At 409 S. 8th Street resides a two story, quaint brick and sandstone building known as the Foster Building. It was built in 1907, as the cheerful sign above the door tells pedestrians, and officially became the “The Foster Building” in 1918. Its story really begins in 1917, when Orville Joseph Foster bought the building as a place to store merchandise for his furniture shop, Foster’s Furniture, which was located on Bannock near Hotel Boise. From 1917 to present day, the story of the Foster Building has been intricately tied to the story of the Foster family, as the 8th Street building has remained with the family for almost a century. Today, it is owned by the granddaughter of Orville J. Foster, Melinda Foster.
The Foster legacy had its beginnings in what is now Fostoria, Ohio, where Melinda Foster’s great grandparents started the Foster’s furniture business. Orville J. Foster, however, suffered from asthma in his adult years and left the city for the West Coast, and hopefully clearer air. On the way west in search of better health, Orville got off the train at Boise, Idaho to rest for the night. Incidentally, Foster slept for three days straight, and proceeded to awake with the epiphany that he and his family should move to Boise. Shortly after, Orville J. Foster wired his wife, Emma Stein-Foster, to bring their family of five children West to Idaho, and with them, the family business which would remain a part of Boisean history to this day.
For sixty-one years following the purchase, the Foster Building stored the merchandise of Foster’s Furniture, including everything one would expect to find in a furniture store—tables, cabinets, sofas, dressers, mirrors, vanities. In addition, the Foster family business also dealt in casket-making. Strange as it seems today to purchase both living and post-mortem supplies at the same place, meshing the furniture and funeral businesses was a common practice in the 19th and early- to mid-20th century, as both furniture and coffins required the same wood. The proximity of Hotel Boise to Foster Furniture proved fortuitous, as Melvin L. Foster, the third child of Orville Foster, and Bonnie Lee Lacey, a notary for a lawyer, met in the lobby of Hotel Boise in 1933. The two married in 1935 in Orville and Emma’s backyard, and later had two children, current owner Melinda Lee Foster, born in 1948, and John Lacey Foster, born in 1950 and died in 2010.
All ran relatively smoothly for Foster’s Furniture until Orville J. Foster suffered a heart attack at a board meeting in 1941 after having become so angry over the idea of adding street meters outside of the store. Two years later, Emma died. After their deaths, the children fought over how to run the store, and the bickering grew to the extent that around 1952 the business broke apart, leading Melvin L. Foster to opened a new furniture store at 314 S. 9th Street. Although the original business fractured, Melvin Foster continued to use the Foster warehouse on 8th street. His store on 9th street was a unique three-corner building whose curved side is now unfortunately hidden by a large parking garage. Despite the rift in the Foster business, the warehouse itself proved resilient, surviving this and another calamity in 1958 when a street fire that sprung up on 8th street (photograph provided by Melinda Foster).
Years later, to keep the Foster Building in the family, Bonnie Lee Foster bought the warehouse from the Orville J. Foster estate, and in 1978 took the building through a remodel under architect Ellery Brown. The remodel transformed it from a warehouse to a retail space, and included the addition of two staircases. An Idaho historic sites inventory form admits that the alterations compromised the “design, workmanship, and feeling” to an extent. However, it also states that the warehouse-type architecture common in the early 1900s is still present in the building. Today, the Foster Building remains distinctively of the Romanesque style. The details along the roofline – the round and square cutouts – and brick detailing around the central window remain as distinguishing features of the building, lasting since its creation. The subtle sandstone pieces on the side are a delightful and thematic connection to many historic Boise buildings.
After Melvin L. Foster’s death in 1960, Bonnie Lee continued to manage the 8th street building until her death on February 13th, 2011 during one of her many trips to Mexico. In Mexico, she would gather merchandise for her own store, Que Pasa, which today remains an ornate Mexican art and craft store and a symbol of her passion for the rich culture of Mexico. Today, the Foster Building is home to multiple other shops such as Atomic Treasures, an eclectic vintage store, and Optical Lenses, an eyeglasses shop.
Information provided by:
Historical photographs courtesy of Melinda Foster