In 1891, booming residential growth in Boise, Idaho was tied directly to the streetcar lines that extended from downtown to new developments at the edges of the community. From 1905 to 1928 new lines and electric rail systems were created to serve residents of South Boise and other cities in Ada and Canyon counties. The lines were closed in 1928 after losing passenger and freight service to automobiles. There are very few remnants of the system in Boise today as most of the tracks have been removed or paved over and most of the buildings have been demolished or re-purposed.
The Historic South Boise Trolley Station Plaza project was a collaborative project undertaken by the Southeast Boise Neighborhood Association, the City of Boise Department of Arts & History, and the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation to commemorate the historic streetcar system that once existed in Boise and the surrounding area. The trolley shelter that is the centerpiece of the Plaza was the only remaining shelter in Boise. The goal of the project was to:
- Save the shelter from demolition
- Stabilize and rehabilitate it
- Return it to its original neighborhood location
- Use it as an interpretive center and public art piece.
The exhibit features a “ghost” streetcar which is a scale replica of the streetcars used in Boise. It is orientated truly on the site, next to the station, and sits on remnant tracks. Additional “ghost” pieces – a suitcase, a basket and a milk can – sit inside the shelter, where the interpretive panels are hung. The entire Plaza is designed to be a permanent outdoor piece, fully accessible during park hours, and free of charge.
The building was additionally incorporated into a public art piece, with a design sensitive to the site, inviting exploration by the public, and resistant to vandalism. Adding the sculptural elements to the plaza (the life-sized trolley structure, rails, briefcase, milk cans, and picnic basket), helped to broaden the audience visiting the plaza. The trolley and the building draw visitors into the site, the interpretive signage expands on the basic visual information, and the location in a heavily visited neighborhood park all combine to make the plaza an illustration of the Department’s dedication to its role to educate, support the arts and history, and reach a broad public.