809 Ada Street is an eclectic western home built in 1904 and is owned by William Whelan and Mary Beth Whitaker. The house is located in the area known as Boise’s North End, which was the city’s first “suburban” development. Its first developed area was built in 1878, and covered only a few blocks between 9th and 13th Streets and from Fort Street to Resseguie. However in 1891 speculators and other emigrants moved to Boise, starting a 25-year boom of building, buying, and selling.
The neighborhood was generally a working and middle class area, typified by modest bungalows, but many eclectic homes make up the character of the North End. The house is located in the area known as the Resseguie addition, after one of its financial backers. Even though it was built near the edge of town, the house was located less than a mile from downtown; because automobiles were uncommon at the time, cities tended to be more compact than today. In the early 20th century a streetcar that ran through the small commercial district, Hyde Park and down 13th street, serviced the North End. The house is located on Ada Street, named after the daughter of H. C. Riggs, Ada Riggs. She was first pioneer child born in the area and daughter of a member of the Idaho Territorial Legislature and one of the founders of Boise.
The house is an example of the quintessential American passion for home improvement and is an example of a century of such renovations. It’s eclectic architectural style features built in bookshelves, a French window, an outdoor fireplace, and fifties styling. In the 1950s, the owners, Personettes, began a series of home improvements that drastically altered the appearance of the house. Large square windows were cut into the front of the home. The entryway was moved to the side of the house. An extension was built in the rear to make room for a larger kitchen and bathroom. Wood siding was eventually covered over with steel siding.
The result of this work is that few of the historic features of the house are obvious today. But, a closer examination reveals the true history of the building. The foundation is made of large blocks of local sandstone held together by concrete mortar rather than a poured concrete wall. There is a hole in the foundation where an old chute led to a coal bin and coal-burning furnace in the basement. An outdoor fireplace has a bar for hanging pots over the fire, suggesting that it was used for cooking during the hot summer months. There is evidence of a central stair that used to lead to the basement, along with a central chimney. The basement is still unfinished, exposing the sandstone that was used in the foundation. The house used to have a front and back porch, which were walled in, most likely by the Personettes. The smaller rooms in the front of the house were also walled in, to form a larger family/living room.
The current owners have remodeled the house considerably. They redid the kitchen and replaced the pink fifties appliances, replaced flooring, added a half bath, added new landscaping, along with other small renovations. The house is currently 1600 square feet, which is on the larger end for the mixed neighborhood, and has 3 bedrooms and 1 ½ baths.
While in the midst of their remodel of the kitchen the current owners found a scrap of newspaper in the wall that dated back the Roosevelt administration. The scrap was a letter to the editor denouncing FDR and his “stooges” for their bungling on the home front. Old wallpaper uncovered in a re-plastering job appears to date from much earlier in time. The crawl spaces and walls are filled with coal dust and a tangle of old ductwork that no longer connects to the modern nature gas furnace. The Whelan-Whitaker’s work on the walls uncovered places where channels had been cut through the old lath and plaster walls to run electrical wires to all of the rooms of the house. Small pieces of coal still peek out of the ground in a part of the backyard that might have once been used to dump furnace ashes and coal bin scrap. Broken pieces of china, cow bones, and doll heads have been found in the garden. The fireplace has two dates written in the cement on it, one says 1906, and the other August 6th, 1945, which was the date the bombings on Hiroshima, Japan, occurred.
The home used to have a box elder tree in its backyard. This tree, which was cut down a few years ago, was a contender for the largest box elder in the city, and was planted before the house was constructed. The house is located across the street and a house away from Longfellow Elementary, which was built two year after the home, in 1906. Many other homes and landmarks were added to the neighborhood in the early 1900s, including a butcher shop a few blocks away.
The house at 809 Ada Street is an eclectic mix of 1900s, 20s, 50s, and 2000s styles culminating in a varied look, with a lot of history. It is located within walking distance of downtown, Camelsback Park, and Hyde Park, and its earlier residents no doubt enjoyed the convenience of the streetcar that ran only four blocks away. The house continues to be in use and will hopefully for decades to come.