Historic Boise Car Upholstery building is worth preserving

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BOI_0802bldgtoday
This building on West Fairview Avenue in Boise, built in 1949, has been home to several businesses over decades. Starting as Goodman Oil Co. service station, the distinctive Modern Movement architecture look of the building later became a Union 76 station. Most recently, Boise Car Upholstery used the facility but has since closed its doors. Darin Oswald [email protected]

After I wrote a column a couple of weeks ago about Terry Botkin, who owned and operated Boise Car Upholstery for 40 years, a few readers asked what’s going to happen with the building now that he’s retiring.

It’s a unique building with an interesting history.

The 2,217-square-foot building at 2222 W. Fairview Ave. was built in 1949 as a Goodman Oil Co. service station, back when someone would come out and fill your gas tank, check your oil and wipe your windshield.

It has a distinctive curved retail/office section at the west end, a rounded canopy, stacked roof tiers that go from cylindrical to scalloped to octagonal, and two massive glass-paneled garage bay doors.

“It’s a really great example of a stylistic type of architecture, that sort of roadside architecture that was meant to really draw the eye as travelers embraced this new mode of transportation with cars that were going increasingly fast,” Tricia Canaday, who is the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office administrator, said in a phone interview. “And so roadside architecture kind of evolved to catch the eye essentially, so that’s when you start to see these more unusual forms and shapes, coming in with different types of gas stations, restaurants, motels, all those kinds of things.”

A 2016 cultural resource survey commissioned by Preservation Idaho and the city of Boise of the 30th Street urban renewal corridor identified the building as historically significant and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“It is … an excellent example of a Modern Movement building incorporating elements of both the Streamlined Moderne and Art Deco styles onto a small commercial block,” according to the survey.

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Many Boiseans might remember the Union 76 gas station at 2222 W. Fairview Ave. photographed here in the 1970s prior to being transformed into Boise Car Upholstery. Darin Oswald [email protected]

Goodman Oil Co. still owned the building all the way up until 2006.

Botkin had an opportunity to buy the building, but he was concerned that the soil might be contaminated from underground gasoline storage tanks. When Claude Guigon bought the property in 2006, it turned out the soil was clean.

Guigon, a French transplant to Sun Valley and longtime assistant general manager of the Sun Valley Resort, owned the building from 2006-14. The property changed hands a couple of times before Pacific West Communities bought it in 2018.

Pacific West is an affordable housing developer based in Boise that developed New Path Community Housing, a 40-unit apartment building for people experiencing chronic homelessness, right next door to Boise Car Upholstery.

Pacific West president and CEO Caleb Roope did not return two phone messages I left asking about plans for the property.

Boise city officials said that there is no proposal currently before the city and that the building itself doesn’t have any local protections.

However, given the nature of Pacific West’s business to build affordable housing and using federal funds to do it, any such development using federal money would trigger what’s known as a Section 106 Project Review process.

The National Historic Preservation Act requires all federal agencies to consider what effects their actions may have on historic properties, including archaeological sites and the built environment, according to the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office, which consults with those federal agencies and their applicants to speak for the historic resources of Idaho.

Canaday said the review process wouldn’t prevent the demolition of the building, but it would require some sort of mitigation if the building were torn down.

“The process, if there’s an adverse effect, typically ends with an agreement document, which is a legally binding document that stipulates how adverse effects will be mitigated for that particular project,” Canaday said.

That could be any number of things, including preserving another historical building or structure elsewhere or putting money into a fund for another preservation project.

I would sure hate to see the building torn down.

IMG_Flying_M_Coffeegarag_3_1_7GIRTS0E_L585856379.JPG
The Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa is an example of a former gas station/service station that successfully transformed into a coffee shop. Idaho Statesman file photo

As I sat in the Boise Car Upholstery shop interviewing Botkin, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa, a similar building that was converted from a 1960s Firestone garage into a great coffee shop space.

Of course, the corner of Fairview Avenue and 23rd Street in Boise has much more development potential. The property at 2222 W. Fairview Ave. is only a 0.18-acre lot, and Pacific West also owns the property immediately behind it, at 114 S. 23rd St. That lot is another 0.23 acres, so combined, Pacific West would have nearly a half-acre to work with.

The building on that lot is from 1941, but the rectangular cinder-block structure is nowhere near the architectural significance of the Goodman Oil Co. building.

“If they are going to develop this site, what we would really love to see happen is to incorporate this truly wonderful building as part of whatever plans they have for that site,” Paula Benson, Preservation Idaho board member, told me in a phone interview. “It really is an architecturally significant building that should be preserved rather than just demolish it and have it end up in the landfill.”

I agree. While density and building upward is important, I’d rather see Pacific West figure out a way to develop both lots together, preserve the Goodman Oil Co. building and repurpose it as a commercial space.

“We do really feel that it is a significant piece of typology as a unique gas station structure that there just are fewer and fewer and fewer of these remaining on the landscape,” Canaday said.

If we can save it, we should save it.

This story was originally published August 2, 2022 4:00 AM.

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Scott McIntosh is the Idaho Statesman opinion editor. A graduate of Syracuse University, he joined the Statesman in August 2019. He previously was editor of the Idaho Press and the Argus Observer and was the owner and editor of the Kuna Melba News. He has been honored for his editorials and columns as well as his education, business and local government watchdog reporting by the Idaho Press Club and the National Newspaper Association. Sign up for his weekly newsletter, The Idaho Way.
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