J.R. Simplot's Legacy

You can't miss Simplot's house on the hill

J.R. Simplot knew a good deal when he saw one, and few were better than the one that got him the land for his Boise home.

Most of his real estate holdings were agricultural - he bought and sold dozens of farms and ranches in his lifetime - but occasionally urban settings caught his eye. That was the case when he purchased the property that eventually became the site of his home overlooking Boise - the home he and Esther Simplot donated to the state in 2004 to be Idaho's governor's mansion.

"He bought Hills Village in 1947, and we think he purchased the property that now includes his house at the same time," J.R. Simplot Co. spokesman Fred Zerza said. "It was about 2,200 acres."

Hills Village was a housing development in the Boise Foothills east of Eighth Street. Simplot purchased it for company employees, Zerza said, during a postwar housing shortage. The land that became his homesite, on Bogus Basin Road, wasn't developed until the '70s. By then, Simplot's penchant for 20-20 foresight was well established.

"He just recognizes value," Zerza said. " I'm sure that when he bought that land back in the '40s, he knew that someday it would be worth a lot more than he paid for it."

Simplot built the house on the hill in the '70s. It was unusual for its location - a solitary hilltop perch - and for its 30-by-60-foot American flag, said to be the largest in Idaho. By comparison, the U.S flag on the Statehouse flagpole is 10 by 15 feet.

When neighbors complained that the flapping flag kept them awake nights, the solution was vintage Simplot. Instead of getting a smaller flag, he got a bigger flagpole. Flying 200 feet above the ground, the flag was distant enough that the noise was muted.

Simplot's 2,200 acres are now prime Foothills residential land with an average value of up to $40,000 an acre. Money is being raised to expand and update the home for whatever governor is first to occupy it.

Simplot's 1947 price: $5 an acre.