Property Type: Commercial
Neighborhood: Foothills  |  County: Ada  |  Building Status: Public  |  Year Built: 1955  |  Architectural Style: Modern
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The Boise Bomb Shelter was constructed in 1961, during the Cold War, a time when there was a rampant fear of nuclear attack by our Soviet enemies. Around the time the US government decided to place intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Mountain Home Military base (only 50 miles away “as the missile flies” from Boise), citizens of the Highlands area of Boise formed Highlands Community Shelter Inc, an organization that aimed to get a community bomb shelter built in their neighborhood, the first of its kind in the nation. Understandably so, as it was later unearthed in some Soviet documents, that Boise was a potential target if the nukes ever started flying.

The shelter was constructed with funds ($122,000) from the Federal Civil Defense Administration, an agency founded during Truman’s presidency whose main focus was warning the public about the threats of Communism. The Boise Bomb Shelter would have greatly increased the fear of Communism, because not only did the construction imply that a bomb shelter would be needed in the future, but also the need to sell stock to neighborhood families at $100 a pop also showed the people of the Highlands area that we couldn’t fight the communists lying down, everybody needed to do their part.

There was however, a lot of resentment throughout Boise created from the Bomb Shelter. Many people who didn’t live in the rather affluent Highlands during the time period of the construction (1959-1961), felt angry that the hoity toity folks got a bomb shelter (as the bomb shelter was designed to save 1,000 people, but only those in the Highlands area), and they got to hide under desks. Not to mention that people felt entitled to a place in the bomb shelter, because their tax money was paying for the majority of it.

Despite this disagreement, the members of Highlands Community Shelter Inc. weren’t too kind towards those who didn’t buy into the shelter, or live in the Highlands area. “We mean business when we say this shelter is for members only” said Glenn Buettner, member of the group, also quite frankly mentioning that “We’ll deputize 35 to 40 security guards from our membership to keep intruders out”.

The shelter was designed by Edgar Jensen, a local architect, and is a great example of bomb shelter architecture, for lack of better term. The construction consisted of making a steel reinforced concrete box, and then piling dirt from a nearby hillside onto the structure, along with a retaining wall on the front of the building, the most notable feature that one notices from the outside.

The building also has a rear entrance built into the “hill” that is the building. the inside of the building is just like you would think a bomb shelter would be, originally having large rooms on both floors, along with a kitchen with a window cut into the wall. There’s also a generator that has still stuck around from the original construction.

A newspaper article written by Inez Robb for the Lewiston Evening Journal describes the facility as having a laundry room (which “will appall young women who have never seen a washboard in their lives”), a loud speaker system “complete with record playing equipment”, and “the latest in air filtration systems”.

The opening ceremony of the shelter was a rather big deal, with lots of Boise big shots, and everyone who purchased a spot, showing up. The “stars” that showed up included:

● Idaho Governor Robert E. Smylie
● Col. James Keel, State Civil Defense Director
● Norman Jones, Ada County-Boise City Civil Defense Director
● Boise Chamber of Commerce
● Clyde Friend, Spokane Civil Defense Director
● Ada County Commissioners
● Boise Mayor Robert L. Day
● Various Boise City Council Members

Anyway, no bombs fell on Boise, and the building was used mainly for the occasional activity, until it was purchased by the Boise Independent School District in 1972 in reaction to the wake of the Vietnam War and the communist threat with it.

The School District used it for administrative offices, as well as storage of school records, surplus furniture, and other archives. The district also cleaned out most of the nuclear survival centered aspects of the building, partitioning the lower floor into offices. One schoolteacher in particular, who now teaches at the elementary school across the street from the bomb shelter, remembers how if a teacher wanted to get anything laminated, get any films (on reels at this time mainly) they had to go to the bomb shelter. However, when the district built new offices in 2001, the shelter had little purpose.

Jon P Farren, an engineer, purchased the building in 2003 at auction in order to accommodate his need for a larger office. After getting many replies from bands about using his extra storage space for practice, he decided to remodel the building, outfitting it with 27 music studios, reaching 625 square feet in size. This was accomplished through use of the offices that were created by the School district, and by the partitioning of a 60 by 80 ft room on the main floor to make relatively soundproof studios with 10 inch thick walls.

Every suite is currently occupied, with their doors often a tad crudely outfitted with the name of the band, among other decorations, including a electronic lock on each door, allowing the facility (minus the suites themselves) to be unlocked and accessible by the bands 24/7/365, as long as they’ve continued to pay the rent and their code still works that is.

Among other adjustments, Farren removed the kitchen, leaving a small kitchenette, and added security cameras and an antenna for cell service within the incredibly thick concrete and dirt walls. Anyone is free to go inside and roam the narrow hallways and experience the building’s bomb-shelterness, in that once you’re in, you can’t tell if it’s night or day out.

The Boise Bomb Shelter was featured in a 1961 edition of Life Magazine