Idaho History

Music and dancing? Check. A roller coaster? Yes, Boise’s early Natatorium had it all

The roller coaster was the main attraction of the amusement park at the Natatorium.
The roller coaster was the main attraction of the amusement park at the Natatorium.

Boise’s Natatorium was owned and operated by the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Co. Ltd. Its officers were some of the city’s best-known and wealthiest citizens: C.W. Moore, president; H.B. Eastman, general manager; Alfred Eoff, treasurer; and E.B. Tage, secretary. In their first ad in the Idaho Statesman, they noted that “electric cars leave Main Street for the Natatorium every 20 minutes.”

Music and dancing were always a popular part of the entertainment offered regularly at the Natatorium from the time it opened in June 1892, until a freak tornado-like storm damaged it so seriously in July 1934 that it was condemned and torn down.

“Prof. Joseph Rice, America’s greatest harp soloist” received top billing in the Nat’s first season, but we have been unable to find him mentioned in any music history, or find anything about “Senescu’s Roumanian Symphony Orchestra” that appeared there in May 1907. (George Enescu, the famous Roumanian composer would not come to America until many years later, never came to Idaho.)

Dance bands over the years included that of Adolph Ballot, who played there on Wednesday and Saturday evenings in 1892, and Prof. Pasmore’s Columbia Orchestra in 1893. The Statesman commented: “The dancing room at the popular resort is very fine.” In an ad for a “Grand Hop” to be held on July 4, 1893, the instruments in Ballot’s band were listed: “1st and 2nd Violins, Bass Viol, Clarinet, and Cornet.”

In January 1897, the Statesman listed the dance program you could enjoy for just 25 cents, if you had the stamina: “Quadrille, Waltz, Two Step, Lancers, Schottische, Newport, Waltz Quadrille, Polka, Two Step, Quadrille, and Home Sweet Home.”

Over the years the Natatorium management continued to add one feature after another to the grounds surrounding the big building itself, until by the 1930s it was a full-blown amusement park that even included a roller coaster. In 1903, when a fenced-in deer park was installed, it was described as the first step toward building a zoo. In 1904 “Lake Eastman” was created by diverting water from Boise River, and “a new and commodious gasoline launch will take passengers around the lake regularly every day between the hours of 1 o‘clock and 10 o’clock p.m.”

We’d love to hear from older readers who have personal memories of Boise’s grand old Natatorium – gone but certainly not forgotten.

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

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