Monday, December 19, 2016

Prominent Boise Area and Twin Falls County Architect Benjamin Nisbet [otd 12/19]

Architect Nisbet. Family archives.
Benjamin Morgan Nisbet, who made his name as a fine Idaho architect, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 19, 1873. At age seventeen, Ben began an apprenticeship with a leading Pittsburgh architectural firm. Then he decided he needed a more solid grounding and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture.

The year before he graduated in 1898, he won a school award for “Composition in Details.” Afterwards, he returned to Pittsburgh and opened his own architectural firm. Married there in November 1903, he and his new wife moved to Nampa shortly thereafter. Soon, his advertisement as an architect, with a Nampa office address, appeared in Boise’s Idaho Statesman (December 23, 1903).

However, seeing better prospects in Boise, in March 1904 he partnered with another architect in the capital. For some reason that did not last and they split a few months later (Idaho Statesman, August 23, 1904). Not long after that, Nisbet took a position with a well-known Boise architectural firm.

The following year, in March, water from Milner Dam [blog, May 7] began flowing onto acreage near the new town of Twin Falls. Nisbet liked the potential there and took a leave of absence to “prove up” an irrigated claim. When Ben returned after two months the Statesman said (November 28, 1905), “He has now clear title to one of the prettiest ranches under canal.”
Anduiza Hotel, ca 1925. Boise Basque Tour.
In 1909, Nisbet teamed up with architect Frank Paradice [blog, May 4] in a joint venture. Over the next five years or so, the two would produce designs for a wide variety of structures in Boise and other Idaho towns. Among those in Boise were the Empire Building and the Anduiza Hotel, built as a Basque boarding house with its own fronton (pelota court). The Anduiza is on the National Register of Historic Places and still serves as a center of Basque cultural heritage in Boise.

After Paradice departed to Pocatello in 1914, Nisbet continued to handle projects on his own. In 1915, he designed a new high school building for the city of Fruitland (about five miles south of Payette), and the First Baptist Church of Emmett. Still in use, the Baptist church is also on the National Register.

It is not entirely clear when Nisbet moved his family to Twin Falls, but his ads using a Boise office address continued in the Statesman through February 1916. In 1918, Nisbet prepared plans for the Roman Catholic parish house at the Immaculate Conception Church in Buhl (Twin Falls News, July 3, 1918). That same year, Ben moved his family to Buhl

In 1919, Nisbet designed the Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) building in Buhl. That too is now on the National Register. The following year, he designed a new “mission style” city hall and civic center for Buhl. He also handled the design of new high school buildings in Kimberly and in Buhl. Unfortunately, he had to file suit against the Buhl school district in an attempt to get paid in full (Twin Falls News, January 20, 1922).
Main Street, Buhl, ca 1919. J. H. Hawley photo.
Idaho, like most farm states, plunged into a depression in the 1920s … generally blamed on excessive expansion to meet demand during World War I. In the words of Ben’s son Donald, “the architect business [went] to the dogs” in the Twin Falls area. Nisbet moved the family to Los Angeles, California, where he found a job with an architectural firm.

Late in life, Nisbet suffered from increasing arthritic pain. He passed away in July 1940.
References]: [French]
“Anduiza Hotel,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Washington, D. C.  (2003).
“Buhl IOOF Building,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. (2009).
“First Baptist Church of Emmett,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. (1980).
Robert A. Nisbet Jr., A Nisbet Family from Pennsylvania, (1996).
“[Nisbet News - Boise],” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 1904 – 1920).
“[Nisbet News - Twin Falls],” Twin Falls News, Twin Falls, Idaho (July 1918 – January 1922).
Gene Smiley, “US Economy in the 1920s,” EH.Net Encyclopedia, Economic History Association (March 26, 2008).
Year Book of the School of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania, The Architectural Society, Philadelphia (1897).

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