The building is so iconic in Boise that it is a surprise to many to learn that It wasn’t Idaho’s first Idanha. The first one was built in 1887 in Soda Springs. That Idanha was a luxury hotel, with electric lights and natural gas heating. The Tri-Weekly Statesman quoted a gentleman who had seen the Soda Springs hotel as saying “the structure was not only one of the most complete in the West, but for its size one of the finest in the world.”
The two hotels were related only by name, and there is no solid evidence that the one in Boise was named after the Soda Springs Idanha. Developers likely knew about the first hotel, which had a good reputation at the time, so, why not borrow the name? The first Idanha had borrowed its name, after all. The moniker first appeared on the labels of Idanha Mineral Water, bottled in Soda Springs and sold all over the United States. But, let’s leave the Soda Springs hotel, which burned down in 1921, and get back to Boise’s grand hotel.
As the preferred place to stay in town for decades, the Idanha saw a lot of history. Walter “Big Train” Johnson, years before his induction into baseball’s hall of fame, practiced pitches in the hallway of the Idanha, shattering an inconveniently placed chamber pot with one low pitch.
Movie star Ethel Barrymore stayed there while attending the high-profile Haywood trial. “Big Bill” Haywood, a leader of the International Workers of the World was on trial for hiring Harry Orchard to assassinate Frank Steunenberg, a former Idaho governor who had clashed with the union. It was Clarence Darrow for the defense.
The Idanha came close to being the site of the assassination, until Harry Orchard had second thoughts about the bomb he had placed under Steunenberg’s bed. He disconnected the device because he feared it might injure or kill a chambermaid. Orchard planted another bomb at the gate of the former governor’s home in Caldwell to complete the job.
Famous folks who stayed at the Idanha included William Jennings Bryan, Sally Rand, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Polly Bemis. The legendary little Chinese woman who lived in the Salmon River country got her first elevator ride there.
And, since there’s always a remote chance someone may consider me famous one day, I must mention that I got to stay in a second-floor turret room courtesy of the federal government the night before I was inducted into the Marine Corps. It was easily the best part of that experience.
The Idanha is no longer a hotel. In recent years it was converted into an apartment building with 80 small apartments ranging in size from 380 to 786 square feet. That historic elevator has been giving tenants and management grief in recent years, becoming increasing unreliable.
From the outside the Idanha looks much the same as the day it opened. Though Vardis Fisher wrote in his 1936 guide to Boise, published only recently, “nobody finds it beautiful today,” that opinion about the Idanha is likely a minority one in 2020.