In 1910, Boise?s new, palatial hotel featured the finest accommodations in the city. Tourtellotte and Hummel, employed the finest local materials and imported ornate fixtures to elevate the Owyhee Hotel above the standards of its competitors. On May 9th, 2010 the Owyhee Plaza Hotel celebrated its 100th year anniversary. This historic hotel has played an important role in the community of Boise since its construction. At the time it was the oldest hotel in the city still in operation; the Idanha, however, was the oldest in Boise. Following more than a century of use, those standards had fallen. Multiple additions and alterations had left the once grand building a poor reflection of its former self. A series of unsympathetic exterior and interior alterations beginning in the 1970s robbed the building of the sumptuous spaces which had originally impressed its guests.
As previously stated, the building was built in 1910 by architects Tourtellotte and Hummel, and the original plan for the building included 125 Rooms, (6 stories) though today it only has 99. In 1910, Boise was a small community containing only one other major hotel, the Idanha. The Owyhee Plaza came to compete with the Idanha as the center of downtown Boise life, not only for locals to meet at, but for important visitors to stay at as well. One of the most attractive features of the Hotel was the rooftop garden, which included a full scale restaurant, bar, dance floor, and the occasional live band. It had a one of a kind panoramic view of downtown and the surrounding foothills, and saw much traffic throughout its years of existence.
Renovations forced its closure for a time, in 1940. The hotel has undergone approximately 30 to 40 renovations throughout the years to remodel and resize original guestrooms, revamp facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms, and to add on office space and rooms for lease. The office space influenced the add-on of a motel to accommodate the loss of guest room space. The top three floors of the hotel were bought by the Ore-Ida company in the 1960s to use as their corporate headquarters, and has since been converted into office space. These renovations forced the shutdown of the rooftop garden (its upkeep was simply too difficult with the increase of customers) though the hotel remained a popular choice for more prominent guests to Boise. This has included Gene Harris, a famous jazz musician; who stayed at the Hotel numerous times throughout his career, and enjoyed hanging out in the Gamekeeper lounge.
The current owner took over the hotel from his father, who collaborated with several investors to buy the building back in 1992; he originally worked in the building before becoming the owner. Beginning in 2013, and under the leadership of Boisean Clay Carley who soon partnered with LocalConstruct, the building was quickly renovated into modern apartments. First floor fenestration which had been bricked over was reopened. Over 100 custom windows matching the original configuration were installed. The project exceeded the minimal requirements necessary to take advantage of the federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit incentive by installing new sandstone and restoring sections of original lobby tile where possible. The hotel?s original Billiards Room, the only space that still conveyed its 1910 character when the project began was renovated for use as restaurant.
Carefully considering the intent of the original architects, and under the watchful eye of a development team which valued both the building and its role in Boise?s history, this renovation has expanded the footprint of the city?s vibrant downtown by adding market-rate apartments and commercial office space.
The exterior, until 2013, included a white and red brick facade, with stylized detailing near the roofline. It had several red brick arches near street level, and lines of windows across a majority of the building. It was originally a simple rectangular structure, though some renovations have altered these clean lines a bit. The inside of the building featured extensive intricate wood paneling covering almost all of the walls and soft golden lighting which brought out the color of the wood. There was a grand piano in the entryway and a lounge area by the front desk. The Plaza grill restaurant featured the original 1910 ceiling, complete with white Corinthian columns, arches, and cross-hatched decorative woodwork. The only part missing is the dome, which was moved to the entryway of the Idaho History Museum. Also in the building there was a wooden wine cellar, wooden engravings on the reception desk, an original metal letterbox, and several ancient encyclopedias one could look through.
The addition that was built in the 1960s, and its art deco color scheme and details, such as a decorative wall covered in square cut-outs, give it a definite 50s/60s feel. This motel addition included an outdoor pool and workout facility, one of the few outdoor pools in the downtown area. There is one angle of the building that clearly shows all of these different levels of additions.
The Owyhee Plaza Hotel was beloved by many, from its numerous returning guests to the people who work there; in fact, one such employee insisted on giving the building a hug on its 100th anniversary. Though it has changed time and time again throughout the years, people are still devoted to this historic building, and it is a landmark in Boise well worth preserving. Hopefully Boise will be able to enjoy this treasure for many years to come.
Preservation Idaho is honored to award Clay Carley and LocalConstruct for their work on the renovations of the Owyhee Hotel with a 2015 Orchid Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.