using a mix of saliva and soot for ink.
His primitive, but very notable, work has been collected widely and is currently displayed in museums around the world. Upon completion of the reconstruction in 2017, participating artists in the city’s Artist-in-Residence program will have the opportunity to live and work in the home and explore the life and artistic processes used by Castle.
Dr. Robert Peck and his wife, Jeannie, live nearby and value the quiet, semi-rural feel of the area and the way the stars shine in the night sky that is not yet heavily masked by light pollution.
We headed west to Pierce Park Road and then south past a good deal of new home construction, and finally turned into the parking lot of Pierce Park Greens Golf Course and Driving Range at 5812 N. Pierce Park. The fairways of this is 3-par golf course nestle snugly into the surrounding neighborhood, offering golfers the opportunity for a quick round and/or the chance the hone their skills on the driving range.
Finding our way back to the Greenbelt, we pedaled east toward the Lake Harbor area. There, pretty little Silver Lake sparkled in the sun. Apartments flank the commercial area that crowns the northern shore of the lake, with single-family homes and gated communities clustered nearer the Greenbelt. Two areas stand out — just to the west of the lake, in the shadow of the Idaho Athletic Club, is a small subdivision that reflects Pasadena, Calif., with lovely craftsman-style townhomes that would make Frank Lloyd Wright smile.
Then on the southwest corner of the lake are a series of beach-style cottages with sandy waterfront yards that look like something cut out of an Oregon Coast magazine. Dennis and Linda Donohue thoroughly enjoy their views of both the lake and the Boise River from inside one of these homes. Linda loves living within a high-desert environment while still having access to so much water.
This slice of Boise, sandwiched between the western suburbs and the city’s North End, seems to be holding its breath. There is an air of barely suppressed excitement here, as if the area instinctively senses it is on the verge of something even better, perhaps perching on the edge of being discovered for treasure that it is.
Housing data for Northwest Boise
Total homes sold
Existing homes sold
New homes sold
Average sale price
Source: Intermountain Multiple Listing Service Inc.
A realtor’s view
“This portion of Boise offers quick access to the Foothills, the Greenbelt and Downtown. Buyers will find a mix of neighborhoods, from townhouses to small acreages, and houses dating from the early 1900s to brand-new developments. Good schools, plentiful parks and pedestrian-friendly streets make this area a favorite for all ages.”
Elaine Garris, Lazaris Realty
About this series
Longtime West Bench resident Ellie McKinnon, in looking for a new home somewhere in Boise, explored each of the city’s neighborhoods by bike — uncovering their best assets, talking to residents, soaking up the vibes — and has been writing a column roughly every month that highlights what she’s discovered.