Boise has a long history of welcoming settlers along the Oregon Trail and, later, along the railroad. A segment of those later settlers were Basque immigrants who found the climate similar to their European home and well-suited to shepherding, work they had done for generations on the slopes of the Pyrenees in Spain and France.
The Basque Block in downtown Boise looks like it has always been there, a remembrance of the presence and influence of Boise’s Basque settlers, but the history of Bar Gernika and the rest of the block, including the Basque Center, Basque Museum, Fronton Hotel/Pala Court Building, and Cyrus Jacob-Uberuaga Boarding House (reportedly the oldest surviving brick building in Boise), is the direct result of community efforts to preserve this history and make it available to residents and visitors.
The Bar Gernika building appears to have been a Chinese Laundry, the Chin Joe Restaurant, the Trade Dollar Bar, and, in 1948, the Cub Tavern. The urban redevelopment of the 1960s and 1970s threatened most of the block, and the owner wanted to demolish the tavern to use the land for parking spaces for a nearby building. Because of the bar’s tough reputation, some area business owners favored demolition; an argument dismissed by Preservation Idaho and the Boise City Historic Preservation Commission. In 1990, Preservation Idaho approached Adelia Garro Simplot, a Basque descendent. She became interested in preserving the building and continuing the development of a Basque Block that would be anchored by the eatery/bar on the west end and by the Basque Center on the east end of the block. With the help of Ms. Simplot, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center purchased the bar from the developer and leased it to Dan Ansotegui, who turned it into the successful Bar Gernika, named after the Basque village of Guernica.
In 2002, the Basque Block Consortium was recognized by Preservation Idaho with an Orchid Award for Contribution to Historic Preservation.
Preservation Idaho was instrumental in bringing together key people during the negotiation phase and over the next several years. In the late 1990s, the north side of the block was developed and existing warehouses were turned into popular restaurants and a Basque Market, sustaining businesses that contribute to the ongoing economic engine of the block. The Basque Block Consortium was formed and, in conjunction with Capital City Development Corporation, development was expanded. In 2002, further updates to the area included a variety of public art pieces that reference local Basque families and the Basque Provinces. The rounded curbs lend themselves to creation of a block-long pedestrian walkway when community activities and fairs are held. That year, the Basque Block Consortium was recognized by Preservation Idaho with an Orchid Award for Contribution to Historic Preservation.
The Basque Block is a perfect example of combining history and development in a way that preserves historic structures and creates a sense of place for current and future residents and visitors. It all started with public pride and a shared community vision!
You can read more about Bar Gernika and The Basque Block at the following sites: