In February of 1961, Clay and Margaret Simons purchased a lot from Title and Trust Company which had purchased dozens of lots from The Highlands Inc. in January. By April, the Simons had signed a mortgage with the Title Insurance Co. in the amount of $24,000. Though the architect of the Simons House remains unknown, the style of the house is readily identifiable as a ubiquitous western Ranch.
In the 1930s, Californian architects introduced the “close to the ground” ranch, finding inspiration in the one-story plan of the Spanish rancho of the Southwest which they adapted to a suburban house type suitable for middle income families. It combined elements of vernacular houses with the Craftsman Bungalow and typically featured a low-pitched roof with deep eaves and a low horizontal profile. By the late 1940s, this new house type, perceived as modern and unpretentious, caught on across the country. This particular example received an American Colonial treatment complete with a fieldstone veneer accented with wide profile siding, multi-pane wood windows with decorative shutters, and a paneled door. A two-story addition to the northeast end of the house slightly alters the original low massing, but a rear addition completed in 2012 provides additional interior space while remaining sympathetic to the original exterior details.
Clay Simons was born in Pennsylvania in 1928 but the family moved to San Bernardino,
California during his high school years. After graduation from San Bernardino High School, Simons attended San Bernardino Valley College before serving two years in the US Navy. Having married Margaret (Margo) in 1950, the couple raised three children. Simons graduated law school and practiced briefly but preferred his work at Davidson-Western Plywood Company where he eventually became a top salesman. In 1960, the company opened a Boise office and offered the manager position to Simons. He eventually opened his own plywood business. Simons died in Boise in 2005.
By 1966, the house had been sold to Gordon and Francis Randall who occupied it for twenty years. Randall, an executive with Boise Cascade, oversaw the design of their new corporate offices by the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.
The house is currently (2013) owned by Chris and Emily Allen
More information about the Highlands Neighborhood:
The Highlands neighborhood extends northeast from Boise’s downtown core and North End along an incline that follows topography shaped by Crane Creek and the foothills at the southern edge of the Boise Front. Today, mid-century homes, lush lawns, and green trees create a cool inviting oasis. Although major settlement was concentrated near the Boise River there were a few farms established along Crane Creek in the 1860s. Dr. Charles H. Crane, for whom Crane Creek is named, located a farm just north of the present day intersection of Harrison Boulevard and Hill Road. Boise pioneer school teacher and farmer Franklin B. Smith patented 160 acres of land in 1888 on land that would become The Highlands. But by the early 1950s when the neighborhood was developed, the area was arid and open with surrounding hillsides dotted by sagebrush.
Following World War II, Boise boomed and grew as a center for state and federal regional offices as well as new private industries. The national trend for suburban housing development began in 1946 and by 1960 substantially more of Boise’s’ population lived outside the city limits than within. The pattern of Boise’s growth following the war was similar to other communities across the nation. Nationwide, homeownership in the postwar period was equated with the attainment of middle class status. Ownership of a single family home became the American Dream.
New developments and modern architecture lured residents to build homes among the foothills north of Boise. J.R. Simplot Company began the development of Boise Heights in 1953. Richard B. Smith, a local real estate agent and developer, began The Highlands project in 1955 on land his grandfather Franklin had patented six decades earlier. Smith and co-developers Fred Bagley, Ted Eberle, and Robert Kinsinger would transform Boise’s northern boundary as they developed a new subdivision for a growing city.
Construction started in Highlands Units 1 and 2 in 1955. A new marketing scheme called a Parade of Homes was used to promote the neighborhood. This concept was credited as the brainchild of the Salt Lake City Home Builders Association, who held such an event in Salt Lake City in 1946. Boise followed suit with its first parade in 1956. Ten model homes were built on Crane Creek Road by local builders and suppliers who constructed, finished, and furnished the houses. The event was timed to coincide with National Home Week during the last week of September. The Parade was publicized a month ahead in the Idaho Statesman with reports that identified the various plans for the homes. Advertised as a family event, children could enjoy pony rides and clowns while their parents viewed the homes. The Boise Junior Chamber of Commerce had a refreshment stand while hostesses were stationed at each house to show off all the modern conveniences. Realtors, builders, and interior designers worked together to introduce Boiseans to new homes mainly built in the popular Ranch style.
Highland homes have a variety of mid-century style houses and several variations on the Ranch style. Although many of the houses are built from plans a number of The Highlands homes were designed by architects too. The houses followed the topography of the hills and are typically placed on large lots off curvilinear streets and cul-de-sacs. The curved streets reflect the move away from the gridiron street plan popular during the early 20th century to the curvilinear streets which helped to slow traffic and minimize entry to the neighborhood. Extensive tree planting and landscaping have changed the arid landscape into grassy lawns filled with large shade trees.
The proximity to downtown and yet country feel of The Highlands was a selling point for the new subdivision. By 1961 the subdivision’s population reached over a thousand. A new school, Highlands Elementary School, was constructed and opened for students in 1964. The neighborhood grew as families purchased building lots and constructed houses in the popular area. Neighborhood residents were not the only ones to enjoy The Highlands, when as early as 1966, the neighborhood became known for its colorful Christmas light display. The annual light display would be tradition for many years.
The Highlands also gained nationwide recognition in 1961 when the “Highlands Community Fallout Shelter” was constructed. It was the first prototype community fallout shelter in the United States spurred by fears of nuclear war. The building was funded by the Federal Civil Defense Agency and from the sale of stock-which was available on a family-share basis. Other amenities attracted homebuyers including the Crane Creek Country Club and the Highlands Baptist Church built on land provided by Richard B. Smith. Smith continued to be involved in the subdivision’s development to the start of a new century. In 1971 the Idaho Statesman reported on the construction of the 500th Home in the subdivision incorporating new housing styles that had evolved since the 1950s. The Highlands neighborhood remains a popular and sought after location for homebuyers and includes intact examples of mid-century architecture.
Although not designated as a historic district The Highlands neighborhood is an important facet of Boise’s history. Many houses in the neighborhood have turned 50 years old – the age at which the National Park Service will consider buildings for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. There are good examples of mid-century architecture which retain architectural integrity, reflecting the style, materials, and landscaping of the time. The Highlands neighborhood provides significant information about Boise’s post World War II era housing.
Mid-century architecture in Boise and nationwide is slowly being accepted for its historical and architectural importance. At this time no mid-century neighborhood in Boise has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places or as a local historic district. Houses in The Highlands are not protected from inappropriate alterations or demolitions for owners who want newer and larger homes. Cities and towns evolve over time and architectural diversity with architectural examples from all eras is important to creating a livable community. Tours like the Heritage Homes Tour can benefit historic neighborhoods and educate the public about the importance of architecturally and historically sensitive alterations.
Information given during Preservation Idaho’s 2013 Heritage Homes Tour. For more information about the Heritage Homes tour, click here .