If you’re new to Boise, you will be surprised by the combination of modern and daring 21st-century buildings and the elegant architecture of the old houses in the city center. Some of them date back to the 19th century and are historical buildings, that have witnessed the growth of this place from a small town to the vibrant city it is today.
Whether you’ve recently moved to Boise or are just visiting Idaho, take some time to wander the streets and get acquainted with the local architectural treasures.
For starters, go to the Christ Chapel on Broadway, quite near the campus of Boise State University. This Gothic chapel, one of the oldest churches in Idaho, was built in 1866 and was known at the time as St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. The beautiful white building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and many couples have tied the knot there.
If it’s entertainment you’re interested in, we strongly suggest the Ada Theater, the oldest in the beautiful City of Trees. It was built in 1927 when it was known as The Egyptian Theatre and it is quite obvious why. When it opened the local press wrote that it “embodies the characteristic features of the land of the Nile, from the truncated pyramids which form the great pylons, to the lotus bud pillars with their ornate frescoes.” Ada Theatre is representative of the Egyptian revival architecture inspired by the rekindled interest in Ancient Egypt following the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922. The lotus pillars are inspired by the Karnak Temple Complex, near Luxor, Egypt.
The Idaho Building
The Idaho Building at 8th and Bannock Streets, built in the Second Renaissance Revival style in 1910-11, is symbolic of the locals’ desire at the time to make Boise another Chicago. The 6-story building combines extreme simplicity with massive solidity. Pay special attention to the elegant facade featuring brick pilasters above a ground floor stone base, separated by seven bays with large plate glass windows in each bay. The Idaho Building was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The Hoff Building
Walking around downtown Boise, make sure to stop at the Hoff Building on Bannock Street. Designed by famous Boise architects, Tourtellotte & Hummel, it was built in 1930 in the style of Art Deco and was originally known as Hotel Boise. At 11 floors in 1930, the building is considered Boise’s first skyscraper and is listed today as the 11th tallest building in the city.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to admire the Art Deco ornamentation which was removed after 1978 when the building was bought by Hoff Companies who transformed the former hotel into an office building.
Eighth & Main
One of the city’s most recognizable buildings from the modern era is Eighth & Main, the tallest in Idaho. The 18-story building is pretty impressive mostly due to its shiny glass surfaces, but some of its best features are the dark glass on the southeast corner and the lights that change color at the top of the edifice. We recommend that you visit the place at night to watch the show of the changing colors.
St. Jonh’s Cathedral
Built in 1876, St. John’s Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in Boise and its architecture is typical Romanesque Revival, inspired by the Cathedral in Mainz, Germany and the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France.The exterior is made in Boise sandstone, quarried at the nearby Table Rock. The cruciform building was originally designed to have two towers topped with spires, but these were never completed. Pay special attention to the cathedral’s breath-taking stained glass windows, depicting the Adoration of the Magi and pictures of St. Alphonsus and St. Theresa. The church is also famous for its historic organ that encompasses the whole mezzanine area. And if you cannot find your way to the cathedral, just follow the sound of the church bells, which can be heard right around the city.
This is a historical building completed in 1871 on Main Street and was the first major federal government building in Idaho. It is significant for its role in the history of mining in Idaho. Gold and other precious metals are not mined in a pure form and in order to place a value on an ore, the precious metal must be separated from the impurities. This is what the Assay Office did.
The Assay Office in Boise featured a cupola for ventilation and the interior doors were equipped with iron cages. The first floor held the assayers offices, vaults and safes, as well as assaying and melting rooms. The second floor was devoted to living quarters for the chief assayer.
An impressive building in the heart of Boise, Alexander House is a Queen Anne style family home built in 1897. The house was built for Moses Alexander the year he became mayor of Boise. He went on to become governor of Idaho. According to local lore, the construction of the Alexander House was inspired when “the mayor’s wife, Helena, had seen a picture in the newspaper with floor plans for a two-story house with many gables”. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Due not mistake this for Alexanders, which is is a two-story Second Renaissance Revival commercial building, which belonged to the mayor mentioned above. The store, all clad in white terracotta, was built in 1924. If you’re interested, it was a men’s clothing store.
There are so many other places you should visit in Boise – the Anduiza Hotel, built in 1914, the Carnegie Public Library (another wonderful example of Renaissance architecture), the Christian Church at 9th and Franklin Streets built in a Romanesque style, or maybe the Artesian Water Co. Pumphouse and Wells. We guarantee you won’t get bored, but rather tired after so much walking around.