The Alaska Building contains many connections to Boise’s history. In 1905, John P Tate bought property in the middle of Main Street in the hopes of building a business building. In 1906 he hired JE Tourtellotte and Co. to design his building. JE Tourtellotte decided to build this downtown building in the Renaissance Revival Style. To do this Tourtellotte paired eight windows in pairs of two, set each window back from the front of the building, and added arches above each window. Since the building was in the middle of two other buildings, Tourtellotte added large windows to the front of the building to add natural lighting.
The roof is a flat almost step-like roof with molded sandstone and iron to adorn the front of the building. Tate named the building The Alaska Building because of his infatuation with Alaska. He always wanted to go to Alaska but his health would not allow a trip and hence he named his building after the land he could never visit.
Initially only consisting of two floors, the last two floors were added in 1911 in the same style. These final two floors were an issue to some of the local departments who didn’t believe that two more floors should be validated, but the Alaska Building pushed for the expansion and it was granted.
The primary occupant of the Alaska Building was the Cash Bazaar. This company was a department store of sorts and occupied the building from 1922 till just before the owners sold it in the 1980s. The Cash Bazaar was a store derived from the first occupants Blake and Reilly’s general mercantile store. Link’s Business College also occupied the building before the Cash Bazaar became the primary owner. Through the years the Alaska Building saw everything from a fire in 1924 in which the Cash Bazaar lost $6143.98 to the break in of Patrick Lynch in 1911 where he escaped with $1.10.
In 1953 the Alaska Building was remodeled but no exterior features were changed. After the Cash Bazaar moved out of the building in 1981 a group of business men bought the building from the Tate’s family in 1983. After they bought it they hired an MIT architect to design a building remodel to allow a more open lobby and more natural lighting. This architect designed an atrium on top of the building to bring this natural light in. Between 1983 and 1984 the building was remodeled by excavating another six feet to allow for a downstairs lobby. The atrium was added and a glass elevator was brought in to face the lobby allowing its riders to be delighted by the atmosphere of the lobby. Once again the outside was left unaltered.
Technology companies were interested in moving into the building and telecommunication and other companies became the first occupants after the remodel. These companies wired the building and soon more companies entered the building.
This was the first building in Boise to have its owners make a façade easement as a donation. The new owners of the building donated the exterior of the building to the Idaho State Historic Society. This meant that the exterior of the building was owned by the State and could not be altered unless given the go ahead by that society. This was a tax oriented donation but was also meant to ensure that a historic building of Boise was left as a historic landmark.
Ken Howell, the current owner of the building bought out his other partners in 2012 and has the approval to build another floor of residential space. He is tossing around interesting ideas for this residential floor including lifting Airstream trailers onto the roof and making the fifth floor almost like a trailer park. Perhaps this will not be the final outcome, but an interesting idea nonetheless.
Although the exterior of the building may not be the most interesting in Boise, the interior makes up for it with an aesthetic open space and a brilliant amount of light let into the center of the building.
Bauer, Barbara Perry, Elizabeth P. Jacox, Erica Jensen, and Judith Austin. “Page 32.” Shaping Boise: A Selection of Boise’s Landmark Buildings. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
Various Articles from Idaho Statesman Historical Archives
Kenneth Howell, Owner of the Alaska Building.