The GAR Building is located on 714 W. State Street in the heart of downtown Boise. The GAR Building was built in 1892 as a memorial to the Union Army and the veterans of the Civil War. The GAR Building served the original purpose of being a meeting hall for the Grand Army of the Republic. The Grand Army of the Republic organization was founded in Illinois in 1866, and quickly became popular. Within just seven months of the founding of the organization, it had spread to ten states. The GAR quickly figured out how to use their numbers for political gain, much like the AARP. The GAR was very successful in lobbying the federal government for pensions for Civil War veterans.
By 1890, just before the State Street Boise GAR Hall was built, the GAR had over 400,000 members representing every state. In short, the Grand Army of the Republic was the club to be in if you were a Civil War veteran. In fact, President Grant, President Hayes, President Garfield, President Harrison, and President McKinley were all members of the GAR. In the days following the Civil War, Union Army veterans felt the need to reunite periodically and play poker, reminisce about marches, and have a good time. Often times, musical concerts were held in this building as well. The original name of the building was the Phil Sheridan GAR post no. 4, named after Union General Phil Sheridan who served during the Civil War. This building was 1 of 34 original GAR buildings that were built throughout Idaho. As a result of its historical significance, the GAR building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 21, 1974. The National Register of Historic Places is a United States government project that selects buildings for its lists which are deemed worthy extra attention in order to sustain their historical preservation.
The GAR building was later remodeled in 1970 to accommodate a new commercial building style. In this remodel, the open features of the meeting hall that accommodated the top floor of the building were replaced by individual offices that would better suit commercial practices. The building was also extended during this remodel. The extension of the building is in the back of the building and features bathrooms and a kitchen on the first and second floors of the GAR building. After 9/11, the GAR building was stripped of its parking in the front of building as a direct result of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11.
Since the GAR building is located across from the capitol building, it became a security threat for multiple cars to be parked so close to the capitol. Therefore, many of the GAR building’s parking spots were removed, giving the GAR building a limited number of parking spots on the side and possibly behind the building as well. As a result, many of the companies that currently occupied the GAR building were forced to move out of the building due to the lack of parking spots for their employees that came as a result of the event that unfolded on 9/11. The empty void of the GAR building was later filled when the University of Idaho moved into the building, setting up offices for the Boise location of their university. To this day, the GAR building continues to be occupied solely by the office of the University of Idaho, clearly evident by the University of Idaho sign that decorates the front of the building.
The architectural style of the building can’t be pinned on one particular style, but most closely resembles a more Romanesque brick structure. There is nothing all that fancy about the outside of the hall, but the blue paint on the awnings, and the interesting style of front gable. Also, the window frames add a small spice to the outside, with simple designs. As for the inside of the building, it’s filled with offices to the left and to the right going down the halls, upstairs or downstairs.
Our interviewee, also the secretary who looks after the building said that her favorite part of the building is the bricks. Obviously, it is evident that bricks were the material put into building the GAR Hall. The building shows off the extremely vibrant red bricks on the outside as well as the inside. In certain rooms, located at the corners of the building, the red bricks make up the walls. From behind the building, it’s very difficult to snap a good picture of the Hall without capturing St. Michael’s thrift shop in the shot. The GAR Hall is located right next to St. Michael’s Cathedral. Also, the Hall is currently owned by St. Michaels, and has been for the past seven years. University of Idaho is leasing the building from St. Michaels as office space for the Vandals.
So what happened to this grand institution we now know as the Grand Army of the Republic, or the GAR? Despite its overwhelming popularity for a time, the GAR faced one insurmountable obstacle. Since the GAR was strictly limited to soldiers who had fought in the Civil War, it was impossible to recruit new members. The last time I checked, there weren’t any Civil War veterans around today! As a result, the final member of the GAR died in 1956, and the entire organization died with him. The GAR does have a fine legacy that has lasted through monuments and buildings like the State Street GAR Hall. These Union soldiers set the basis for what is known today as Memorial Day. There’s quite a bit of history for a small brick building that is rarely noticed in the shadow of a cathedral.
Sources: Idaho Statesman, UofI employees
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