The Fort Street Historic District [†] is an area of approximately 47 blocks lying primarily within the original townsite of Boise City, platted in 1867. This primarily residential section of the city, which contains a rich resource of buildings in a wide variety of architectural styles, represents development during the years 1890 to 1940, when Boise maturated into a modern city from its modest frontier origins. This historic district was home to influential politicians, successful businessmen, and white- and blue collar workers. Apartment buildings, large residences, cottages, churches, and schools exist harmoniously side by side. In addition, the district contains a large number of buildings designed by the architectural firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel, and this cross-section provides an evolutionary record of the development of their work and changing architectural tastes. This district provides a significant record of the growth of the city, its rich diversity of architectural styles representing the changing tastes of an expanding community, and its function as a diversified neighborhood integrating a wide range of building types from mansions to modest tenant houses and apartment buildings, schools, churches, and other public buildings, all of which reflect the social and economic needs of the population.
The area contained in the Fort Street Historic District is part of the Boise City Original Townsite lying directly to the north of the central business district. The Boise foothills lie a mile or so to the north and military Fort Boise (VA Hospital)is situated at the northeast corner of the district. Soon after the city was platted in 1867, large tracts of land in the district were purchased, although throughout the 1870s and 1880s, development seems to have been limited to small farms and orchards, with the principal buildings being modest frame dwellings and outbuildings.
With Idaho's statehood in 1890 came increased interest in real estate development and speculation. The larger tracts of the district began to be sold off block by block and lot by lot to forward-looking citizens who built their own homes and modest tenant houses. In some instances, landowners developed rows or clusters of tenant homes on their blocks and half-blocks. Several fine examples of this pattern remain; one is "Regan's Row" (1890-1891), a group of six late Queen Anne houses built on an identical plan in the 1100 block of Fort Street. The 1500 block between Hays and Franklin also saw, in 1891-1892, the construction of eleven brick cottages by brickmason J. N. Wallace, who himself lived in the frame house at the southeast corner of what was known as "Wallace's Block." Landowners T. D. Cahalan, J. C. Pence, and others also pursued this pattern of development during the period, though the remaining examples are less intact than the two mentioned above.
The building inventory of Fort Street Historic District reflects the broader historical trends of the state. The post-statehood boom of the early 1890s which resulted in enthusiastic building in the Fort Street area necessitated the construction of Whittier School in 1894 and has left its impression on the neighborhood in the late Queen Anne cottages and unpretentious frame and brick vernacular dwellings. The economic depression of the mid-1890s, however, temporarily halted this rapid development, and there were proportionately fewer houses built in the district during the period 1894 through 1898. The significant boom years for the Fort Street area were from 1900 to 1906, though growth continued steadily for some five or six years after that. During this period many of the blocks in the central portion of the district were filled in with residences in the late Queen Anne style, and a large number of these houses showed the influence of the colonial revival style. The period 1900 to 1905 also saw the construction of several apartment houses, reflecting the need for housing close to the city and increasing property values. The years 1905 to 1910 were also ones of growth for the city and the area of the district as well, with box-type houses and bungalows competing with the earlier styles for acceptance. The construction of apartment houses and double houses also increased during this time, seeming to reach a peak around 1911.
The building which took place during the first decade of the twentieth century solidified the district into its present blend of functions and styles, with spacious residences, modest houses, apartment buildings, churches, schools, and other public buildings existing side by side. Building continued throughout the period 1910 to 1920; and blocks were filled in, and the first generation of modest frame dwellings was replaced by the modern residences of a city striving to be up to date and advanced in all possible ways.
Once again, economic downturn and depression in the 1920s and '30s caused the slowing of building activity. This is to some extent reflected in the district by proportionately fewer buildings from this era, although the lack of construction is also due to the fact that much of the land was already built upon.
