Friday, February 6, 2009

Seventh and Main Street-Caldwell, Idaho

The following is another of my occasional excerpts from Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America by J. Anthony Lukas. I have included a couple of photos and some additional comments.

"From the doctor's office, the governor crossed the street to his bank, the Caldwell Banking and Trust Company. That crossroads--Seventh and Main--was the heart of Caldwell's business district and its most prestigious intersection. To the north, at the end of Seventh Avenue, loomed the Union Pacific--Oregon Short Line depot, to the south, the site of the new renaissance city hall, for which ground was soon to be broken. The four corners in between boasted the Saratoga Hotel, the Caldwell Banking and Trust Company, the First National Bank, and the Odd Fellows Building."

Seventh & Main

The Steunenberg Block, including what was the Caldwell Banking and Trust Company, remains on the corner as shown in the period postcard at the top of this post and more recently in the Google street level view above. You can click and hold your mouse button on the Google map and rotate it 360 degrees to view each corner of the intersection as it is today. The OSL Depot was recently restored and is used for community events. The Saratoga Hotel tragically burned down in 1990 and is now a parking lot with a group of small stores/businesses. The "renaissance city hall" would have stood at the opposite end of Seventh Street facing the train depot (see postcard below). The city hall was long ago demolished to make room for an extension of the street in a growing community. Gone too is the original First National Bank that sat on the corner across Main Street from the Caldwell Banking and Trust. Although I am not positive, I believe the original "Odd Fellows" building remains in the form of what is now the Alondra Clothing store.


Right, looking from the direction of the OSL depot, you can see the city hall building as it once stood at the opposite end of Seventh Street.

Wide angle shot from Big Trouble courtesy of the Caldwell Public Library and various reproductions of the same photograph are available online. It was taken in 1905, a few months before the Governors assassination. The Caldwell Banking and Trust is on the left, having not yet been expanded to form the Steunenberg Block. The Saratoga Hotel is on the right in its original chateau style before an upper floor was added. The new city hall building, perhaps not yet completed, would have been in the distance directly in the middle of Seventh Street behind the band. This intersection, the bank and the Saratoga were often pictured on souvenir china as were scenes and buildings from towns and cities across the country. I have collected several pieces here and there over the years.

"In the middle of Seventh Avenue, north of Main, stood the bandstand at which the eighteen-piece Caldwell Cornet Band--the ultimate expression of community pride in turn-of-the century America--under the baton of its "musicologist," Professor A.T. Gordon, performed each Friday evening from April through November. With snow banked up on all sides, the bandstand didn't look inviting that night. But the governor relished soft summer evenings when the whole town turned out, tapping their feet to the rat-a-tat-tat of the snare drums, singing along with those grand old patriotic airs. The setting sun glinted off the brass tuba, casting shimmers of golden light along Main Street, gray heads, nodded over their knitting in camp chairs set against the bank's wall; sheep men, drowsy with beer, gawked from the windows of the Palace saloon."
--From Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas

Today, as with many old downtown areas, Caldwell struggles to preserve and enhance its past as urban sprawl, shopping malls and big box stores become the more readily available and preferred destinations for growing populations. Although not without controversy and debate, I am happy to say that that the city near where where I reside, San Luis Obispo, has been able to develop a vibrant business community while maintaining many of the historical aspects of our downtown, anchored by the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolusa along San Luis Creek. I hope Caldwell is able to realize some of the same success with the Indian Creek project and beyond.

Related post on the Caldwell Banking & Trust Company, go to "Automatic Teller Bank".

So does anyone have some answers to the questions below in Caldwell, Idaho-History and Questions?

More San Luis Obispo Downtown (Mayor Nancolas take note).
San Luis Obispo (city website)
San Luis Obispo Downtown Association

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