The Idanha Hotel was constructed from 1899 to 1901, the hotel opened along with the 20th century on January 1, 1901. Even at its origin, the hotel was the grandest and most luxurious building in Boise. It had an astounding construction cost of $125,000! (big money back then). It had several bars and buffets like the one pictured here:
For decades, this was the place to be in the Treasure Valley. Some notable guests of the early 20th century included: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, William Jenning Bryant, and Clarence Darrow. The original architect, William S. Campbell included many other amenities for hotel guests, most importantly for our purposes, the basement card room. Until prohibition began, 1916 in Idaho, that’s exactly what that room was for, simply playing cards. These days it has been converted to the 10th Street Station Bar, in between it was a popular speakeasy.
When the state government decided to outlaw alcohol, the proprietors of the hotel saw a novel, and profitable, use for the dumb-waiter that had previously serviced guests in the card-room. Here’s where documented evidence runs out, as very few people involved in illegal activities keep records of them. So, this next story is culled from both records of the renovation in the 1970s and from stories from bartenders and servers at the 10th street station. As they tell it, and the renovation documents support (if not confirm) this story, the outside entrance wasn’t built until 1974, before that the room had fallen into disuse after a glorious, and un-prosecuted run as a speakeasy. Here’s the genius of this particular speakeasy: the single entrance was hidden from casual inspection, I’ve heard it was either a false bookcase or perhaps an false wall. Either way, it was never discovered and neither was its booze stash, which was stored on the third floor and delivered to the former card room via the dumb-waiter. The entire third floor of the building was reserved for employees of the hotel, mostly African Americans, but the general manager and even the owner kept room on that floor. Whenever the police or tax-men would come knocking, the booze would be shifted into the white occupants rooms while the black occupants made a point of hassling the authorities until their patience ran out and they left without ever searching the “more respectable” tenants’ rooms.
The Idanha has had a lasting and definite effect on Boise, from drawing renowned guests for a visit, to providing a much-needed outlet for those seeking inebriation. One of the most impressive and touching tidbits I found about the Idanha is that Gene Harris got his first break there as a lounge act, and without his influence the cultural landscape in Boise would be much more desolate.
Advertiser & TV Week “Idanha Offers Luxury of Days Gone By,” Page 8, August 6, 1980.
Hart, Arthur, Idaho Statesman, “Idanha Hotel Rang In ‘01,” Page 5, December 26, 1973
Photo Sources as per Idaho Historical Society’s Records
“Card Room and Buffet” ca. 1910 Donor: Jess Jennison
WM. E. Borah addressing crowd after his vindication October 2, 1907
Idanha Hotel (Found in Museum) Idaho Historical Society