The architectural styles represented in the district are diverse, and the buildings provide a rich record of the changing tastes of the growing city, the acquisition of wealth by some, and the ever present need for housing for the growing middle class of the city. The most prevalent style in the district is the late Queen Anne with elements wich demonstrate the restraining influence of the colonial revival. These buldings are characterized by an increasing compactness of massing, a tendency away from asymmetry and complexity of ornament while still retaining the decorative impulses of the Queen Anne. Many expressions of this transitional style are to be found in the Fort Street Historic District applied to a variety of dwellings, large and small, and apartment buildings. The district also includes fine examples of the mature Queen Anne, most notably in the Bush mansion, complete with towers, cresting, and a wealth of decorative detail. The vernacular tradition of residential building has a number of examples as well. Vertical massing, proportions influenced by folk tradition or pattern books, and absence of stylistic reference are characteristic of these houses, which are among the oldest buildings in the district.
Also represented in the Fort Street district are the box-type residences which became very popular in Boise in the years 1906 to 1915. Characterized by square massing, low hipped roof, symmetrical facade, and broad front porch, this plan often bore reference to the Tudoresque style, built in stucco and half-timber with Boise sandstone trim, or suggested the Colonial Revival, Bungalow, or mission style. The bungalow is represented in the district and is found in a variety of forms from the California-inspired Fred Coleman bungalow at 1423 Franklin Street to the builder bungalows of Boise contractor J. O. Jordan. Also worthy of note is the single example of the Prairie style, the Judge C. P. McCarthy House, 1415 Fort Street (National Register, August 30, 1979), built in 1913.
The decades of the twenties and thirties are represented by a few examples of modest Mission style dwellings and an isolated few English cottages. Art deco buildings are few in number, but the style finds handsome expression in the Boise High School Gymnasium and North Junior High School, both W.P.A. projects. Also, the old Whittier School was remodeled and given a more modern art deco appearance disguising the fact that it is the oldest building in the school district.
The churches and public buildings catalog a variety of building styles from the Tabernacle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to the Romanesque Revival style Central Christian Church and North Junior High School in the art deco tradition. Apartment buildings and multiple residences are found in a variety of styles as well. The White-Savage Apartments display a colonial revival influence, the Jones Apartments make reference to the late Queen Anne with corner tower and conical roof, while the Patterson Apartments adopt elements of the urban commercial style. This wide variety of architectural styles is characteristic of the district and rcords changing technology, changing taste, and the growth of the city.
Architectural significance is also derived from the fact that the Fort Street Historic District is virtually a catalog of the work of the architectural firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel, whose work is also represented by the concurrent thematic- group nomination Tourtellotte and Hummel Architecture in Idaho. Tourtellotte and Hummel are considered to have led the way to many architectural changes in Idaho. The evolution of architectural style from Queen Anne cottages to Romanesque Revival, Neo-Classical Revival and Art Deco is documented in the district in the work of these architects and their buildings exemplify changing tastes in a period of dynamic growth. No fewer than fifty-two houses, churches, and schools in the Fort Street Historic District are credited to Tourtellotte and Hummel—evidence of their great popularity and influence.
The Fort Street Historic District was home to many prominent citizens. Governors John M. Haines, D. W. Davis, and C. Ben Ross lived there during their terms of office, and a number of mayors of the city were also residents of the area. Successful businessmen like W. E. Pierce, J. A. Bloomquist, James H. Bush, and Jeremiah Jones built their residences in the district. It should not be forgotten, however, that the district was the neighborhood for many middle class families, office workers, laborers, and craftsmen. While people of wealth and influence certainly lived there in good numbers, it was not an enclave for the rich but a diverse, yet integrated, neighborhood community.
The buildings of the Fort Street Historic District are, then, a record of the social, economic, and physical growth of the city. The character of the neighborhood is established by the variety of architectural styles and types of buildings, the blend of churches, schools, homes, and other institutions which form the community fabric. The visual record of the streetscape reflects the patterns of growth and development which are a part of the city's history.
Susanne Lichtenstein, Architectural Historian, Idaho State Historical Society, Fort Street Historic District, 1982, National Register nomination document, /history.idaho.gov, accessed July, 2021.
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