As one drives down Harrison Boulevard beautiful houses adorn either side of the street. One might think that this one street is the only one with all the immaculate houses. But if one takes a turn down Irene St., eventually a beautiful, stately home materializes sitting on an acre of land at 1805 N. 21st St. It is definitely an architecturally interesting home, but the structure also possesses some rather interesting history.
The house is a broad mixture of different architectural styles. At first glance it appears to be of the craftsman style due to the gabled awning over the main entrance. Another example of the craftsman style used in the home is the faux roof rafters that are less prominent than in the ordinary craftsman home. The upper level also sports two flat roofed dormers that are also characteristic of this style. It also has a modest porch in the front. One characteristic of the house that may be more indicative of a certain amount of Greek Revival is the portico that hangs over the secondary entrance to the house supported by floral wrought iron columns. Upon further inspection, several small features on the exterior of the house both add and detract from its grace. The first feature is the numerous decorated water spout junctions located near the roof. The top section of the spout moves into a box appointed with decorative circles and molding. The backyard is enclosed by a wrought iron fence with a trellised entry gate near the front of the house. Both of these features add to the grace of the home.
There are, however, some very unattractive aspects of the house. From the back of the house one can see a permanent metal fire ladder protruding from the top window. Also from the top floor come several pipes that run down the chimney to the basement. Both are architectural oddities that make one wonder, “what is the purpose of that”? The home was remodeled in 2004 and these features stand as a testimony to that. Now that the architecture of the home has been explained, it is time to delve into its past. To provide context the house today must be compared and contrasted with its original design. Today the house is painted in a base of gray with white trim and red windows. The gardens are expansive with gargantuan elm trees that create privacy for the current residents. However, the house wasn’t always so subtle. When the house was built in 1914 it was painted white with red window frames. According to the owners this paint job was performed by inmates from the old Idaho State Penitentiary as were subsequent paint jobs. The gardens were also not as complex as they are today, consisting of a few minuscule trees, a rose garden and a white picket fence. It stuck out like a sore thumb.
Walter E. Pierce was one of the most prominent architects and landowners in Boise during the early 1900s. He was Chairman of the Governor’s Committee to build the State Capitol Building. He also built the Idaho Building and Hotel Boise. Pierce also opened new subdivisions and would reserve at least two blocks for a park. He also owned the Natatorium on Warm Springs Avenue. In 1914 he decided to build the Walter E. Pierce house as a wedding present for his bride. The project cost approximately $11,000.Walter E. Pierce commonly built houses, lived in them, and then sold them to important individuals or agencies and this house is no exception. Pierce sold the house to the State in 1947 for the price of $25,000 dollars. The Walter E. Pierce house was renamed as Idaho?s official Governor’s Mansion and remained so for over forty years. For years Idaho governors have faced a myriad of housing difficulties. This was due to the fact that there did not exist an official governor?s mansion for the first family. Most have stayed in their original place of residence. One governor, C. A. Bottolfsen, a newspaper publisher from Arco, used the Owyhee Hotel as his residence during his first term and the Hotel Boise during the second. Arnold Williams was one of Bottolfsen’s successors who lived in a remodeled garage with his wife during his term. These problems in housing prompted the state to purchase the home on the corner of 21st and Irene.
The first governor to move into the new residence was C. A. Robins who lived in the house with his wife and children from 1947 to 1950. For a long time the house was viewed as being modestly adequate until the increased activities of the first family in recent years rose questions about its utilization capacities. One problem was that the house was not very official and licked the capabilities to host even the smallest of state dinners. Mrs. Don Samuelson, wife of the 36th governor, has formed a committee to select new furnishings for the home that would increase its use. Due to the fact that a new residence was being planned, all furnishings were selected to accommodate the old and new houses. The house also had no state china so the committee selected China and silver donning the Great Seal of the State of Idaho with funds raised from pledges. When Cecil Andrus took office in 1971, Mrs. Andrus was all but pleased to be moving into the home. Her complaints only emphasized the inadequacy of the governor’s mansion even more.
One prominent complaint about the house was its lack of room. Other organizations also used the house and there existed no separate living quarters for the first family. The electrical wiring was also a problem. Mrs. Andrus commented, “If you plug two teapots into one plug-in in the kitchen, you blow a fuse.” The size of the house ultimately led to its sale by the State in 1989 in an auction for $215,000 to Kari and Kathy Klokke. Though the house still bears the original door and the Seal of the Great State of Idaho, it is purely a symbolic addition to the home. The Walter E. Pierce house may no longer hold its title as the official house of Idaho’s Governor, but it remains a very important monument to a time in history when life was simpler, when the pace of life could allow for a more modest governor’s mansion. It is a symbol of the first attempt by the state to establish a stately residence that governor after governor could call home.