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Idaho history: Boise’s castle-like Idanha Hotel ushered in 20th century

Duane Garrett’s fine photo of the Idanha Hotel as it looked in about 1908.
Duane Garrett’s fine photo of the Idanha Hotel as it looked in about 1908. Provided by Arthur Hart

“New Boise Hotel, May Be Built on Vacant Part of Sonna Block,” read a Statesman headline on Nov. 26, 1899, adding, “To Be Called the Idanha.”

The reporter had seen plans for the building prepared by Scottish-born Boise architect William Stewart Campbell and was not impressed: “It would be difficult to supply a name that would adequately describe the style of architecture … in fact, the plans disclose more of sturdiness than beauty of design.”

The castle-like style of Campbell’s building was, in fact, enormously popular for hotels, especially in Canada, where the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. had been building chateau-style hotels since 1893, when it opened the world-famous Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. The Idanha is a much more modest example of the castle style, notable for round corner towers with conical caps. Boise in the early 20th century had several such towered buildings, including those at the other three corners of Tenth and Main, before urban renewal demolished the two south of Main Street.

Boise’s Idanha took its name from a once-famous tourist hotel in Soda Springs built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1887. The hotel served as a dining stop for passengers and was luxurious for its day, with electric lights and piped natural gas for heating. On June 7, 1921, that first Idanha Hotel was destroyed by fire. The name Idanha, sometimes spelled Idan-ha, lived on as the name of a widely advertised and distributed natural mineral water bottled in Soda Springs by the Natural Mineral Water Co. Its labels read, “This water is bottled as it flows from the spring. Its life and sparkle are the results of its natural effervescence.” The town of Idanha, Ore., is named for the mineral water, not the hotels.

The first floor would include the lobby, office, luggage room, the dining room with a fire place where a wood fire would burn on winter days, the kitchen and a bar room with an elegant “carved and embellished” bar 18 feet long, a roomy refrigerator “for storing the various kinds of wet goods” and a dumb waiter for lowering “wet goods” to players in the card room below.

The second floor had a parlor leading to a balcony overlooking Main Street, and a four-room Senatorial Suite “built with especial view to the needs of politicians. Since the shaft from the bar passes through this room, so there will be no danger of drought in case the political subject is a dry one.” There was also a private dining room, “cozy for after-theatre parties.”

There were 120 rooms for guests, with the top floor “for the help.” The lengthy description of the new hotel added, “It is the intention to employ colored cooks and waiters.”

The Idanha Hotel opened on Jan. 1, 1901, the first day of the 20th century. Its ads in the Statesman claimed that it was “the largest and finest hotel in the northwest.” A 1903 addition brought the total number of guest rooms to 200. Manager E.W. Schubert proudly announced that 75 of them had baths.

In March 1904, seven other Boise hotels advertised in the Statesman, noting what their managers thought would attract customers: The old Overland Hotel claimed to be “the best known hotel in Idaho.” The Capitol called itself “the leading hotel in Boise.” The others touted rates ranging from 50 cents to $1.50 per day, electric lights, steam heat or artesian hot water baths.

Yet to come were three famous Valley hotels: Boise’s Owyhee, Nampa’s Dewey Palace and Caldwell’s Saratoga. Each made history.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.

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