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The Bench Buildings

Resting on the rim of the First Bench above the Boise River, overlooking downtown, the Crescent Rim Historic Neighborhood stands at the head of Capitol Boulevard flanking the landmark Union Pacific railroad depot. The area, with its coveted views of Boise, was developed mainly between 1930 and 1960 and contains a number of the city’s finer houses. Designed by some of Boise’s leading architects, the rim includes a variety of compatible early- to mid-20th century styles. But, sadly, it is vulnerable to the demands of modern homeowners who desire greater square footage and a more ostentatious display of wealth. For its first seven decades, the neighborhood was outside Boise’s city limits. Without the construction of railroad and irrigation infrastructure, the First Bench— the geographic area from the top of the bluffs formed by the river to the bottom of the second set of bluffs (the Second Bench) roughly two miles southwest— would have developed much differently. Construction of the Ridenbaugh Canal in 1878 turned the desert landscape of the First Bench into a livable agricultural oasis. But it was the arrival of the railroad that led to the development of the edge of the bluffs, known as the rim of the Bench. In September 1887, the first locomotive of the new Idaho Central Railway Company reached the new depot just east of the present intersection of Vista Avenue and Rose Hill Street. Also that month, builders of the first subdivision of land on the bench platted what is now the land north of the railroad and east of Vista as South Boise (not to be confused with the community of South Boise along Broadway Avenue below the bench). This initial subdivision included only eleven partial blocks and was largely populated with warehouses. By the first decade of the 1900s, with the establishment of the new Morris Hill Cemetery and the subdivision of hundreds of acres of irrigable farmland on the First Bench, a system of roads began, including a wagon road along the rim overlooking the river bottom. First known as an “Oil-Macadam Road” owned by the county, by 1930 the street was called Crescent Rim, probably to market the first subdivision to take advantage of the city views. In March 1930, the Monte Vista Subdivision, owned by Benjamin and Katherine Swisher, was platted on land between the western continuation of Crescent Rim Drive to the north and Morris Hill Road to the south. Only those lots fronting the drive (and the view) were initially delineated. The Crescent Park Subdivision, owned by Horace C. Meyers, was recorded in May of 1931 and completed the platting of what is now known as Crescent Rim. This subdivision included only the land north of Crescent Rim Drive (on the edge of the bench). Completion of the new Union Pacific railroad depot in 1925 spurred suburban development. Built as Boise became a mainline terminal, the depot was erected to balance the Idaho Statehouse at the other end of a grand axial boulevard completed in 1931 with the construction of what is now known as the Capitol Boulevard Memorial Bridge. Though still outside the city limits, the new depot drew attention to the appeal of living in a home with views of the growing city. Concurrently, land to the east of the depot was developed. Though platted in 1887, the area had grown little. Then, in 1929, Hans and Katharine Hulbe recorded the Hulbe Tract—most of Block 10 and some of Block 9 of the original South Boise subdivision. This new subdivision was comprised solely of Hulbe Drive, a halfcircle street ending at either end on what was then known as the Old Oregon Trail or Mountain Home Highway—now Federal Way. Hulbe, an architect with the Boise- Payette Lumber Company, sold all six lots of his subdivision to members of Boise’s growing upper middle class and designed some of the homes. The Hulbe Tract was fully developed by 1940. Construction of homes on Crescent Rim designed to take advantage of the views began in 1929 with the Edwin Peasley house at the corner of what is now Crescent Rim and Peasley Street. Development continued through the 1930s and, though interrupted by World War II, continued until 1960. Never recognized for their historical or architectural importance in the same way as other prestigious streets in Boise such as Warm Springs Avenue or Harrison Boulevard, Crescent Rim and Hulbe have not been listed in the National Register of Historic Places or given the protection afforded by designation as local historic districts. Thus, many of the original homes in this neighborhood have been altered with additions and renovations or demolished to allow for the construction of newer, larger homes or developments that suit contemporary owners. by Dan Everhart of Preservation Idaho

 
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