The Turner movement started in Germany in the 19th Century as a way to promote good health through “turnen,” which in German is the practice of gymnastics. Turner societies started in most cities in the United States where a substantial German population resided.
In Boise, the Turn Verein and Harmonia Society started in 1870. Its first president was John Lemp, one of Boise’s best-known brewers. The Turners, athletic as their origins might have been, were also big fans of beer. The social side of the organization prevailed over gymnastics.
For the first few years the society sponsored events in Slocum Hall and the Masonic Hall, but by 1874, they had moved to the first Turn Verein Hall at 6th and Main. They frequently sponsored balls and theatrical events for the community and rented space for numerous community events. The Idaho Territorial Legislature met in the building in 1878, 1882, and 1884.
In 1875, the Fourth of July festivities in Boise were held under the auspices of the Turn Verein Society. The Turners marched proudly in the parade, carrying the flag of Germany. That the observance that year took place on July 5 made it no less of a celebration. The Fourth of July was on a Sunday, so the merriment was moved to Monday to assure that any incidental drinking that might accompany the festivities would not take place on the sabbath.
The Turners were a big part of Boise’s social order for decades. By 1904 their future was looking rosy enough to contract with Tourtellotte & Co to design a new meeting and event space at Sixth and Main. The contract for construction of the new building was let in April 1906. The Turners laid the cornerstone in elaborate ceremonies that included multiple speeches and musical numbers on August 1, 1906. Similar ceremonies marked the dedication of the completed building in December of that year.
The new Boise Turnverein was a two-story red brick building that featured an auditorium with a balcony, a billiard room, a parlor for lady guests, and a gym with showers. At some point, early in its history, the building held a drinking establishment called the Irrigator Bar, the first of many bars that would have that 6th and Main address.
The Turnverein served as a community theater and venue for balls for the next several years, at least until 1915. That was when international affairs, namely a war started by Germany, began to make the Turners uncomfortable with being in the limelight.
A small notice in the Idaho Statesman on February 8, 1916, said that the Turnverein Society of Boise had sold the property to Amelia Sonna for “$1 and other valuable considerations.” The Turnvereins had disbanded.
The Seventh Day Adventist church purchased the building in 1917, eventually converting it to a school. It would become a federal aviation control center in the 1950s and a printing business in the 60s. Since then, the building has served as the home of many restaurants and nightclubs, from the Old Boise Saloon, through Joe’s American Grill, Dirty Little Roddy’s, and China Blue.
The name over the door, Boise Turnverein, was sandblasted away by the Turners themselves before they sold the building and disbanded. But it did not wipe away the history. Today, it is still known as the Turnverein Building.