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A little slice of history: The Cabin

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Franklin Girard was a powerful man in the 1930s and ‘40s in Idaho. He was a two-term secretary of state starting in 1932 and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1936. If you’ve heard of him at all, though, it is likely because his name has been in the news recently. He built an iconic building in Boise at 801 S. Capitol Blvd. You know it today as The Cabin.

After his loss in the race for governor, Girard became the state forester in 1937, an office within the Idaho Department of Lands. Forestry was big business then in Idaho. Even so, the state forester did not have a permanent home, making do with various temporary offices. Girard decided to build a home for the operation that would be in keeping with its mission. Money to put up a new building was not forthcoming from the legislature, so the state forester set out to construct one with little or no money from state coffers.

Girard sought help from several lumber companies and the city of Boise. From the city, he acquired a little piece of property for a new office in Julia Davis Park (now separated from the rest of the park by Capitol Boulevard). From the lumber companies, he acquired lumber. The Boise-Payette Lumber Company loaned him their architect, Hans C. Humble, and two builders who specialized in log construction, Finns John Heillila and Gust Lapinoja. The Civilian Conservation Corp would provide labor.

Girard sold his vision to the lumber companies with a letter of solicitation that included the line, “The building, when completed, will be a show place and a perpetual advertisement for the lumber industry of Idaho.”

The Idaho State Forester’s building would show off the industry by featuring different Idaho wood products and intricate wooden ceiling patterns unique to each room. The logs for the building are peeled, round Idaho Englemahn Spruce. Inside you’ll find yellow pine, white pine, Idaho red fir and western red cedar. Idaho doesn’t grow a lot of hardwood, so the floors are of maple from out of state. The grounds originally featured sumac, syringa, aspen, wild honeysuckle and wild rose, all native plants.

Girard spent only $1,600 of taxpayer money for the (at the time) $40,000 building. It was completed in 1940, helping to celebrate the state’s 50th anniversary.

The building was still in use by the Idaho Department of Lands and the Soil Conservation Service until 1990. The City of Boise acquired it in 1992. In 1996, the building became the Log Cabin Literary Center.

Today, the site is called simply The Cabin, and the literary organization of the same name is thriving. But the building’s future is in doubt. Oh, it’s a valued building and is in no danger of being torn down, but the design for the new Boise City Library (Library!) may mean the building will need to be moved across the street and into another section of Julia Davis Park. Preservation Idaho opposes the move, arguing that the historical building should remain in its original context.

Rick Just has been writing about Idaho history since 1989 when he wrote and recorded scripts for the Idaho Centennial Commission’s daily radio program, “Idaho Snapshots.” He has a blog, “Speaking of Idaho,” and his latest book on Idaho history is “Images of America, Idaho State Parks.”

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