Rising from farmlane in western Boise, the Transportation Department Headquarters building became an architectural treasure. (This photo, from the ITD archives, shows foundation work that started in 1960.)

At 50 years of age, ITD Headquarters stands tall as an example
of International Style architecture

Building celebrates half-century of service this month

Some Headquarters employees were still in grade school; others hadn’t been born.

The year was 1961.

The nation was inspired by the energy of youthful President John F. Kennedy.

  • Alan B. Shepherd embarked on a 302-mile trip into the earth’s atmosphere, a rocket ride that took him to a height of more than 116 miles.
  • First-class stamps (remember stamped mail?) sold for 4 cents.
  • The national unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.
  • Federal spending hit $97.72 billion.
  • Westside story was a rage on stage.

And ITD’s iconic, turquoise three-story Headquarters building rose from an old farmstead on the rural fringe of Boise. The spacious 44-acre campus stands apart as an enclave in a neighborhood of developing businesses. Completed 50 years ago this month, the building predated formal creation of the Idaho Transportation Department by 13 years.

When it was finished, the modern edifice housed the central offices for the Department of Highways and the Idaho State Police. The highway department was reborn as ITD in 1974, combining the departments of highways and aeronautics. Eventually, ISP vacated the single-story western wing of the building, making way for consolidation of DMV services.

Although the building’s internal organs – the many offices housed within Headquarters – have been stretched and reshaped in the ensuing half-century, the outside appearance (including the auditorium that looks like an addition but was part of the original structure) remains virtually unchanged.

Notable exceptions?

  • An addition was constructed to the main building to house computer systems, known as the IT (now Enterprise Technology Services) annex.
  • A receiving dock and warehouse were built on the Headquarters complex, and later remodeled and expanded.
  • The Materials Annex and a subsequent expansion were added a decade or two after construction of the main building.
  • Several modular buildings have been added to accept the overflow, now housing the Division of Transportation Performance and Highway Safety office.
  • Parking lots surrounding three sides of the building are bigger and accommodate more vehicles.
  • And the grounds/landscaping have matured to take on a park-like ambiance.

Sometimes maligned for its austere exterior, ITD’s home actually is an architectural gem. It was the vision of Charles Hummel of the firm of Hummel, Hummel & Jones, itself a landmark in Boise’s early history. Charles’ grandfather, who shared the same name, was one of city’s architectural patriarchs and designed multiple Idaho landmarks including the Idaho State Capitol Building, explains ITD Architectural Historian Dan Everhart.

The ITD Headquarters building is one of the last and largest Boise survivors that embodies the International Style of architecture and uses “curtain wall” construction, Everhart explains. The skeleton is a framework of steel and concrete on which baked enamel steel panels and windows are hung. Those panels, like curtains or drapes, serve as the exterior walls, but in contrast to older buildings, they are not part of the support structure.

Because the panels are made of baked enamel, they are “incredibly durable,” Everhart says. The unique light blue color is permanent – it will not crack, peel or fade. The panels need little or no maintenance and never need to be painted.

The old Blue Cross of Idaho building on Federal Way was a smaller sister of the ITD Headquarters, but it has been remodeled substantially and has lost its mid-century appearance.

ITD’s Headquarters which houses 600-700 employees, was built during the golden years of transportation. Much of the interstate highway system – the vision of Dwight D. Eisenhower – was well under way or finished in the early 60s. Idaho highways also were assuming new shape. In 1961 the department issued contracts of more than $32 million, breaking a three-year-old record. Projects involved approximately 314 miles of highway construction.

Among the year’s greatest accomplishments was completion and opening of the Lewis-Clark highway, a new east-west route now known as U.S. 12. Ongoing interstate construction focused on Pocatello and southeast Idaho.

The June 1961 Idaho Highway Information report summarizes the status of the system at the time – which, like the Headquarters building – remains just relevant today:

“You have a personal stake in better highways if:

  • You own a car
  • Drive to work
  • Your firm or farm uses roads
  • Your children ride school buses
  • You’re concerned about national security

“Better highways now save lives, save time, save money … and build America,” the report suggested.

The transportation system and ITD Headquarters have matured together the past 50 years. Highways continue to serve a growing, dynamic population and economy, just as Headquarters continues to serve the needs of those who call it home. Its functionality has not diminished over the past five decades. And it remains distinct among modern architecture.

Published 6-24-2011