The original Boise Natatorium, also known as the “Nat” was constructed under the direction of John C. Paulsen in May of 1892. Located on Warm Springs Avenue, the Nat utilized a hot water source on the far side of Table Rock. Boise Artesian Hot & Cold Water Company, which was founded by famed Boise resident C.W. Moore after he moved to Warm Springs Avenue in 1891, designated Paulsen to design a hot water bathing resort after the discovery of a great water source near the Old Penitentiary (Kelly Hot Springs). Despite the economic downturn of 1893, the Natatorium, a Union Pacific passenger station, and a department store helped solidify Boise’s downtown area during a time of recession.
In 1892 C.W. Moore purchased a nearby house on Warm Springs Avenue. Moore had his house heated using geothermal energy from the same source used by the Natatorium. Moore’s house became not only the first house in Boise to be heated using geothermal energy, but was the first house in the United States to do so! Moore’s house still stands today and, along with several neighboring houses, continues to be heated using geothermal energy. Before Moore’s use of geothermal energy to heat his house, Boiseans were skeptical about its reliability. However, Moore’s demonstration using his own home proved to others that this new system of heating could work and other affluent Boiseans started to construct their homes along Warm Springs Avenue. Taking notice, the Boise Rapid Transit Company constructed a trolley line that passed down Warm Springs Avenue and could be ridden for a nickel.
The original Natatorium was constructed in the Moorish Revival Style, which stood out drastically from the popular Queen Anne “gingerbread” style of the time. Two, six-story towers flanked the entrance. Keyhole arches, also known as horseshoe arches, are a hallmark of the Moorish Revival Style, set the Natatorium apart from almost every single other building in Boise at the time. It managed to be an exotic attraction because of the Moorish style, but not look imitative of any real Eastern building. Moorish revival, which was a Romanticist fascination with all things “oriental”, reached its height during the mid-19th Century. Just as Clarence Darrow called Boise the “Athens of the Sage-Brush”, Hiram T. French called the Natatorium “The Taj Mahal of the West”.
The Natatorium was constructed for $87,000, which in today’s economy would have been over $2,100,000, included a 125-foot long pool, a dining room, clubrooms, a saloon, gymnasium, dance floors, trusses spanned the ceiling and a mezzanine ran around the pool. Additionally, there was an artificial waterfall created to go over a 40-foot lava-rock diving platform. Patrons could plunge into the soothing 98-degree water from a two-story copper slide. The White City Amusement Park, named after the “White City” that was built during the World’s Columbian Exhibition, was located next to the pool. The park was built in 1907 and offered attractions such as dance pavilions, boating docks, penny arcades, and a roller rink.
The Natatorium became such a popular attraction that in 1901 Idaho’s first Inaugural Governor’s Ball for Frank W. Hunt took place there. The ceremony was held on a large platform that covered the pool and also served as a dance floor for the guests. Decorations for the event included incandescent lighting and hanging ferns. Part of the old Natatorium’s success was due to the streetcar system which ran in front of the building
Unfortunately, over time, steam from the hot water caused the Natatorium’s wooden trusses to slowly rot. During a windstorm in 1934, swimmers were told to move over to the shallow end due to safety reasons. Boise native and Natatorium enthusiast, Clarence Moser described the scene: “There was a big storm outside. We got down to the shallow end and we hadn’t been down there five minutes ‘til one of those big beams fell down in the pool. And lucky it never hit a person. Everybody come [sic] out of there, they condemned it then.” Soon after, the city of Boise decided to purchase the swimming pool and reopen the facility. After the Natatorium was subsequently the geothermal water supply to the site was cut off. Because the destruction of the Natatorium occurred during the Great Depression, plans were never made to restore the building to its former glory. Both the removal of the original Natatorium and the eventual replacement of trolley cars with busses signified the end of an era in Boise.
The Natatorium pool still remains in its original location and many Boise residences can recall experiences, as far back into the ’50s and ’60s, of trying to escape the summer heat by swimming in the open pool. The current building, constructed in the Postmodern style, was later erected on the site of the original The new building contains a large water slide known as the Hydrotube and a large in-ground pool that has a maximum depth of 12 feet. The city has reconnected the Natatorium to the geothermal water line that it once was a part of. Enjoy!
Check out this really cool VR project on the old Nat! https://store.steampowered.com/app/980740/Boise_Historic_Natatorium/