Richard Z. Johnson was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1837 and attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1859. He began his legal career in Minnesota but traveled west to Nevada and Silver City, Idaho, before moving to Boise in 1878. He was active in politics, representing Ada County as a member of the Territorial Council during the 1880–1881 legislative session and serving as the attorney general for Idaho Territory from 1887 to 1890. Johnson was also an active member of the Boise school board and sponsored the legislation that created the Boise Independent School District. After his retirement, Johnson and his wife frequently traveled to Germany, where he died in 1913. In 1892, Johnson commissioned architect James C. Paulsen to design and build an apartment block, or row house, on the 500 block of Idaho Street. Johnson’s original plan to expand the building the full length of Idaho Street between Fifth and Sixth streets was stopped by the economic downturn in 1893. James C. Paulsen, who came to Boise from Montana, designed several important buildings in Boise, including the Natatorium, the old City Hall, and the Columbia Theater. The R. Z. Johnson block is the only surviving example of his work. The two-story block with a raised basement features two octagonal towers centered in the façade with picturesque dormers set at either end of the half-timbered second story. The first-story entrances and the second-story windows are round arched. The first-story façade is pressed brick with rusticated stone trim. The building exterior retains most of its original features, but the interior has been remodeled several times, leaving little of the original floor plan or details. The R. Z. Johnson block currently houses retail and office space.
Text written by Barbara Perry Bauer and Elizabeth Jacox of TAG Historical Consulting, for the Shaping of Boise pamphlet
Below is the text of the original page on the building, completed when the Davies Reid store occupied the building.
Originally, the building was used as two separate apartment buildings. John C. Paulsen, also the architect of the famous Boise Natatorium, constructed these houses in 1892. Paulsen constructed the apartments for Attorney R.Z. Johnson, but when the panic of 1893 began, only two of the four apartments were completed. In 1998 there was a fire that charred part of the second floor. To maintain the original structure, the owner, Dan Ronfeld, minimally restored the building leaving the charred wood. Today, the two apartments have been conjoined into one, the Davies Reid Building.
The outside of the “Davies Reid Building” holds many characteristics that reveal the building’s main architecture style, Queen Anne. The first characteristic that points to the Queen Anne style are the stones that lie at the bottom of the building. These stones can be seen as cutstone (large stones used in the foundation) or corbelling stone (stone that is used for decoration or support). A Queen Anne structure is also characterized by a gabled roof, a roof where two sloping structures come together at one point.
The gable roof is also a characteristic of the Tudor Revival. On either side of the towers, a gable dormer can be found. Each dormer is decorated with lacy woodwork that is also characteristic of the Queen Anne style. This style is also seen in the vertical windows and the large oriel window pattern on the second floor. The criss-crossing of thin wood that decorates the upper outside level of the building reveals the Tudor Revival influence. The arches above the doorway hint to Romanesque influence as well as Tudor and Queen Anne. When interviewing the manager and owner of the building, Dan Ronfeld, it was disclosed that Flemish Romantic style also influenced the structure of the building. Inside the building houses: original hardwood floors, 12 fire places, 2 staircases, beautiful door frames, and other structures that have created a classical look.
Text written by Boise Architecture Project student, based on an interview with the owner of the Davies Reid carpet store, a former tenant of the building.