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After roof failure, China Blue won’t reopen. But something new will

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China Blue and sister club Dirty Little Roddy’s have been fixtures of the downtown nightlife scene for more than 15 years.

Last fall, the two clubs closed abruptly.

Owner Ted Challenger hoped to fix the problems and get the party back in action quickly. Now, months later, the lights are still dark at China Blue, and now Challenger says the club won’t be the same.

“I’m not going to rebuild China Blue,” Challenger said. “I’ve been working on a new concept for the past few months. It’s going to be amazing, I’m excited.”

Old building, new problems

Turnverein building in 1906. Photo via WSU Libraries Digital Collections

The Boise Turnverein and Harmony Society built the two-story brick structure in 1901. It served as a men’s athletic club early in its existence. Over the years the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Capitol Lithograph and Printing and restaurants for guys named Joe and Jake filled the walls.

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Through it all, a series of wooden beams supported the roof, vintage to the original 20th century construction. Challenger said his staff noticed the plaster was sagging nearly 117 years later – last fall.

“Once we got the plaster down, we could really see what was happening,” he said. “We stopped and brought in an engineer who said ‘shut it down, you need to replace these beams.'”

The weight and duration of that major Boise snowstorm in 2016 likely made the situation worse according to Challenger.

Bob Archibald with the City of Boise said they helped facilitate some shoring up inside the club to help stabilize the situation.

“What I thought would be a two month closure is taking longer than I ever imagined,” Challenger said. “It’s a tricky job to pop your ceiling out without your walls falling down.”

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Filings with the city show a new steel structure along the roofline is planned.

City of Boise public filing

Closure aftermath

“We were told it would be October, then November, then New Year’s Eve,” he said. “Then we all just gave up.”

Challenger paid employees through the end of the year. After that, Challenger said folks started finding other work.

“We lost our manager, light and sound tech who was here for eight years. A lot of good bartenders and staff.”

Dirty Little Roddy’s reopened last week.

“I think we were missed. We had to get cobwebs out, but I think we are going to bounce back with Roddy’s,” Challenger said.

Now, Challenger is working to be open by early May, in time for a big annual event. Though it will be held in that same 1901 building, it won’t be China Blue anymore.

“Once I saw it in this defeated space, I thought ‘nope, it’s dead. Let’s do away with it. I’m excited about that, change is good.”

‘Check your insurance’

Challenger carried loss of income insurance, but says he’s learned more in recent months than he ever though he’d need.

“You always think you are covered with insurance,” he said. “I never paid attention to the cap or the formula.”

Since then, he has beefed up coverage at nearby Amsterdam Lounge. With Idaho’s history of earthquakes, he thinks other business owners should learn from his lesson.

“Loss of income wouldn’t even cover earthquakes. I think that’s where Boise’s most exposed,” he said. “You see how buildings can crack and shift and you are just amazed at the devastation it can cause, at least financially.”

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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