It was November 30, 2012 when Boise Weekly was first to break the news that the Owyhee was being purchased, launching a new era for the building which first swung its doors open in 1910 (you can read our latest feature story on its journey below).
And with the hours ticking down to the Wednesday, July 9th grand opening of the Main Street landmark, Boise Weekly got a look at how everything old is new again.
Rebuilding (and Rewriting) History
June 25, 2014
Jason Osterburg exudes a specific type of confidence. Not the swagger of a stock broker or athlete, but the assuredness of a builder who knows that he's about to bring in an enormous project on schedule.
"We have 96 people on the job today," said Osterburg, quoting a number that would make most builders' heads spin. But Osterburg is senior project manager for Andersen Construction, which has been building landmarks in Boise and throughout the Northwest for more than 60 years.
"Can I compare this job to anything else? Not in Boise," he said with a knowing smile. "Maybe in Seattle, but there hasn't been something of this magnitude here."
Boise is bearing witness to more contemporary projects (Simplot's JUMP), taller ones (Gardner Company's Eighth and Main tower) and deeper ones (the soon-to-launched City Center Plaza, again Gardner), but the revitalization of the century-old Owyhee Plaza has perhaps been the most ambitious. Less than two years after Boise Weekly first reported that the Owyhee had new owners (BW, Citydesk, "Owyhee Plaza Sold," Nov. 30, 2012) and 14 months after BW sat on the edge of the Owyhee's empty and now-gone swimming pool with one of its owners, Clay Carley (BW, News, "Everything Old is New Again," April 17, 2013), the owners couldn't be happier with how their vision has become reality.
"For anyone who has the memory of the old Owyhee still fresh in their mind, they would be stunned," said Carley.
"I honestly don't think another contractor and project team could have done this as fast," said Mike Brown, Carley's partner in the Owyhee development and co-owner of L.A.-based Local Construct. "Jason and his team put some of their top guys on this project, while Clay and I came together for, let's say, a meeting of the minds."
And while BW sat with Brown, Carley and Osterburg in a construction trailer just south of the Owyhee, we couldn't help but note a calendar on the trailer's wall that was crammed with notes and reminders. But everything was blank from Wednesday, July 9, forward.
"Yes, we're on schedule. I just put 80 very special invitations in the mail for July 8, where we'll invite our building team for a special celebration and then 500 more invitations are going out for July 9," said Carley.
But no worries if an invite doesn't make it to your inbox--the July 9 ribbon cutting is open to the general public, which will get its first look at the Owyhee's mixed-use of apartment/retail/office meeting space, including the much anticipated penthouse.
Anyone who thinks that the revitalization was simply a task of revisiting a particular era would be mistaken, and even a bit confused.
"The historic Owyhee was built in 1910," said Brown, "but apartments were built on the first three floors in 1961; the fourth floor came in 1969; the meeting and banquet space was added in 1978 and then along came the motel in back of the building [which has since been demolished]. But then everything was rehabbed over the years in a very disjointed fashion. There were different finishes in different parts of the building."
In a twist that can only be attributed to the federal government, some of the building's hidden gems need to be covered up. Due to be eligible for historic preservation tax incentives, the U.S. Park Service, which administers the approval, told the new owners some surprising news.
"There were things that we were told we needed to cover up," said Carley. "For instance, we discovered gorgeous wood columns, 14 inches square, that couldn't be exposed because they would not have been exposed when the hotel opened in 1910. We were told the same thing about some great-looking brick inside the building. Now keep in mind that this was the first structure of its kind west of Chicago that had a concrete and steel base, and we found some amazing steel columns with rivets that are pieces of art. And we're covering them up."
But nothing lasts forever. Even the tax credits will have to expire someday, meaning the owners could someday expose some of the building's secret features.
Regardless, Brown and Carley said they're excited to showcase their old-meets-new treasure.
"Our overarching goal was to rebuild the historic façade to its original appearance so that somebody who knows architecture would appreciate that it's the way it was in 1910," said Carley. "But then we gave it a color and theme inside that is very modern, very striking and elegant."
Brown echoed his partner, saying that the Owyhee's new visitors will see new "wayfinding," something they said was missing from the old hotel--but hopefully guests won't even need signage.
"I keep thinking that the Owyhee will be like an Apple device, somewhat intuitive," said Brown. "Everything from the outside in will say, 'This is an old building, but with a modern touch. We're bringing the ethos back but the building is in a stage of becoming.'"
While Brown and Carley waxed poetic about the conceptual Owyhee, Osterburg remained focused on the structural Owyhee. When asked if he spent most of his time with the big picture, or if it was scores of smaller pictures competing for his attention, he was quick to say "both."
"Those pictures in your head are changing every day. You manage this space-by-space, floor-by-floor; this project is very much like that," he said. "We've got quite a few skill sets here at any given time: carpentry, painting, flooring contractors, masonry, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and the tile guys, in particular, have worked wonders with the 100-year-old elements."
And even though he usually has as many as two or three of Andersen's different construction projects consuming his time, Osterburg said he still takes time to admire some of his work.
"This has been a big part of my life for 25 years. I tend to stay pretty intimate with my projects, long after they're complete," he said. "I like to walk by them and say, 'I was part of that.'"
On July 9, he'll have one more; a big one.