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On this day 1977: Boise's Egyptian Theatre added to National Register of Historic Places

Almost 100 years old, the iconic venue has a colorful history to match the intricate Egyptian details.

BOISE, Idaho — When you think about Boise, what are the places that make Boise. The river, the blue, the capitol? The tapestry is rich, with some places sticking out more than others. Places like The Egyptian Theatre, right in the heart of Boise.

As Dan Everhart, outreach historian for the Idaho State Historic preservation Office, explains, The Egyptian has a unique history.

“I’ve loved this building my entire life," said Everhart, "and now I get to talk about it when I talk about historic places in Boise."

Egyptian aesthetic was all the rage when The Egyptian Theatre was first built in 1927.

“It was meant as an escapist experience for folks who were looking for something new to entertain them. And don't forget, the air conditioning, which was unusual in Boise at the time," said Everhart. "So this was unlike any other place that you would have been. And certainly I, as a child, as an adult, experienced that magic every time I'm here."

 But why the Egyptian décor in Boise, Idaho?

“The building exists in this in this shape, with this design, because of the discovery of King Tuts tomb in 1922 and the resulting craze for Egyptian style and design that followed,” Everhart said.   

As the 1930’s passed, Egyptian architecture became passé. The Theatre in Boise, and others like it around the country, began to see changes.

“This theater itself was sort of whitewashed, literally, to remove some of the elements of Egyptian style and make it more modern," said Everhart. "And, of course, this is the American way. We get enamored with something for a little while. It's a craze. It's a trend. Then we move on and we tend to forget about and sometimes actively seek to throw away."   

The Egyptian became known as the Fox and later the ADA theatre in the 1940’s. In the 1970’s the building returned to the Egyptian moniker, being placed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 21st, 1974. The building became a target for demolition as the development of downtown Boise continued in the 70s. In 1977, the fate of the building eventually landed in the hands of Earl Hardy. His daughter, Kay, remembers the purchase well.

“Earl Hardy was the man who was responsible for the preservation of the theatre when he purchased it in 1977, when it was scheduled for demolition through the urban Renewal Agency,” said Kay Hardy.  

She remembers the drastic difference between the building now and its form in 1977, and the personal risk her father took with a personal bank loan.

“When Dad purchased it, the lobby was whitewashed. The exterior of the building had been painted white. So there was no color. There was no decoration,” Hardy said. “We didn't have a tenant for the building and dad came back to the office and said, I know I must be crazy, but I just couldn't stand the destruction of downtown.”

Hardy saved The Egyptian from becoming a historical note, instead working through the end of the 70’s with Hummel Architects to repair and restore the building.

Fast forward about 20 years, Kay Hardy and her now husband, architect Gregory Kaslo, worked on an extensive restoration of The Egyptian in 1999.

“Well, it was it was an interesting building. The ceiling was thoroughly corroded, for example. So one of my first impressions was looking in here and looking at all the holes in the ceiling, all the rust stains. And so it was kind of a mess,” Kaslo said.

“So at that time, Dad had a lease with a national movie chain and they would not shut down their movies for Dad to be able to repair the roof," Hardy explained. "And so the roof deteriorated and he was not able to work on repairing the roof until the National Theater chain terminated the lease."

“When I became involved, it was just a matter of slowly dealing with one thing after another until we could actually stage a formal restoration. In 1999,” Kaslo said.

The Egyptian was brought into the 21st century with a fresh look, ready for the new millennium.

“This is unique to Boise and that uniqueness is important and the character that it gives to the City is incredibly significant. So I take this away and, you know, you rip out a piece of Boise soul," said Everhart. "I don't think I don't think, you know, we could survive exact Valley the same way as Boise without The Egyptian Theatre."

The 2000s brought new cinema and shows to The Egyptian, and remained a beloved unique energy just down the road from the State Capitol. The new millennium came to a screaming halt in 2020, a global pandemic. A time where all theaters became a place not to go. That opened the door for another Egyptian aesthetic improvement.

“I don’t think we ever discussed it, we just went right into it,” Kaslo said. “So everything from new carpet, everything from painting the front doors, installation to new lobby, sealing fixtures and new heating and ventilating equipment above the ceiling in the ladies restroom. A new raised ceiling in the men's restroom by new counters, new sinks things, new air conditioning equipment that sanitizes the air. Lots of things to make the building last longer.”

The work they’ve been a part of for years, the couple says, is rewarding

“The process has been invigorating, I would say. I'm not saying that it didn't come without hassles, but it's been invigorating because of the commitment to the theater and actually the commitment to the community and the fact that we've had young children come in here on tours and then for events," Hardy said. "And I remember this one young girl and she said, I have never seen anything so beautiful. I didn't know anything like this existed."

Everhart believes The Egyptian Theatre is a significant signature on the City of Boise.

“I applaud the Hardy Foundation for all the work they've done in the past couple of years. They took advantage of this forced break in their programing to reinvest in elements of the of the building. But all historic buildings need to be maintained and they need to be used. I mean, that's the key. There has to be a component of use and a component of maintenance that goes into any historic place. And without that, you know, they go away, damage occurs, etc.,” Everhart said.

Thinking back on the teams and the work that has led to what The Egyptian Theatre is now, Kaslo prompted his partner a question: What do you think makes them building meaningful to people?

“I think that something unique helps people, understands the uniqueness of culture. And so history is embedded in the building as it was when this was constructed in 1927 and as it is today with its current renovation," said Hardy. "But I think when everything in life or so much of life becomes the same without differentiation or without uniqueness, I think that it's more difficult for people to see. I think that beauty and something unique are important elements of a person's ability to learn about history and learn about culture." 

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