The gentle strains of sitar music hummed through the second floor of Boise’s venerable Idanha Hotel this week.
The music, played in a newly remodeled conference room that once was two old “sink rooms” without baths, came courtesy of the hotel’s new owners, the Maharishi Vedic University. The historic Idanha is the new headquarters for the university, an arm of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s organization that touts transcendental meditation.
The university is “a non-profit education corporation” whose parent company is based in New Jersey, said director Sara Sevier. Idaho corporation filings confirm that the non-profit company incorporated here in 1994 with a nine-member board of directors, half of whom share the same Asbury Park, N.J., address.
Sevier, a calm woman with clear blue eyes, previously worked as a massage therapist in Ketchum, Idaho.
The maharishi’s organization is planning to establish such universities in every state, and has started up in about 38, Sevier said. Their purpose? “To enliven the national consciousness, to bring perfect health and peace to the entire nation. To create a wave of harmony.”
Little change is apparent at the Idanha so far. And it will continue to operate as a hotel, Sevier said.
The turreted structure, which was Idaho’s first six-story building when it opened in 1901, has suffered some neglect over the years. Sevier said her organization plans to restore it to its former grace.
Only 45 of the hotel’s 102 rooms were in use when the new owners arrived in May, she said. They’ve already restored three of the unused rooms for the university’s use, and plan to continue that effort.
There’s also a $1 million plan to renovate all the rooms. Old “sink rooms” will be combined with regular rooms to form two-room “executive suites,” Sevier said. And, “To cater to the health-conscious traveler, we want natural fibers and fabrics.”
Water and air filtration systems also are in the plans. And the newly outfitted guest rooms would be stocked with sample sizes of the Maharishi Ayur-Ved health care products the organization produces.
Plans also call for better sound insulation for the Idanha’s windows, which overlook the busy downtown cruising strip.
Sevier said the plans still are being finalized, but she anticipates no problems with financing. “We have some private investors,” she said, and also probably will seek business or historic-renovation loans.
In addition to classes in Transcendental Meditation and soothing Gandarva Veda music, the hotelbased university plans to establish a clinic for natural and preventive health care.
Sevier said people who take classes may stay at the hotel, but the hotel will stay open to the public.
The new owners have kept on the entire previous staff. “They’re very peaceful, very gracious people,” said Drue Dana, who has worked as a front desk clerk at the Idanha for three years. “We’re looking forward to the renovation and bringing it up to par.”
Sevier and three other organization employees live in the hotel, as does the hotel’s general manager, who’s been there 17 years. Sevier said the three others are working on plans to do consulting work at area businesses, to promote employees’ well-being.
On Monday, the university sponsored a concert at the city’s best recital hall by a prominent sitar player and music professor from India, Devabrata Chaudhuri. A brief pre-concert at the hotel’s new second-floor conference room that morning drew TV cameras.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose portrait was displayed on a table for the pre-concert, still directs the organization from his home in Holland, Sevier said. “He’s the CEO.”
In the Idanha’s lobby, the old brass, heavy woodwork and chandeliers haven’t changed. Peter Schott’s restaurant still offers its renowned “new American cuisine.”
About the only sign of the new owners is inside a carved wooden case with leaded-glass doors by the desk, where next to the toothbrushes for guests who’ve forgotten theirs are Maharishi Ayur-Ved hair products, vitamins, gourmet seasonings and teas.
Patrick O’Keefe, an 89-year-old Irish immigrant who has lived in the Idanha for 22 years, said he hasn’t minded the change at all. “They seem to be pretty nice people as far as I know,” he said. “They have treated me fine.”
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