BOISE -- Amid growth and building booms stand pieces of Boise's past that preservationists yearn to hold onto.
One of those artifacts is Building Four, also known as the Surgeon's Quarters, at the Boise VA Medical Center. Built in 1864, Preservation Idaho and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently restored the once-abandoned building. Since last summer, it's been serving local veterans, while also serving as a reminder of the importance of conservation.
Preservation Idaho's mission with the Surgeon's Quarters was to restore the original sandstone exterior of the building, as it's one of the oldest sandstone buildings in all of Idaho. Preservationists say the facade of this building set the stage for architecture you still see across the city of Boise.
"Where we're standing is the original two rooms that were the actual surgeon's quarters - mostly, like, living in one side seeing patients on the other," former Preservation Idaho president John Bertram said as we stood in front room of the small building. "This was the largest room and it went through a major remodel in 1930's when they added another addition to the building here."
As Fort Boise and the city celebrated their 150th birthdays, Preservation Idaho wanted to make a physical mark in history.
"So we knew this building was in need of repair; it had been vacant for 20 years," Bertram said. "We did a lot of research first; we found old maps, we found plans, we started to put the history of Fort Boise together."
Bertram says surgeons, doctors and their families called this historic building home from the 1860's to the 1990's. Fort Boise, originally called "Camp Boise" was officially founded in 1863 and became the Boise Barracks in 1879, resulting in the complex growing extensively. In 1912, the Army moved out of the Barracks but the post continued to be used.
A brief background from Preservation Idaho states during World War I the local Red Cross and women’s clubs successfully campaigned to designate the Barracks as a hospital/rehabilitation center for wounded veterans. In 1920 the United States Public Health Service remodeled the barracks building for a hospital, Preservation Idaho says, beginning an evolution of the Boise Barracks from a military training facility to a medical center, which resulted in major modifications of the historic buildings and construction of new facilities.
An interpretive sign stands on the front lawn of Building Four in order to tell the story of the building. Preservation Idaho would like to encourage more buildings on this campus to put interpretive, informative signs outside so people can learn about the history of the city.
Abandoned at times over the last century and a half, Building Four has lived a few lives.
"This was all black, it all really had a dismal kind of look. And some people felt it was a goner. But you know, preservationists look at what it could be," Bertram told KTVB.
Now, the building serves as an office for VA medical center health services - the need for VA space being the catalyst to restore the building in the first place.
"The mission here is to take care of the veterans but at the same time they're preserving the best of the historic buildings," Bertram said. "When people saw we were preserving this, people knew that it was in trouble and needed help."
With the help of the community, $100,000 in donations and professional volunteer work, Preservation Idaho started in on repairing the sinking porch, the sandstone and brick, and the ceiling and roof.
"We salvaged all that, took it apart, put it in storage," Betram added. "We got the University of Idaho archeology group to come in and do an archeological dig here. We found some great stuff: we found children's toys, dolls, bits and pieces of the building, we found coins, we found a few military medals. But most importantly to us, we found the original foundation."
The group then put everything back together, keeping the original porch, exterior and ceiling.
They cleaned up the inside of the building as well and turned it back over to the VA, and the VA completed the renovations on the inside.
"The inside has been adaptively reused to make it work," Bertram said.
Through placards and maps, you can learn a little about the Boise VA Medical Center and its evolution over the years, from Fort Boise to the Boise Barracks to a medical center, and learn a little about a piece of our past.
"What the fort did was really help the young city of Boise grow. Because they needed a blacksmith, they needed masons, they needed cooks, they needed people to bring in the hay, to take care of the horses. It created an instant economy for the young city of Boise," Bertram added.
Bertram calls the group's partnerships with the community and the Department of Veterans Affairs a win-win, and a teaching moment.
"It took a lot of people to accomplish this restoration," he said. "Even a building in really poor shape, it's great to try to protect that history. And we're not going to save every old building but I think the ones that really provide character to Boise, the ones that tell us our story. This is a great learning experience for children."