In July of 1962 Steve and Barbara Thomas acquired a mortgage for $25,000. That amount likely included the costs of construction for their new house and the purchase of the lot on N. Argyll Drive. Thomas, a contractor, constructed the house though the origin of the architectural design is unknown. Like many post-war houses, the design is a stylistic continuation of the earlier International Style which was popularized before the Second World War. In order to take advantage of the steep topography of the lot, this example is arranged on three levels with the garage alone occupying the street level. The primary residential space is located a level below the street recessed behind terraced retaining walls. A daylight basement takes up the lowest level of the house and opens onto a spacious rear yard. Deep, bracketed eaves with exposed beams support the flat roof.
Undated architectural plans illustrate an unbuilt addition that would have been set behind the existing garage on the roof of the present house providing a third level of residential space. Alterations completed during the tenure of the most recent past owner include the relocation of the front door to an outset entry pavilion under a new raised clerestory roof.
Steve Thomas was born in Rosalyn, Washington in 1922 but grew up in Garden Valley and Emmett, Idaho before his parents moved to Boise. He graduated from Boise High School in 1941 where he learned the crafts of building and woodworking. Thomas joined the Navy in 1943 and served as an aircraft machinist in the Pacific before returning home to Boise where he married Barbara Storie in 1953. Over the course of 12 years the couple had six children before later divorcing. In the early 1950s, Thomas founded the Steve M. Thomas Construction Company and built numerous custom homes. His own home on Argyll was surrounded by several in the neighborhood which he also constructed. He later worked in commercial construction in McCall and managed projects for Boise Cascade. Thomas briefly remarried before his death in 1999.
In October of 1965, Thomas sold the house to the first of 11 subsequent owners.
The house is currently (2013) owned by John Brenner and Mati Young
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 .