Tag Archives: helms bakery district

What Makes the Armory Unique?

geothermal signOver time many people have expressed interest in Boise’s Armory. We’ve heard so many suggestions for possible uses of this site and structure that it’s tough to pick a favorite. Whether someone sees a multiple-use structure featuring retail, restaurant, commercial and residential, or a public asset like a YMCA, everyone agrees on three main aspects that make the Armory attractive:

Location. The site occupies a hub among multiple neighborhoods, and sits at the base of the Military Reserve Trail system, a gateway to an extensive trail system. This is attractive to food and beverage retailers interested in capturing local residents and recreationists, and those involved in business related to biking, hiking, running or pets.

Geothermal. This is probably the most unique aspect of the building and the one everyone sees as a huge selling point. The Armory is first in line for hot water from the City of Boise’s geothermal wells across the street. The current service to the building needs to be updated with newer insulated pipe technology, but provides enough volume to provide heat for something like the historic Natatorium on Warm Springs. Not only does the geothermal resource translate into a perpetual 30% savings on energy use for a tenant, it represent a green energy source and the ability to dramatically reduce the building’s carbon footprint. One interested party commented that ‘where else could you find this?’

Learn more at http://publicworks.cityofboise.org/services/geothermal

WPA plaque from 1937_1024History. The Armory is a Works Project Administration (WPA) project built as America was working our way out of the Great Depression. Add to that its legacy as the home of the Idaho National Guard, the potential to connect to Guard history, and the Art Deco design of Tourtelotte and Hummel Architects. Those familiar with architectural history and preservation find the building’s classic, efficient design a big selling point.

2015 Spring Work Begins on Armory

Lots of folks are curious about the status of the Armory. After months of inactivity, work began on a few general improvements about a month ago. I spoke with Mike with J&M earlier this year and he gave me a rundown on the goals of the current push:

  • Daylighting basement windows. The roughly 7,000 sq. ft. below-grade spaces facing Reserve Street will be getting slightly larger glazed openings.
  • Enlarging window wells. The old window wells were pretty small, so workers have excavated a large trench that will slope up toward ground level to create a berm that allows more light to reach the windows.
  • Retaining wall. The top of the berm will feature an 18″ retaining wall with deep footings. This will keep water and other unwanted things out of the window wells.
  • Drainage system. This will add to the protection of the below-grade space from potential flood events.
  • Seismic reinforcement. Due to the age of the structure, additional work will helped stabilize walls in the event of any seismic activity.

I got a tour from Gene, one of the workers on site. He mentioned how much everyone enjoys working in the space, surrounded by history and the amazing natural light. Here are a few photos showing the interior spaces and a few exterior details. Thanks to Mike and Gene for helping answer some questions; neighbors are understandably curious.

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2nd Floor NE space showing morning sunlight. This level, like the Main Floor and day-lit basement contains about 7,000 sq. ft.

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NE corner showing excavation for light well (against building) and retaining wall (trench at right adjacent to pavement). Forms are no in place and concrete should be poured in coming weeks.

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14,400 sq. ft. Drill Hall, roughly 80′ X 180′ of unobstructed space, showing the original bowstring trusses supporting the arched middle roof. The lower left wall shows openings into the rear section of the building, that originally housed the National Guard stables and horses.

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East wall looking toward the rear of the building. The front section contains approximately 21,000 sq. ft. on three levels, the middle section with 14,400 sq. ft., and the rear single-level section with approximately 5,000 sq. ft.


Interior panorama of rear single-level space, originally housing the stables for the Idaho National Guard.


Original bowstring trusses (above) and detail of the roof framing and structure, which includes repurposed dimensional-lumber concrete board forms used in the 1937 construction. The second floor wings were added in the 50s, when workers had access to plywood for forms. This is why the texture and original colors were different from early ours to later pours.


Roof detail showing repurposed 1937 concrete board forms. This was the depression, so nothing was wasted.


NE Corner showing board forms and concrete prep. Owner characterized finished retaining walls as “Eighteen inches above grade.”


View SE from west corner of Armory showing footings for retaining wall.


View west from NE corner showing forms for retaining wall.

Boise Armory: How to repurpose a 1930s structure

tm-facade-1207.JPGIn a previous post I included a link to the Helms Bakery District in Culver City, CA. Constructed in 1931, the building used concrete techniques similar to Boise’s Armory. The structure is much larger, was privately constructed for industrial use and carried architectural themes inspired by the Olympics and the ‘Zigzag Moderne’ style.  The developer and owner opted to clean and paint the concrete exterior, which in the case of the Helms Bakery structure helped accentuate architectural details and hide a few flaws.

Subcommittee member and local entrepreneur Dave Krick went out of his way last week to visit the Helms Bakery District and was given a tour of the site and businesses. According to a good friend who lives nearby, the renovation and repurposing has completely energized the surrounding neighborhoods and economy, stimulating additional investment.

Click on the photos below to see a few of the details of the Helms Bakery project (like solar panels on the roof and creating shade for parking), and imagine what we might highlight of the Boise Armory to bring modern relevance to Boise’s own historic structure. What would you emphasize? The National Guard presence, the project’s role in helping Boise transition to more prosperous times, or the fact that the building uses geothermal heat and connects multiple neighborhoods with the foothills?

What can we do to return this site and structure to a community asset? What businesses, nonprofits or community groups could use the location and space effectively? Stay tuned, and be ready with suggestions.