Property Type: Institutional
Neighborhood: Downtown  |  County: Ada  |  Building Status: Public  |  Architectural Style: Greek Revival
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Boise High was started in 1881, the year that the cornerstone was laid for Central School. In 1882, Central School opened on the corner of Jefferson and 8th street. The high school kids were located on the third floor of this building. The school cost $44,000, exceeding its estimated $25,000. Initially, the facility was criticized by many people in the community as being too large, but the building soon boasted an enrollment of more than 700. The graduating class of 1884, the first graduates of Central School, was only two boys.

John William Daniels was the superintendent of the Boise Schools at the time that Central School was built. During the 1899 and 1900 elections for the school board there was a considerable amount of tension between those who favored Daniels and those who sought to be sure that “this presumptuous dictator will dictate no more”. In 1900 there was even a confrontation between the two factions in which one of those who did not like Daniels, Branstetter, fired a gun on a member of the opposing side, Eastman, on the steps of City Hall, the bullet missed and went between the legs of former mayor Pinney. Also in 1900, the high school enrollment of Central School reached 200, forcing the high school segment to relocate. This became Boise High School. Oddly enough there was a school in 1875 called Boise City High School run by a Mrs. Marion J. Ellis. In 1902, the high schoolers moved to a new building on Washington Street and 10th Street. The contractor, William F. Schrage, a man from Kansas, put very little quality into his design. From the outside this building was quite nice and included a variety of architectural styles from the Romanesque hint given by the wide arches and also hints of the classical and federal style. The federal style is evident in the circular window on the third floor, and what seems to be a semi-circular window over each door (this is not certain as any pictures do not show this area clearly). The classical elements can be seen in the very formal style of the building with the imposing arches.

While on the outside a very beautiful building, the inside of this building was cheap. The advice of local architects was ignored, and “they used acme plaster for the basement floors”, which “went to pieces” (Worbois 5). The local architects Hummel, Wayland, Campbell and Tourtellotte strongly objected to Schrage’s designs but he managed to get them approved by a committee and the local architects could do nothing to stop it. This building was condemned in 1919.

Due to an expanding student population, the east wing, made of white brick and built in the neoclassical style, was constructed in 1908. This wing was very imposing architecturally and included ionic columns under a stately portico and enormous arched doorways. This wing, which is still in use, contained a gym in the basement and more male-centered agriculture and mechanically- based classes, which boosted male attendance. These two wings, the red brick building and the white brick, were greatly contrasting in architectural style. In 1912, the west wing was added, with an emphasis on domestic classes, primarily for female students. A cafeteria was added to the basement of the west wing, making Boise High one of the first schools to serve school lunches.

The industrial arts building opened in 1919, and was also constructed in a neoclassical style, again exhibiting the same portico with columns and an arched doorway, and was designed to house classes on the modern technological arts such as printing, automobile mechanics, and electricity. The poorly built central wing was condemned and demolished in 1921 to pave way for a new central wing. The new wing was built using white brick to match the other two, and it housed administrative offices and an auditorium on the first floor and general classes in the basement, second, and third floors. The auditorium was huge for the area, seating 1800 people. It housed events for the community, holding many big groups and professional musicians until the Morrison Center was built in 1984. Because of this role, it became known as the Boise Opera House.

Due to the low ceilings of the west wing gym, which often interfered with games, a new gym was deemed necessary. The gym was constructed in 1936. The gym was really supported and funded by the students, who went as far as to donate their own money to the cause. The WPA contributed the workers for this project, and the district, with the assistance of student funds, paid for materials. This building was created in an art-deco style, with an extremely boxy and geometric shape, with a flat roof with an almost notched appearance to draw attention to the columns fashioned out of brick.

In 1957, a music building was added on to the west side of the gym, moving music classes from the industrial arts building to one of their own. The red brick design and overall style of the building matches the design of the gym, including a flat roof with little ornamentation on the outside except for the frieze over the main entrance to the building, and the same raised accents on the roof.

In 1960, the two blocks of residential land west of Boise High was purchased to make room for an athletic field. These were not the only houses who have been affected by Boise High expansion, houses such as the Pierce-Borah house. The houses were knocked down and a track, field, and tennis courts were put in their place. This field has helped to make Boise High a feasible place to continue when many people considered moving it to a different location.

One of the two major remodels to Boise High began in 1969. The formerly state-of-the-art heating systems were becoming outdated and needed replacement. Coal boilers became gas-powered and new pumps were installed to bring fresh air into the school. False, 8-foot ceilings were added to classrooms to hide the pipes and reduce heating costs. Wood paneling was added for a modern look. Rather than to change the windows to double or triple paned windows, insulated panels were added to additionally reduce heating costs, making the window size less than one third what they used to be. Fluorescent lights were added as the primary source of light due to their efficiency in place of natural light. Borah and Capital High Schools were added to the school district in order to relieve the booming population growth of Boise High.

As it was difficult to find room for everything that a contemporary high school needed, such as parking, it seemed logical to simply tear the school down. However, due to the efforts of preservationists, the district opted to remodel in 1996. Initially, a bond passed to preserve Boise High in 1993 was turned down, but passed in 1996. Funds from a 1988 levy were used for this project. The industrial arts building was knocked down to make room for a larger building.

A “wish-list” room was made in the west wing of the main building, in which the artificial ceilings were removed, allowing the original high ceilings to be seen and to open up the windows to their full glory in order to let in more natural light. “Tinted, double paned windows” (Worbois 28) replaced the heat-sucking single paned windows. Ventilation was quieter, brought in directly from the outside. Based on this room, a total renovation of the school in this fashion would cost $36 million, but the district only managed $13.5 million. Using what they had, a new building, the Frank Church Building of Technology, was constructed where the former industrial arts building had been after being demolished in 1997. This new building contains a more modern gym (which actually seats less people than the original), a cafeteria, a library, and plenty of room for all of the math and science classrooms. To go with the more modern facilities the tech building was built in a contemporary style, using hints of older architecture styles, such as the neoclassical style evident in the pillars outside the library. There are also nearly solid walls of glass in the library and the stairwells, and to top it all off, the building is not symmetrical in any way, though the evenly spaced windows of the classrooms hint at the architecture of the main building.

There is also a change in the texture of the building from glass to brick to concrete, and such a mish mash of materials is rarely ever seen in any other architectural style other than the more modern buildings. The old gym was remodeled: a wrestling room was added by walling off a former balcony, a batting cage was added to the opposite balcony, and the stage was converted into a sports medicine room. 10th street and Washington street were closed in between the buildings to make room for a plaza to connect the buildings.

The third floor of the main building was closed off, as it was “like walking in a fun house” to former Boise High student, Barbara Miller, due to the uneven floors. The building shifted from gas heating to geothermal heating, using over 100 gallons per day. New wiring replaced the less reliable old wiring. Fiber optics were added to the building, which was re-roofed. Even though the ceilings and windows couldn’t be restored to their former glory, the classrooms were expanded to house more students. Boise High was brought up to code, removing asbestos and adding ramps and an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2008, the third floor was reopened with five classrooms to make room for the continuously growing student body, as it continues to do so today.

photo credits:
BAP, Boise High School Page
Anthony Miranda, “ 1-1921/5134915”
The 1949 Courier p. 29, p. 81
The 1950 Courier p. 101
Arthur A. Hart, The Boiseans: at Home, p. 33