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Eye On Boise

Open forum set on historic murals in old Ada courthouse

A section of a mural purporting to depict early Idaho life is shown inside the former Ada County Courthouse in Boise. (Associated Press)
A section of a mural purporting to depict early Idaho life is shown inside the former Ada County Courthouse in Boise. (Associated Press)

Idaho Department of Administration Director Bob Geddes has called a public meeting of stakeholders Nov. 4 to discuss the historic murals in the new Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center, the former Capitol Annex that long served as the Ada County Courthouse. The Depression-era murals include depictions of white settlers preparing to hang a Native American man; those two scenes have been covered with banners since the opening of the new center, which now houses law school classes for the University of Idaho and the state law library, along with some functions of the Idaho Supreme Court.

Preservation Idaho, the state’s leading historic preservation group, sent a letter to University of Idaho officials in June objecting to the idea of covering the murals, saying they are a piece of Idaho’s history that helps Idahoans “reflect and learn from past mistakes.” Jan Gallimore, director of the Idaho State Historical Society, said the series of murals that fills the central, open stairwell/lobby areas of the building is “one of the most intact and significant bodies of its kind in the west.”

In 2008 and 2009, the Idaho Legislature held its sessions in the building while the state Capitol was being renovated; it’s right across 6th Street from the Capitol. After a year of negotiations, the state agreed to keep the two controversial murals on display, with interpretive plaques prepared by the state Historical Society and approved by the state’s Indian tribes.

Geddes, now director of the state Department of Administration, which owns the building and leases it to the university and the Idaho Supreme Court as tenants, was involved in those talks as the then-president pro-tem of the Idaho Senate. He set the Nov. 4 meeting for 1:30 p.m. in Room WW55 of the state Capitol, lower level. The meeting will be an “open forum for invited stakeholders and other interested parties to address concerns and preferences for the future handling of the historic murals,” the department said in a meeting announcement. It won’t be a formal hearing.

University officials said in July that while the murals would be covered with banners for the opening of the center this fall, they welcomed a larger dialogue with stakeholders about their future.



Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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