Alexanders – iconic haberdashery in downtown Boise
Last night as I was sitting in class listening to fellow students discussing the merits of planning (or not) it struck me just how much things change. Now before you laugh at what would seem to be a very obvious thought and wondering why I was daydreaming and not listening to the enlightened discourse around the table, let me explain myself. All the discussion that was taking place centered around the idea of community planning which got me thinking about the Boise I remember as a child. I was born and raised in Boise as a child of the 50’s and have some very distinct memories of that time.
St. Alphonsus Hospital – 3rd & State
Some of my earliest memories include the lunch counter at J. J. Newberry (liver and onions anyone?), the Kresge Five and Dime (my favorite place to buy Mom’s Christmas present), Alexander’s (the place you endured school clothes shopping), a trio of amazing downtown movie houses (Pinney, Boise and Egyptian (aka Ada), Skagg’s Drugstore (aluminum Christmas tree anyone?), the old public library (where I fed my 10 book a week reading habit), and the Idaho Beauty and Barber College (remember when haircuts were just $2). Those indeed were the good old days! It was always exciting as a kid to be downtown because it was a happening place. Every weekend you could find locals and the out-of-towner’s alike moving from store to store in a mad rush to get the latest apparel, stopping in for coffee and pie at Vic’s Cafe, a Singapore Sling at my uncles place “Fong’s Tea Garden” or waiting patiently in a line that wrapped around the block to see “The Sound of Music” at the Egyptian. Downtown Boise was a hive of activity. It hummed with life. It was a fun place to be. It was Boise.
Iconic WPA built Ada County Courthouse
So when downtown lost its Department Stores, boutiques and specialty stores that lined streets between 5th and 12th and between Front and Bannock – it lost it’s relevancy as a place to go. Nowadays we have found new places to visit – Boise Towne Square Mall and the strips of stores that line the streets leading into this mega space of retail. We go there because it is convenient – it provides us with an opportunity to get everything done as efficiently as possible – it is a time saver. But something got lost in this transition. What we lost was the connection to a communal space that gave us a sense of community. So while we continue to create events like “First Thursday” or “Art in the Park” as a way to get people to come downtown they just don’t seem to be enough of a draw that makes downtown the vibrant alive place of my childhood.
The old Ada Theater (Egyptian)
When I look back at my childhood one of the joys of going downtown was that it was a vibrant space alive with energy and purpose. It was a place where people went to be a part of something bigger – sadly, that place seems lost. So therein lies the $60,000 Question – does a downtown like the one I so fondly remember from my childhood define community? If it does then what do we do to recapture it? If not? Well, that is a question for another day.