The Hole at 8th and Main gaped there on the verge of great things for more than 20 years. Zions Bank opened its new tower in 2014, finally fitting into the footprint of the old Eastman Building that burned in 1987. The gravel parking lot that covered the block where the Boise Convention Center and other downtown amenities now sit was a point of conjecture for years. Ideas bounced around until the proposal to put a squat, concrete shopping mall that would be as enticing as a prison on the site invigorated enough opposition to rethink and renew downtown.
But those projects were just blips compared with the field of dreams known as the Lemp Triangle. Dreamers started envisioning its future in 1870 and continued plotting until 1937, when something important finally got built.
The Lemp Triangle is an accident of platting. When city fathers drew up the first maps of Boise, they platted it so that streets would run roughly parallel to the Boise River. That was just a convenient way to layout a town that might not be around very long. As the City survived and grew, developers of new additions mapped streets that ran to the points of a compass. Fitting the new additions to the original town plat created some odd-shaped properties. One became known as the Lemp Triangle in the North End, bounded today by W Resseguie to the north, N 13th to the east, W Fort to the south, and N 15th to the west. Clever readers may now be asking themselves why a triangle has four sides. The answer is that the property is a triangle with the western tip cut off. "Lemp Sort-of-a Triangle" just doesn't have the verve of the shorter name.
John Lemp, brewer, businessman, and local politician, began planning to sell lots in his new Lemp Addition north of the City in 1891. Mayor James Pinney saw the wisdom in snugging up the Lemp Addition to the original plat for Boise, so he deeded what became the Triangle to Lemp for $1.
Then came the tricky part. Did Boise own the land in the first place? In 1867 Boise had petitioned the US Department of the Interior for a townsite patent. The City was expecting a patent for 410 acres, the size of the original plat. Instead, they received a patent for an extra 32 acres, which included the Lemp Triangle. Maybe.
Imagine John Lemp's surprise when in August 1892, J.C. Pence, another local politician and businessman, began constructing a house on the Lemp Triangle. Lemp offered to pay Pence a small sum to remove the house. Pence declined, claiming that he owned the land. So on August 18, Lemp sent a group of armed men to demolish the house. They piled the resulting debris in the street, then tore up the foundation.
This dispute began a series of lawsuits that kept the property tied up for the next 25 years. At various times it became clear that Pence owned the property or that Lemp owned the property, or that the City owned the property. There were wins and losses enough to keep all parties confused. When the last, really, truly, absolutely final decision came down, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Lemp owned the property through adverse possession. Unfortunately, Lemp had been dead four years by that time, so he didn't get a chance to celebrate.
With ownership determined, the Lemp estate began advertising lots for sale in the Lemp Triangle. But remember those dreams and visions that had been bouncing around? Citizens had talked up a public park on the site for years. They dreamed about a playground for kids and a baseball field. At one point, when the City was temporarily confident it owned the property, voters narrowly turned down a proposal to make it a park.
In 1922 the Lemp estate came close to making the park dreams come true when it offered the city Camel's Back and the Lemp Triangle for the bargain price of $35,000. One stipulation was that any park built in the Triangle would be called John Lemp Park. The City mulled that over for a while. Maybe too long.
The Boise School Board finally put all disputes and dreams to rest when in 1925, they purchased the Triangle for $22,500. But, true to the site's history, it was another dozen years before anything happened there. North Junior High, designed by Tourtellotte and Hummel, was built in 1937.
The school, lauded for its art deco design, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Lemp Triangle itself might have qualified without the beautiful public building given the long, sordid history of nothing happening there.