The West Rest Furniture Building, aka “The Totem”, is currently the home of Papa Joe’s Italian restaurant at the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Ann Morrison Park Boulevard, near the entrance to Boise State University. It has a long and varied history as the home to many different businesses and was even for a while a warehouse for the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is described on the State Historic Preservation Office’s Inventory as having a “Tudor Rustic Eclectic” design.
The building was first constructed and finished in August of 1936 and opened to much fanfare with the Idaho Statesman claiming “Signalizing the advent of a new enterprise in Boise’s rapidly growing business circle, the West Rest Furniture Company, manufacturer of Old Oregon Trail Furnishings, officially opened its new factory this week.” (August 6, 1936, ID Statesman) The Statesman goes on to mention that the company manufactured over 60 designs of furniture and fixtures made of knotty Ponderosa pine. Furniture was sold throughout the United States, but many pieces were sold to Boiseans with homes in McCall.
Construction began in May 1936. The company was organized in 1935 and was doing business at 1706 Fairview Avenue. Profits increased and the company decided to expand. The factory was set back 70 feet from Capitol Boulevard to allow for landscaping and adequate parking in front.
The Idaho Statesman reported that the new factory would be modeled after a noted early Idaho building. A reporter noted “The new factory will be modeled after old Fort Boise. It will have a stucco exterior, a low sloping roof, an old-time fireplace and interior fixtures similar to those in the early day homes of this territory including ox yoke light fixtures and rough hewn beams”. (IDS, May 3, 1936)
The West Rest Furniture Company was organized in 1935 with Angus Hill, John H. Kruse, D.B. Johns and Laurel Elam as directors. John Kruse was the manager of the factory and chief designer of furniture.
In May of 1938, a group of Bend, Oregon businessmen organized as the old Oregon Trail Furniture Company bought the machinery and equipment of the West Rest factory and moved it to Bend, where manufacturing was continued. (IDS April 5, 1938 page 7) The building then became the home of Pratt Furniture for about one year when the company closed its showroom at this location and used the property as a storage facility. This very well may have been due to the Depression at that time.
The building was then leased to the Boise District Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to be used as a warehouse and a local headquarters.
David Klinger has written about the Cabin (801 S. Capitol Blvd) and the West Rest building “Together, the two log buildings and the bridge form Boise’s New Deal “triptych” — a trio of art, culture, and history from an era when America was struggling to raise itself from the depths of the Great Depression and re-instill communal purpose to the nation in the form of dignity-giving jobs for Idaho’s unemployed.”
Pratt Furniture advertisements appear throughout World War II bearing the address of the building and it is possible that they operated out of part of the building while the CCC kept its headquarters there. The SHPO Inventory also mentions that the War Production Training Program operated from the building as well and this would be consistent with how the Depression Era CCC was phased out and became supportive of the War efforts in the early 1940s.
After the war, advertisements for The Lodge bar and restaurant started appearing in 1945 in the Statesman with the slogan “Where Dining is a Pleasure”. In 1949, The Lodge closed and La Paluma restaurant opened in the building. La Paluma advertised itself as fine Italian dining and was also open for football games for the local college students. La Paluma then gave way in 1953 to Dixon’s Seafood Restaurant, claiming to be “Idaho’s only seafood restaurant”. Dixon’s was a Boise mainstay throughout the 1950s, until it closed in 1963.
Subsequently, the building then housed a couple of real estate firms named Walker Real Estate and Westmark and Company Real Estate. Anna Webb’s entry in 150 Boise Icons book says it has also housed a bakery and a tire store. It is thought that an insurance company named Totem Insurance occupied the building in the 1970s.
This presents the biggest question about the building: it’s totem pole, of which there has been great speculation. For many years, the pole’s origin was of some dispute.
One story came from David Klinger who wrote “The totem pole on top of the log structure dates to 1960, when the Tlingit Tribe sent it from Ketchikan, Alaska, to Boise, at the request of Boise native Ed Magden, who opened the Totem Insurance Company in the historic log building … and really loved Alaska. The iconic totem features a wolf, a beaver, and eagle, and a man with fish.”
Local writer Tim Woodward wrote in the Statesman in 2010: “Most of the sources I spoke with think the totem pole was added in the 1940s. Why and by whom are the mystery. One story has it that Dixon the restaurateur was from Alaska and wanted a totem pole to remind him of his former home. I can’t vouch for its accuracy. Historian/planner John Bertram found records indicating that the totem pole was carved by someone named Gordon Camby. But absolutely zilch is known about him.”
Ultimately, Anna Webb’s research in the Statesman archives uncovered a photo from the March 10, 1966 Statesman showing the totem pole being lifted into place in front of the building. The caption claims that the pole was carved in Canby, OR by Gordon Watkins and painted by Maxine Magden, thought to be the wife of Ed Magden the owner of the building at that time. This would make the totem pole an excellent example of roadside kitsch from the Sixties, but not an Indian artifact. Further research needs to be done to on Watkins and the carving of the pole.
Since 1898, the building has been known as the home of Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant, serving Boise with casual Italian food and as a local university watering hole. The West Rest Building’s rustic nature and its totem pole remain and are certainly worth a visit as a unique part of South Boise and Capitol Boulevard.
Sources: The Idaho Statesman, Barbara Perry Bauer, David Klinger, Tim Woodward, Anna Webb, and John Bertram
CCC photo from the ISHS archives #72-28-1-67-19