Boise & Garden City

Boise history on high as Preservation Idaho’s rooftop tour returns

Up on the Roof Deux! will give people the chance to go places high above the city that are usually off-limits to visitors.

In 2013, the first time the group held a rooftop tour, ticket holders got to survey the Downtown Boise skyline from the upper reaches of a parking garage, from office buildings, from the then-under construction Owyhee Building and other spots.

The second rooftop tour on June 20 will feature four rooftops or upper stories: Plaza 121, the newly rehabbed Owyhee, the Hoff Building (former Hotel Boise), and the 17th floor offices of Holland and Hart law firm at the Eighth & Main building.

Ticket holders will enjoy different live musical acts at each venue, hors d’oeuvres and even a special cocktail concocted at the Owyhee specifically for the event. They will sip drinks on the terrace known for its dazzling views of the Boise Foothills.

“I don’t know what the cocktail’s going to be,” said tour organizer and Preservation Idaho board member Barbara Perry Bauer. “We asked for something pretty and appropriate for being under the stars.”

Preservation Idaho members will be present at each venue, prepared to answer questions about buildings and other historic sites.

The nonprofit organization advocates for and educates about historic structures across the state. But the rooftop tour is about both the old and the new, officials said.

EIGHTH & MAIN BUILDING

Buildings have occupied the corner of 8th and Main streets since Boise’s earliest days: Pioneers platted the city’s original 10 blocks in 1863. Entrepreneurs built the Overland Hotel there just one year later. The Overland became a famous stop for travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Eastman Building, designed by Tourtellotte and Hummel, replaced the hotel in 1905. Among its most notable features were 100 stone lion heads dotting the terra cotta cornice.

The Eastman fell into disrepair in the 1950s-60s. After a period of limbo during which it was threatened with demolition, it burned in a suspicious fire in 1987.

The site sat empty for decades, earning impatience, not a little scorn, and, later, a nickname: The Boise Hole. The myth of a folkloric curse even shadowed the site. Billy Fong, the last resident of Downtown Boise’s Chinese community, was evicted from his home near 8th and Main in 1972. Before he left, Fong cursed the block that would become The Grove Hotel. Some say the curse also shadowed the Eastman block.

The curse apparently lifted and fortunes shifted in 2011, when Gardner Co. bought the site. Now an 18-story mixed-use tower stands there.

When you visit: Pause in the lobby. You’ll see one of the salvaged lion heads from the Eastman in a glass case, a remnant of the once-grand building.

OWYHEE HOTEL

When it opened, the Idaho Statesman sang its praises as the “most modern and complete commercial and tourist hotel between Chicago and San Francisco.” The 125-room hotel had mahogany furniture and dazzling innovations such as electric lights and connections to light switches so guests could plug in their curling irons. Guests could sip water from the hotel’s artesian well. The hotel offered ladies’ tea rooms and a grand dining room with its own china pattern, but also a dungeonlike basement club for men, complete with pretend jail cell.

The Owyhee’s rooftop terrace was always an attraction, decorated with flowers and lanterns, and offering great views — though not of the Eighth & Main building, as it does now. Idaho enacted Prohibition in 1916, but Boiseans still loved the hotel terrace — dry or no.

The hotel continued to be a key feature of Downtown Boise for decades. It added a new wing on its west side in the 1960s. Major remodels in the late 1970s drastically altered the interior. One casualty: a stained-glass dome in the lobby. The dome was removed and reinstalled in the lobby of the Idaho State Historical Society.

The building’s recent renovation, which opened and lightened lobby spaces, also features apartments, and it reopened the famous terrace.

When you visit: Be sure to see the original hexagonal tile that remains throughout the lobby and bar area.

THE HOFF BUILDING/HOTEL BOISE

The Portland office of the celebrated firm Tourtellotte and Hummel designed the hotel, which was built thanks to a partnership between Walter Pierce, a prominent Boise developer, and Morrison-Knudsen Construction Co. The hotel opened in 1930 at the start of the Great Depression. Boise had two other grand hotels at the time, The Idanha and The Owyhee, both considerably older, built in 1901 and 1910, respectively. The Idaho Statesman gave extensive coverage to the Hotel Boise. One headline read: “Monolith Adds Skyline Beauty.”

The building was a true community project and a great source of community pride, said Barbara Perry Bauer. Local businessmen had bought shares to pay for its construction. Builders used local materials, including the sand and lime mixed into the concrete and wood from Idaho forests.

The hotel offered many attractions, including the Emerald Dining Room all in shades of green and dark wood; the Crystal Ballroom; a restaurant called The Rainbow; the Spanish Room with dark orange walls; and a Submarine Room complete with blue walls and porthole windows.

The hotel is one of four Art Deco hotels designed by Tourtellotte and Hummel in the 1930s using concrete building techniques that were revolutionary for the time. Others hotels were built in Baker City, Ore., Bend, Ore., and Pullman, Wash.

The hotel underwent big changes in the 1970s, including the addition of a three-story glass crown and the loss of some of its Art Deco detailing. A later restoration, headed by the local firm Planmakers, restored some of those, including light fixtures, marquees, and interior lobby walls.

When you visit: Note the Deco-style detailing, including chevrons and rosettes on the building’s exterior panels.

PLAZA 121/FIRST SECURITY BANK

This six-story brick building, built in 1956, exudes midcentury “Mad Men” style. The firm Hummel, Hummel and Jones designed the building, now home to Bank of the Cascades, Berryhill and other tenants.

Boise experienced a spurt of growth and prosperity between 1950 and 1956, and the new bank building was part of that momentum. Its sleek modernity replaced a 1907 stone building on the site.

The First Security Bank was notable as the first building in Boise with an exterior time and temperature sign. Bank officials hosted a weeklong open house for special guests and the public when construction was finished.

Cole and Poe Architects renovated Plaza 121 in 2005. Improvements included new windows, streetscapes, residential apartments and a courtyard. It looks right at the Wells Fargo building Downtown.

When you visit: Don’t miss Marylin Lysohir’s charming sculpture “Spring Run,” bear heads and fish mounted on the courtyard wall.

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