Betty the washerwoman is Boise’s newest pin-up
Moving to the Treasure Valley can leave some folks puzzled about the things that make up the area’s sometimes quirky character. Here are five icons to know and love — and get you in the know.
No. 1: Vista Washer Woman
Heading from the airport to Downtown Boise you’ll you’ll pass one of the city’s most known and kookiest features — Betty, The Vista Washer Woman. Originally built in the 1950s for the Maytag Laundry, Betty now surveys the length of Vista Avenue from her perch atop Cucina di Paolo, an Italian restaurant at 1504 S. Vista Ave.
Betty stopped working in the late 1990s and was pretty ragged when new owners took over the building in 2006. Fortunately, she got a reboot with new mechanics and support from a community of followers who help keep her looking good and change her outfits monthly.
And she has a new mission. Each year Mary Jean and Paul Wegner, who own Cuccina di Paolo, produce a much coveted benefit calendar.
“We wanted Betty to be more than a historic icon,” Paul Wegner told the Statesman when they started the calendar in 2016. “We wanted her to give back to the community.”
You can still buy a 2019 calendar that benefits the Idaho Humane Society, Fuzzy Paws Rescue and Pet Peace of Mind for $20. The Wegners are considering taking 2020 off, he says.
No. 2: Shafer Butte
The saying goes, “Don’t plant your tender perennials until the snow melts off Shafer Butte.” This quaint rule of thumb is a real thing for Treasure Valley gardeners. When the snow is gone, that’s when the danger of frost and freeze is officially past.
It usually happens around the middle of May. If you plant before then, you’ll have to work to protect your tomatoes.
But Shafer Butte is more than a cliche. At about 7,600 feet in elevation, Shafer Butte is part of the Boise National Forest, and just above the Bogus Basin Mountain Ski Area. The butte and Shafer Creek, which runs down to Horseshoe Bend, both were named for Jacob K. Shafer, an explorer and Idaho Territorial delegate to Congress in the late 1860s. It was made an official part of Boise National Forest in the 1920s. It’s also a great place for camping, mountain biking, hiking, bird watching and more.
No. 3: Egyptian Theatre
The Egyptian Theatre is one of those things that makes Boise a special place. A stop in this iconic building is a must for visitors, newbies and locals. It’s one of few Egyptian-style theaters left in the Northwest. It opened in 1927 as a movie house, showing films of the Silent Era. It still has the original pipe organ that rises from under the floor for special occasions, such as Boise Music Week.
Architect Frederick “Fritz” Hummel of Tourtelotte & Hummel Architects, who also designed the Idaho Statehouse, created it in the Egyptian Revival style that was popular at the time. The interior is decorated with images of Egyptian god Osiris and goddess Isis, statues reminiscent of King Tut, and passages from the Book of the Dead, with scantily clad maidens. The stage proscenium is gilt with gold leaf.
The building narrowly escaped razing in the flurry of 1970s redevelopment. After a vibrant grass-roots campaign, developer and preservationist Earl Hardy bought and restored it. Today it’s still owned by the Hardy Foundation and run as a nonprofit. It’s had several renovations over its 112-year history, and the last one made great improvements to the sound, lighting and stage.
You can still see movies at the Egyptian and but special screenings, such as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which screens on May 22-23. But you also can see touring bands, comedians, readings by nationally know authors and performances by Opera Idaho.
No. 4: The shape of Idaho
It’s no secret that Idahoans love Idaho and the complicated twists of fate and backdoor political maneuverings that shaped the panhandle.
Artist have turned its unusual shape into several iconic images on hats, T-shirts, jewelry and more. So wear those Idaho-shaped earrings and pendants, your IdaHome T-shirts, while eating Idaho-made Ballard Family Cheese on your Idaho-shaped cutting board.
No 5: The Record Exchange
If you’re new to the area and enjoy music at all, you need to visit The Record Exchange. The RX to its regulars, it is one of the Treasure Valley’s longest-lasting and most iconic businesses. This throwback to the classic record stores of the 1960s and ‘70s is known as one of the best in the country.
Michael Bunnell opened the first iteration of the RX as a used-record store in 1977. Now Bunnell and his wife, Jil Sevy, curate the store’s inventory along with a dedicated staff of music nerds and working musicians.
You’ll find new and gently used vinyl and CDs, a wall of posters and music-inspired art, and the newest sounds from folk to EDM. The Edge gift and coffee shop anchors the east side of the building with an array of irreverent knickknacks, T-shirts, colorful socks, jewelry and more.
You never know who you’ll see shopping. Frances McDormand and Ethan Coen have stopped in. Musicians such as Flatbush Zombies, James McMurtry, Henry Rollins, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne all have shopped in the Hitchcock Building on the corner of 11th and Idaho streets.
Bunnell is a founder of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and has been instrumental in pressing record labels to bring back vinyl and support indie artists such as Kings of Leon.
But the element that really elevates the RX is the occasional in-store concert it produces, along with 94.7 FM The River. Ed Sheeran, on his first U.S. tour as an opener, played Boise in 2012. Josh Ritter, Smashing Pumpkins, Ben Harper, John Mayer and Vance Joy have all been on the RX stage, and Boiseans have enjoyed them all for free.