I ride alongside river mist made molten by winter’s morning sun past sites once famous, the destination for thousands, now almost forgotten.
In twelve years of bicycle commuting, I’ve seen it plenty. But it’s still striking, the mist and November sun seeming to light a fire on the water.
Ground fog blanketed the Warm Springs golf course like steam from the namesake subterranean waters tapped there in the late 1800s to heat 200 nearby buildings including a large indoor swimming pool, Boise’s famous natatorium, which would have risen in front of me when it stood.
The natatorium pool was 65 by 125 feet and “supplied direct from the artesian wells which furnish in excess of 1,000,000 gallons per day of natural hot water at a temperature of 170 degrees.”² The facility also offered a steam bath, massage, an upstairs café, ballroom and a dance floor overlooking the pool. Swanky! Idaho’s first inaugural Governor’s Ball was held there in 1901.² After forty years in operation, a windstorm blew off part of its roof in 1934 and the rest had to be torn down.³
Past the new natatorium, now just a regular, outdoor public pool, unheated, I always pass through Municipal Park where I usually see a few mule deer and a lonely sign along the path describing the park’s vibrant history.
The park began as a campground. Purchased by the Boise School District in 1910 for a baseball stadium, the land instead became the popular Boise Tourist Park in 1918. From 6,000 visitors per season, “traffic increased to 20,000 cars a year” after World War I.¹ It’s unusual amenities, like the natural hot water, and I’m sure the nearby natatorium, brought national fame.
The park’s popularity invited vagrancy. The city, who bought the land in 1927, decided to close the park in 1938, just a few years after the demise of the natatorium. It was later re-opened as a regular public park with a baseball field.
For decades the natatorium and tourist park attracted thousands. Now I pass them many times without seeing another soul. Who knows what will be here in future decades.