In 1970s, Boise almost lost iconic Egyptian Theatre

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - It's hard to imagine now, but at one point in the 1970s, the Egyptian Theatre, that iconic downtown Boise landmark, was just 30 days from the wrecking ball.

"And all the light fixtures and all of interior furnishings had already been taken out of the building and sold," said Kay Harder, with Hardy Foundation that presently operates the historic The Egyptian, built in 1927, stood in the path of an on-coming tornado called urban renewal -- a federally funded program sweeping across the country.

The plan in Boise was to demolish several blocks of the downtown core, and build a massive shopping mall to jump start a stagnant local economy.

By the time urban renewal zeroed in on the Egyptian, which had been renamed the Ada Theater, many historic buildings in Boise had already been torn down.

"And a lot of cities for years after these buildings were razed ended up with just a sea of parking lots and that was true of Boise, too," Hardy said.

Kay Hardy loves the Egyptian and with good reason.

In 1977, her father, Earl Hardy, bought the theater -- and saved it from oblivion.

"I remember when he came back to the office," Hardy recalled, "and told me what he'd done with the help of a bank loan and grant from Idaho Historical Society he said I must be crazy."

Earl Hardy wasn't the only one who thought urban renewal was cutting the heart and soul out of old Boise, especially active in preservation was one particular group of women.

"And they would have organ recitals to raise money," Hardy said, "and they were active in spreading the word about what was happening with urban renewal in downtown Boise."

The new owners faced a daunting restoration project because the old theater was in bad shape.

Gregory Kaslo was project architect.

"So there were leaks through the roof, deteriorating steam coils, moisture broke the plaster in the ceiling, so it was a labor of investigation and patience," he said.

The Egyptian theme in the theater dates back to 1922, and the discovery of King Tut's tomb. That generated a whole new wave of interest in the United States in Egyptian culture.

By the 1940s, though, the Egyptian style fell out of fashion and the Egyptian was re-named the Ada Theater...and much of it painted a boring off-white.

But the Hardy Foundation conquered the drabness and disrepair and restored the Egyptian to its original name and splendor -- a part of Boise's history that was almost lost.

"We like to say that as long as people love the Egyptian Theater and use it, the Egyptian Theatre will survive," said Kay Hardy. "We certainly hope that's the case."

Oh, that massive shopping mall downtown??

Never happened.