The Bureau of Reclamation Building, located at 214 Broadway Ave in Boise Idaho, was constructed in 1911 and opened in early 1912. The building was designed by F.E. Weymouth, the supervising engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation at the time, and the building was funded by none other than the Bureau itself. During the period of its construction, the early 20th century, most federally funded public and monumental constructions followed one of the several variants of formal looking, Classical architecture. However at the same time an “architectural revolution” of sorts was spreading throughout the nation, and especially throughout Western states like Idaho. This revolution was against the classical styles of architecture, and favored a more casual and efficient design which came to be called Craftsmen style.
Weymouth’s choice to design the Bureau of Reclamation Building in Craftsmen style was representative of the winds of change blowing through Idaho in the early 20th century, and led to a building that was unusually informal for a federal office building in the early 20th century. The primary characteristics of the Bureau of Reclamation Building that make it a Craftsmen style construction are its exposed rafter tails along the roof and its hipped dormers. Along with these casual, natural looking details, the building also has a large porch area that nearly makes it feel like a cabin, and is angled in a very un-pretentious and informal way. On the inside, the building also exhibits several defining Craftsmen features with its open floor plan and abundance of stained wood. Aside from its Craftsmen style details, the building is quite typical of commercial brick built buildings of the time with its segmental arch window openings and two story layout. Today, the building is completely intact and suffers from no serious structural integrity issues.
In the first decade of the 20th century, the Bureau of Reclamation had no true main base of operations in Boise- just a collection of rented rooms and small buildings. During this time period, there was a great debate on whether the permanent offices of the Bureau would be located in Boise, Nampa, or Caldwell. Boosters in each town desperately wanted the office to be located in their own community, but the U.S. Reclamation Service finally decided on Boise when, in 1911, the Secretary of the Interior allowed the purchase of a lot on Broadway Ave two blocks South of the rapidly expanding Warm Springs Ave. Members of the Bureau quickly realized this would be a prime location for a new office, as it had plenty of room for storage and had the potential for a railroad spur.
In the fall of 1911, the Reclamation Service hired Whiteway-Lee Construction Company, a fairly short lived and unstable construction firm, to build the new office building. Construction was finished on January 17, 1912, and the members of the Bureau immediately moved in and got to work.
Now named the Boise Project Office, the building housed engineers from the Boise Irrigation Project and administrators for the United States Reclamation Service, an agency that focused on developing farmland throughout the West. By 1910, the Homestead Act was in full swing and people were migrating to the West in droves, but much of Western Idaho and Eastern Oregon proved too arid to develop agriculture in. As a result, one of the primary objectives of the Bureau in this region, and the primary function of the Bureau of Reclamation building, was to irrigate this region of the country to allow for easier settlement by Westward moving farmers.
One of biggest irrigation projects undertaken and managed by the government workers at the building was the Arrowrock Dam on the Boise River, located farther up the river than the Lucky Peak Dam. The Arrowrock Dam was, at the time, the most ambitious project the Bureau of Reclamation had ever partaken in and would be the largest concrete arch dam in the entire world. When it was finally dedicated in 1915, the Arrowrock Dam was indeed the largest dam of its kind in the world and would be for another nine years- and its construction was completely managed out of this small, Craftsmen style office on Broadway Ave.
The Bureau of Reclamation moved out of the building for good in 1960, and the property was given to the General Services Administration (GSA), a federal agency that manages all federally owned properties that need a purpose. Eventually the GSA gave the property to the Idaho Historical Society which in turn leased it to Riverstone International School to use as a location to hold classes. Only one or two years ago Riverstone ended its lease on the building and moved out, leaving the Idaho Historical Society to have to look for another use for the building. Today, the Bureau of Reclamation Building stands empty and locked up on Broadway Ave in front of the newly developed Dona Larsen Park and very close to the bustling St. Luke’s Hospital.
Trisha Canady of the Idaho Historical Society says that the future of the building is uncertain, and that the property might be used to house museum staff from the Idaho State Historical Museum. If not occupied within the near future however, the property will have to be given back to the GSA so it can find another state funded agency to make some use of this hardy, well used building.