(from the 2013 Boise 360 Blog archive)
Ethnic Landmarks in Boise
A couple of weeks ago, we had one of our last seminars in the Teaching American History Grant program in which many Boise School District U.S. History teachers are participating. One of the themes of the program has been using local examples for teaching national issues. On this Wednesday, we were treated with several great talks including Prof. Robert Sims’ talk on the history of Minidoka, Prof. Jill Gill’s lecture on the history of Martin Luther King/Human Rights Day in Idaho, and Prof. Todd Shallat’s discussion on the background of the Anne Frank/Human Rights Memorial in Boise. In the afternoon, the attendees spent time looking around Boise’s Black History Museum. It was a thought provoking day and sent us home with a lot of great lesson plan ideas.
Now, Boise is not usually thought of as a city of incredible diversity. After all, according to Prof. Gill, the most impactful event that encouraged the Idaho State Legislature to vote approval of MLK/Human Rights Day as a state holiday was a big rally up north by the Aryan Nations! And yet….we can find examples of Boise’s diverse ethnic heritage everywhere, including in the places we visited and the issues we discussed the other day.
It all made me start thinking about what buildings would Boiseans associate with different ethnic groups in Boise’s history? I think you’d be surprised. For far more information, see Todd Shallat’s fantastic book Ethnic Landmarks. In the meantime, here’s a primer.
Certainly Idaho City is strongly connected to the history of the Chinese in Idaho. But did you know that Fong’s Tea House was located downtown Boise in the Adelman Building? Perhaps you’ve had a meal in the Adelman’s Chinese pagoda?
One of Boise’s favorite areas is the Basque Block which features a number of important connections to the important Basque history of the area. I’ll never forget one of my first mountain bike rides in Boise in 1999, up on Three Bears trail. As I came flying around a corner, I smelled something pungent and then rode right past a sheepherder and into a herd of about 300 sheep which parted like Moses’ Red Sea around me. For a true Basque experience, catch a beverage and croquettas at Bar Gernika or some Paella at Leku Ona.
Talking about food, have you been to Boise’s Greek Food Festival out at Saints Helen and Constantine Greek Orthodox Church out west Bannock? Yum! Even cooler than the spread is the inside of this unique piece of architecture in Boise which was planned and built by Greek immigrants in Boise. The church has served as a home to many orthodox folks for the last 6 decades.
What about Native American “architecture” in the valley? Long before Captain Bonneville (found at the Ram Restaurant) supposed yelled “les bois, les bois!”, native groups gathered to trade along what came to be called the Boise River. While I couldn’t think of any standing native buildings, Castle Rock out east of town is marked with a sign designating it a sacred spot for natives. We should all remember this next time we are hiking or biking up its flanks.
As relates to our TAH seminar, you can find more info on the Black History Museum, at our page and for really fascinating history on how Boise’s Synagogue was moved in the middle of the night, check out Jody Lee’s super cool documentary Rivers in the Desert on the Ahavath Beth Temple.
Finally, one of my favorite pieces of architecture in Boise is St. John’s Cathedral. If you haven’t ever poked your head in, you will be amazed. “Ethel, we’re not in Boise anymore!” It is as close to great European architecture as you’ll find in the Rocky Mountain region thanks to the sublime efforts and skills of Charles Hummel, grandfather and grandson. Originally important in Boise’s Irish community, it is now used by Boise’s diverse Catholic community including for any number of Mexican-American celebrations.
There are so many more ethnic landmarks in Boise and as mentioned before, you should take Prof. Shallat’s walking tour downtown for a complete experience and check out idahoarchitectureproject.org for our pages on each of these suggestions. But until then, we’ll see you downtown for some yummy Basque food!