Today, we’re looking at three other Idaho Buildings that gained a measure of fame, none of them located in Idaho.
Giddy with statehood, Idaho was eager to participate in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was a celebration of the quadricentennial of Columbus’ “discovery” of the new world, albeit celebrated a year late.
The exhibition structure was designed by Spokane architect K.K. Cutter, but the Idaho Building was otherwise all Idaho. It used 22 types of lumber, all from Shoshone County. The stonework came from Nez Perce County and the foundation veneer was lava rock from Southern Idaho, which had an abundance.
The interior was uniquely Idaho. A frying pan clock with golden hands was set to Idaho time. The men’s reception room had a hunting knife for a latch. Some chairs were made from antlers and mountain lion skins. Guests drank from silver cups made in Idaho, until most of them disappeared. There was needlework from the ladies of Albion, watercolors of Idaho wildflowers from Post Falls, fossil rocks from Boise, and a mastodon tusk from Blackfoot.
Boise’s Columbian Club, which is active to this day, was named for its original mission, which was to furnish the Idaho Building.
The Columbian Exposition was billed as the “White City.” This huge log cabin drew attention to itself simply for not being white.
At the end of the exposition the building was taken down log by log and moved to… No, not some lake in Idaho. It was sold at auction and moved to Wisconsin where it was to be used on Lake Geneva as a retreat for orphaned boys. The wealthy owner who had it rebuilt on the lakeshore lost interest in the project, so the orphans never saw the building. It was used for a time as a residence for laborers building a road, then for ice storage. Somehow it got the reputation as being haunted by “Idaho cowboys.” That did not raise its resale value. In 1911, the building was torn down. Some of the logs were used for a municipal pier. The rest of the building seemed to vanish along with those ghosts.
But we have no time to mourn the demise of that Idaho Building. There were other expositions ahead that beckoned to chambers of commerce in Idaho.
The next Idaho building went up in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Unlike the 1893 building, this one was modest in size. At 60 feet square, it was the smallest state exhibit at the celebration. Even so, it took second prize among those exhibits.
The hacienda style architecture of the ranch house was so popular the architect had more than 300 requests for the plans. With a roof of red clay tiles and an adobe exterior, it might as well have represented the Southwest. At the end of the exposition a Texan purchased the building for $6,940. It was moved piece-by-piece to San Antonio by rail. Rather than simply put it back together the buyer decided to make two houses out of it. The pair of homes are still standing side by side today on Beacon Hill.
The third Idaho Building to appear in an exposition was closer to home. Idaho was represented at Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition by a 100-foot by 60-foot building that resembled a Swiss chalet. Boise architects Wayland and Fennell designed it. Portland’s Idaho Building was noted for its striking colors, depicted in the hand-painted photo accompanying this article.
Idaho was generous with its $8,900 building, allowing Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada to use it for their state’s days at the fair. Several Idaho cities got use of the building on certain days, showing exhibits from Boise, Weiser, Pocatello, Wallace, Moscow, and Lewiston. The Idaho Statesman called the building “a cold-blooded business getter.” That was supposed to be a compliment.
The building generated a movement in Boise to have it brought to the city as a permanent exhibit. There was much excitement about this until it was pointed out that the Idaho Building was not meant to be a permanent structure. It wouldn’t stand being disassembled, transported, and reassembled, so the idea was abandoned. The structure, like many others at the exposition, was ultimately torn down.
So, this trio of Idaho buildings never made it to the state. We’ll have to be satisfied with the six-story Idaho Building in downtown Boise that was built to last, and hope it survives long into the future. It has already twice dodged a wrecking ball in the name of urban renewal.