This year’s location of the annual Preservation Idaho Heritage Home Tour feels like a forgotten corner of the North End. It’s quietly residential, yet very accessible to popular areas like Hyde Park and Camel’s Back. Anchored by Elm Grove Park, just a few short blocks west of Harrison Boulevard on Irene Street, this area thoroughly represents Boise’s emblematic label as the City of Trees.
“As someone newer to Boise, I was not familiar with the Elm Grove Park neighborhood,” Preservation Idaho Board President Paula Benson said. “I was surprised and delighted when I first walked the neighborhood. The large trees provided great shade on that sunny day, and each house was unique and beautifully tended. Every day we were there, we saw families playing in the park.”
While most people think of the North End as the area east of Harrison Boulevard, the definition grew toward the west side of the boulevard when the Expanded North End Historic District was created about a dozen years ago.
“It really seems to embody the best of what people look for in a place to live and raise families,” Benson said.
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Like many Boise neighborhoods, there is a variety of architectural styles in this area, which is always an enticing draw to the tour.
We preview two of the homes on the tour — Robin Bosworth’s and Bill and Jeannine Ryan’s — to see how they have been preserved and updated for that timeless feel that is so attractive in these hidden corners of town.
“The neighborhood is walkable, beautiful, peaceful and visually interesting. I love it!” Benson said.
About the Oct. 2 tour
The Heritage Home Tour is Preservation Idaho’s most popular annual fundraiser and is also its largest fundraiser of the year.
Preservation Idaho receives no state or federal funds. It relies entirely on memberships, donations, grants and fundraisers. That’s where this event comes into play.
“Heritage Home Tour is a fun day that also serves to help people better understand and appreciate the role and the value of preservation in our everyday lives,” Benson said.
While the money helps with the development of educational tours and lectures throughout the year, Benson said Preservation Idaho has many more needs than just funding these cornerstone programs.
Other projects being planned include the creation of a new website to replace the current, aging site, along with expanding and improving the websites of the Idaho Architectural Project, Idaho Modern and the new Idaho Heritage Barns Register. There are also plans to create a new version of the Idaho Historic Time Machine. (Ask a fourth-grader about that one.)
“We are also hoping to find a permanent home for Preservation Idaho,” Benson said. “We are 43 years old and do not have an office. We hope to find a historical building to hold our offices and be a place to host workshops, educational programs and community events.”
Visits to special neighborhoods
It presents the rare opportunity to tour a handful of historical homes in one particular part of town — including this year’s Elm Grove Park area. From Harrison Boulevard, you turn west on Irene Street. The park itself is six short blocks away.
Last year, the Heritage Home Tour zeroed in on the Kootenai Street Historic Neighborhood on the Bench. Previous neighborhoods have included Warm Springs Boulevard, Harrison Boulevard, Hays Street District, Crescent Rim, East End Historic District, the Highlands and 17th and 18th Streets in Boise’s North End.
“It’s a special neighborhood,” said Idaho Preservation Historian Barbara Perry Bauer. “It’s a hidden, historic gem that has been a secret neighborhood since it was first developed.”
As one of the last original subdivisions in the Expanded North End Historic District west of Harrison Boulevard, this neighborhood was also one of the first that came with the trees intact, Bauer said. If you look at early photos of Boise and Canyon County, you will get a sense of how dry and desert-like this area looked compared to today.
Part of why this neighborhood is so special is because of Realtor Walter E. Pierce. He was one of the original ambassadors and promoters for the city of Boise — especially the North End — and one of the main reasons we are known today as “The City of Trees.” Over the next couple of decades, Pierce & Company planted an estimated 7,000 trees in the North End, including 600 of them down Harrison Boulevard. (Pierce also did a stint as mayor from 1895-1897 at the age of 35, winning by a mere two votes.)
In the book Harrison Boulevard — Preserving The Past In Boise’s North End, edited by Todd Shallat and David Kennedy, Pierce’s daughter, Margaret Pierce Lundy, quotes Col. William Dewey of Silver City and Dewey Palace fame as saying “Boise didn’t begin to grow until W.E. came to town.”
In fact, Pierce remained active in Boise his entire life and was still working as a developer till age 80, said Bauer, who is writing a book on this important and interesting figure in the city’s history.
A newspaper article from the 1930s reportedly called Pierce the single most important person to transform Boise “from frontier village to metropolitan city.”
In 1911, Pierce and his partners developed the Elm Grove neighborhood and actually platted it with a park, something that seems commonplace today, but was a rarity at that time. Pierce was the kind of guy who was on top of what was going on around the country, and community parks were a trend that could be found in other cities.
This was one of the premier subdivisions in town, Bauer said, due in part to the proximity of the streetcar line at 18th and Irene streets. (By the way, Pierce just happened to be a major investor in those streetcar and trolley lines.)
Pierce had a habit of building a home for himself in each new neighborhood then selling once the area was established. In 1915, he built a home at 21st and Irene streets as a wedding present for his second wife. It was too far away from town for Maude, and a few years later they moved closer to the city at Harrison Boulevard and Alturas Street. The house, meanwhile, didn’t fare too badly. In 1947, it was sold to the state and became Idaho’s first governor’s mansion from 1947 to 1989.
This was always a desirable area, Bauer said, and was home to many of the city’s “movers and shakers.” It’s a rather private neighborhood; there are not a lot of busy, thoroughfare-type of roads.
“It feels like you’re cut off from things when you’re there, but you’re not,” she said. “It’s very accessible.”
The neighborhood features a mix of styles. In the early days, some homes sat on lots of three or four. As homes continued to fill in the area for several decades, the neighborhood developed a definite personality, yet without any dominant home style. The tour will include several Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival homes, for example.
The tour takes approximately three hours, rain or shine. Children 10 and under are admitted free. See the ticket details below and at PreservationIdaho.org soon.
Though the homes do not necessarily have disabled access, it is still easy to view the property exteriors and learn about the neighborhood and homes through the educational booklet that serves as the “ticket” for the event. That “ticket” has been researched and written by a local historian and a local architectural historian and is filled with historical nuggets.
Dusty Parnell is a freelance print, radio and print journalist who has been working in the Treasure Valley for more than 25 years.
Preservation Idaho’s Heritage Home Tour
Elm Grove Park neighborhood
Sunday, Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Get your ticket ahead of time at the Preservation Idaho website, preservationidaho.org. Early Bird pricing for non-members is $25 from Sept. 1-20. Otherwise, it’s $25 for members and $30 for nonmembers.
Registration and check-in will be at Elm Grove Park (2200 W. Irene St.), and tickets will also be available the day of event.
For more information, call 208-424-5111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.