In the late 1890’s, Warm Springs Avenue was an undeveloped country road to Kelly’s Hot Springs, which the street was eventually named after. Kelly’s Hot Springs was tapped to provide water for Boise’s fire hydrants, and the leading owners of the water line also used the water supply to pump in natural hot water for use in their homes. These homes were among the first houses in the world to utilize geothermal sources for heat. The homes on Warm Springs Avenue are unique and outstanding, each designed in its own distinct architectural style. The culmination of splendid homes, along with their unique geothermal heating system makes Warm Springs Avenue one of Boise’s most historically significant localities.
The house at 1312 Warm Springs Avenue was built for F.F. Johnson, and was completed in 1910. Johnson was a banker who moved his family to Boise. In addition to banking, Johnson was also a charter member and elected director of the Boise Downtown Rotary Club, the oldest club in Idaho. The architectural firm that designed and built the home was Wayland & Fennell. Many of their works are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Some of their other recognizable works in Idaho are Roosevelt Elementary, Longfellow Elementary, Nampa City Hall, and the Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle House.
The architectural style of the home is Colonial Revival. It is a three-story structure with gable roofs and gable dormers. Tuscan columns support the front porch, and the house is approximately 6,500 square feet. The house has four bedrooms (but many other small rooms that could be used as bedrooms) with old basins in each, and three full baths. When you walk in the front door, directly in front of you is a large, spiraling staircase that takes you to the second floor. From there, a very narrow staircase will take you to the third floor. On the main floor are the living room, library, dining room, butler’s pantry and kitchen. Throughout the home there are 3 fireplaces that all burn wood, and the basement holds an old coal furnace and coal shoot. However, they are rarely ever used because of the geothermal heat. Also in the basement is a large, old built-in vault that you would expect to see in a bank. In the backyard there is a large pool, and a carriage house (now-turned garage), which was added in 1911. The house was put on the National Register of Historic Homes in 1980, as were many along Warm Springs.
Servants lived with the Johnson family when they owned the house, and as a result there are many attributes to the home that reflect this. The servants lived in the attic, and there are back stairs that they always used to get around the house, as they were not to be seen on the main staircase. They called the second and third floors “above stairs.” At dinnertime, the owners would step on a bell that came out of the floor in the large dining room to call the servants. This bell still remains in the house today. There is also an old intercom system made from copper tubing that the owner would blow into, and buzzers located in the bathrooms to call the servants. Connecting the dining room with the kitchen is a “butler’s pantry”, which is where the servants prepared the food for presentation.
The Moore-Cunningham House at 1109 Warm Springs was the first geothermally heated home, or building, in the United States. The new technology received overwhelming success, and the opening of the Natatorium at the far end of Warm Springs was a result of geothermal heating as well. Though the original building deteriorated, it remains today a naturally heated pool. The home at 1312 Warm Springs is also still heated by geothermal heating running through the registers in the house. The house is cooled by a large attic fan (that is very noisy!). Very early in the morning you must open up all the windows on the first floor and turn on the fan. The cool air is pulled into the house and the heat is pulled up to the attic and out the roof. Geothermal heating is a unique attribute that separates Warm Springs Avenue from the majority of housing developments.
According to a previous owner of the house, the home also comes with its own ghost. Although she “felt very safe with him, he scared some people and they would never be in the house alone. It is said that the ghost plays music (they believe a cello), and opens/closes doors.
This home is a great addition to the collection of homes that line Warm Springs Avenue. Its exceptional and ornate architectural style not only impresses those who have the opportunity to look at its splendor, but it also gives insight to the lifestyle of those who lived on Warm Springs over a hundred years ago.