This building (often called the “Phoenix Building” due to its constant reformations, fires and other construction conundrums) is located on the Northwest corner of 8th and Main. It is now home to the new Zions Bank Building, opened February 15th, 2014.
The land was first developed in 1865 as the Overland House or the Overland Hotel and was a rest and supply stop for people on their way to the gold rush in Idaho City (image 2, courtesy of The Idaho Historic Society). The Overland Hotel represented a Spanish Mission Style of architecture. The building had features such as a large surrounding porch and balcony, many columns, and a parapet on the far left side of its roof.
In 1877, and man named Hosea Eastman came to Boise. He had previously been a hotel manager in Silver City and took over the Overland Hotel when he came to Boise. He and his brother were instrumental in bringing running hot and cold water to the area. They founded the Artesian Water and Land Improvement Company. The Overland Hotel is believed to be one of the first buildings to get running hot and cold water. The Eastman Family tore down the Overland Hotel and began constructing a new building, at the time known as the Overland Building. The Overland Building was built in 1905 and later renamed the Eastman building in 1927 (image 3-4, courtesy of The Idaho Historic Society). This new building followed a more Renaissance Revival Style, as opposed to the Spanish Mission Style of its predecessor. The Renaissance Revival Style of this new building was categorized by its use of cubes, symmetry, smooth stone walls, decorative top (if you look close in the pictures you can the magnificent lion heads lining the roof), noticeable horizontal banding between the floors, and present but not overpowering arches. This new building was designed by two architects by the name of Tourtellotte and Hummel.
Charles Hummel is from the same family of architects that the Boise architecture company “Hummel Architects” comes from. The Overland Building, also known as the Eastman Building, only had four floors early on in its history. It wasn’t until later that two extra floors were added. One of the first businesses to use the building was Whitemans drugstore. The Eastman Building was really centered in the hub of Boise business and many businesses came and went throughout the years after the buildings first business, the drugstore, left.
After adding two floors to the building and renaming it the Eastman Building a few years later the building began to go downhill. The businesses in the building ended up leaving it vacant. The public now viewed the building as a ratty, old, out-of-its-time, building that shouldn’t be around anymore. It became common for homeless people to camp out in the building. When Urban Renewal took hold in the 70’s, the Boise Redevelopment Agency attempted to tear the building down. The preservationists of the time ended up stopping the destruction of the building through a lawsuit. Something else very interesting also happened in the early 70’s.
According to an Idaho Statesman article written in 2012, when ground was broken for the Zions Bank Building, the Chinese Community in Downtown Boise was disappearing in the 70’s. The last resident, a man named Billy Fong was evicted from his home in 1972 and his home, along with other old homes in the Chinese Community were destroyed to make room for new hotels and business buildings. While Fong was in the process of being evicted he supposedly cursed the downtown area, leading to the curse of Billy Fong (we’ll come back to this idea later). In 1987, the Eastman building burned to the ground. There are several theories as to why this vacant and rundown building caught fire. Some claim that the homeless people who lived in the building at the time lit fires to stay warm and one of them just got out of hand. Other people claim that it was a group of high school students who accidentally sparked the fire while they were throwing the party. In a more scandalous theory, some people say that since the Boise Redevelopment agency had lost the court case to tear the building down, they just decided to have someone light it on fire and make it look like and accident. The exact cause of the fire will most likely never be known. After the blaze was put out, the building was so damaged that the city just had to tear it down. There are pictures of the building as it burned down in the Capital High School yearbook of 1987 along with the Newspapers of the time.
The old building site became a vacant lot. Several times, plans were introduced to build a new building on the site, such as the Boise Tower. However, problems always seemed to block construction on this site. If you ask some people, they blame the Curse of Billy Fong. Some people said that his curse destined the downtown area to have a hole for many years. But the curse was finally broken in 2012, when ground was broken for the New Zions Bank Building. The bank was completed and hosted its grand opening celebration on February 15th, 2014.
Special thanks to Brandi Burns of Boise City Department of Arts and History for helping me with the project.
(Other images courtesy of The Idaho Statesman and BSU students.)