Just from looking at it, one wouldn’t guess that the Reserve Street Armory was anything more than a recycling drop. At first glance, passersby are struck by the general state of disrepair of the Armory. Almost all of the windows are boarded or broken and a small forest of creaking trees pushes in on the fortified walls from all sides. However, a walk around reveals details from a bygone era. Art deco features border the windows and each corner of the building, a testament to the time of its creation. A peek into one of the broken windows showcases the vast expanse of the former drill hall where troops trained, where boy scouts were prepared and where now the only occupant is a lone cat who somehow knows the intrigue of an empty home.
Though construction for it began in 1931, the Armory was expanded to its present day size in 1936 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. This Art Deco building was designed by Idaho’s famous Hummel Architects. The Armory was used as Idaho’s state headquarters for the National Guard for many years, until it was shut down in the mid- 1970’s. The City of Boise bought the building from the National Guard, but never found use for it. The building has remained unused since it was closed, and it has slowly sat, deteriorating. However, hope still remains for this building being restored to its former glory.
The design of Boise’s Armory is quite different from traditional armories that one would see on the East Coast. East Coast armories were designed to resemble European castles, because they were designed to house militias in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The Boise Armory is what is known as an Art Deco building, which is shown by its bold geometric shape, curved ornamental elements above the entrance of the building and overall monolithic appearance.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created several programs to aid the unemployed, and pick the economy back up from the Great Depression. One of the programs, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) created several of Boise’s best buildings, including the Ada County Courthouse, the State Forestry Department, Boise Gallery of Art, North Junior High School, and of course, the Armory. The WPA’s extension of the armory included the central, vaulted cavalry drill hall and the administrative offices in the front section of the building. The cost of building the Armory was nearly $60,000 and was the largest armory in the state by the end of its construction. Additions to the building were constructed in 1956, and until the mid- 1970’s, was occupied by the National Guard. The City of Boise later purchased the building and has left it unused for many years.
Unfortunately, while the Armory was not in use, the building saw its share of criminal acts. Around the time that the Armory was shut down in the 1970’s, it was the site of a mysterious robbery. In April of 2008, the Armory is vandalized and the WPA plaque was stolen. Then again, in March of 2010, 3 teens are charged for vandalism and arson after breaking into the armory and setting fire to $5,000 worth of equipment belonging to the Boise Fire Department.
The future for the Armory was relatively unclear for a very long time. There were several plans to renovate the building over the years, but nothing had panned out. However, a California based Development Company called J&M has taken ownership of the building in June of 2012, and are planning to bring the building back to life. J&M has promised that they have absolutely no desire to tear the building down, that they are simply going to “Rehabilitate” it. They have mentioned turning it into a multi-functional facility, with commercial space for office spaces and community centers. Last summer, there was a flurry of activity at the Armory. Trees and bushes were cleared away, a fence was put up to prevent trespassing, and a few loads of construction supplies were delivered to the building. However, for the past couple months, not much activity has been seen at the Armory. Some windows have been broken and window coverings have been torn down, but little else has happened lately. Although little is known about what exactly will be put into the Armory, but the people of Boise are excited to see it reopened and in use once again.
Added to National Historic Register in late 1990s.