The Turnverein was founded in the early 19th century as a German social organization. Turnverein chapters and their buildings served as men’s athletic clubs (particularly for gymnastics), meetinghouses, and in Germany liberal nationalist political organizations. When they came to the United States they served as social organizations and athletic clubs; which also helped settle new German immigrants to the United States. The Turners (where “Turnverein” came from) played an important role in US history during the Civil War era, as many German immigrants held strong anti-slavery views and ardently supported the Union. They were enlisted by the Union military in St. Louis to help defend the large Federal arsenal there and did so until relieved by regular army units. The Turners also helped elect Abraham Lincoln and provided his bodyguard both during his travel to Washington and his inauguration. Turnvereins became fairly popular with German-Americans. As local chapters were formed, they would begin to construct buildings to house their meetings and activities. Boise’s Turnverein financed the construction of their building around the turn of the century. It was designed by the prominent and prolific Tourtellotte & Co and bids for the construction were requested on the 7th of September 1904. The contract was let on the 5th of April, 1906 to Frank Rathmann & Co for a sum of $16,200, and the cornerstone was laid on that 1st of August. The building was completed in that same year. If only contractors worked that quickly now. By the 17th of November, 1906 rental arrangements had already been made with three different organizations. It was a 2 story building with 15310 square feet, occupying .21 acres on the corner of 6th and Main. The Boise Weekly cites Todd Shallat as saying of the Turnverein members: “They drank beer and did gymnastics-that’s hard to do at the same time.”
As WWI broke out in Europe and anti-German sentiment ran high, the Turners felt compelled to close. They sold their building in 1916 and had their sign above the entrance sandblasted blank. The job, however, was not terribly well done. If one stands out by the sign and looks closely, one can still make out the words “BOISE TURNVEREIN” without too much effort, provided one stands at the right angle. After its original sale, the building fell into the hands of many different owners, becoming the site of many restaurants and nightclubs. It was remodeled in 1970. Between 2003 and 2004, it changed hands again and ceased to be Joe’s American Grill, becoming then the China Blue Bar, the local nightclub that owns and operates it today.
The building is characterized by very large windows (as befits a gymnastics hall), and interesting cornices at the rooftops, as well as its brickwork. These windows also have a curious design at the top which resembles a fleur-de-lis (the symbol of the French monarchy, found on the flag of Quebec). It is constructed of red bricks and has white and black striping at several levels running horizontally across, including some artistic white brickwork below the roofline. It also has white brick outlines around all the windows, and black iron coverings for the panes. It also may have a wing on the east side, though I do not know if this is original or was added during the 1970 renovation. This wing is only one story but appears to be in the same style as the rest of the building. It’s cornerstone is emblazoned with the label “A.D. 1906.” In this time period and beyond, building cornerstones were often engraved with the year of their laying, as can be seen in buildings such as those that comprise Boise High. The building also has a plaque stating that it has been recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey.