Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Grand Opening for Owyhee Hotel in Downtown Boise [otd 05/09]

On May 9, 1910, the Owyhee Hotel in downtown Boise opened for business. Naturally, managers touted their new establishment as the best, with the most modern features and richest d├ęcor in all the Pacific Northwest. The lobby and surrounding balcony, for example, could seat a thousand people for grand events.
Owyhee Hotel, ca. 1920. J. H. Hawley.

Hotels appeared early in the history of Boise City. Among these, the Overland Hotel, located just three blocks from the capitol building, was the place to stay for nearly forty years. Built in 1866, it was where “movers and shakers” scheduled their most important meetings and events. Politicians made important (to them, anyway) speeches from its expansive second-floor porch.

Travelers throughout the Pacific Northwest knew the hotel. They saw it as a civilized oasis between the coast and Salt Lake or Denver. “Meet me at the Overland” provided all the directions needed for a business or social occasion. However, by the turn of the century, the Overland was seriously showing its age, despite multiple renovations and upgrades.

The Idanha Hotel, built a block or so to the northwest in 1901, took over the top spot. (New owners razed the Overland in 1904 and erected a large office building.) The Idanha, new and with all the most modern conveniences of the day, happily filled the void and “ruled the roost” for almost a decade. People famous – Teddy Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, and William Howard Taft, among them – and not-so-famous just naturally stayed at the hotel when they visited Boise.

However, the Owyhee Hotel quickly challenged the Idanha’s position. The “new kid on the block” had all the latest, most modern features, that huge opulently-decorated lobby, and multiple dining rooms. Of its 250 richly-furnished rooms, 150 had private baths, something many hotels of the period could not match.
Owyhee Hotel, rooftop garden, ca. 1911. sales image.
Plus, the Owyhee boasted a unique feature – and soon its biggest draw – a “roof garden.” There, patrons could enjoy drinks and the latest,“smartest” entertainment. Before air conditioning, this was the place to be on a hot summer evening in Boise.

And the Idaho Statesman (June 9, 1913) reported something totally new for the 1913 season: “a genuine cabaret is to be presented for the first time in Boise.” At the time, cabarets were the coming thing in New York and other big cities. In a classic cabaret, the performers move about the room to interact with their audience. American cabarets downplayed the social and political commentary that was part of the original that appeared in Paris in 1881. Here, they focused on singing and dancing, with snippets of comedy. The cabaret style entertainment proved very popular in Boise, and became a regular feature.

The hotel prospered because it also had much else to offer visitors. Those features arose from the experience and expertise of Eugene W. Schubert: He had managed the Idanha Hotel, the Owyhee’s older competitor, from 1902 until his first retirement in 1908. Thus, with financial backing from prominent Boise businessman Leo J. Falk, the Owyhee took its place among the elite hotels in Boise. Unfortunately, Prohibition dampened enthusiasm for the rooftop entertainment, and that attraction never fully recovered.

Still, the hotel's many other amenities sustains much of its grandeur and success for another half century. Today, economic considerations limit the expansiveness of the hotel’s lineal descendant, the Owyhee Plaza Hotel. The vast lobby/ballroom is gone, as is – sadly – the roof garden. Still, most travelers praise the hotel's classic style and handy downtown location.
References: [Hawley], [Brit]
Dick D’Easum, The Idanha: Guests and Ghosts of an Historic Idaho Inn, Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho (1984).
Arthur Hart, “Idaho History: Owyhee Hotel Opened in May 1910,” Idaho Statesman (April 4, 2010).

1 comment:

  1. The Owyhee is being converted into Apartments with Banquet facilities and the Roof Garden is being reinstated.