When you drive through your city, you will likely see a mix
of buildings that are old and buildings that are new. Which buildings stand out
to you? Do you have favorites? No matter what buildings you like the most, you’ve
probably sensed that there is a formula to mixing old and new architecture that
makes our communities attractive and vibrant.
For fifty years, Utah Heritage Foundation has been working
closely with municipalities, business owners, developers, and property owners
to preserve and reuse historic structures in our communities. Labeling people
as “preservationists” is not for people who are only interested in saving old
buildings, but refers to the effort of people and organizations like Utah
Heritage Foundation that strive to make communities better places through
sustainable community initiatives, building local economy, and teaching
craftsmanship through preserving their inventory of old buildings.
Lake City with the historic Salt Lake Tribune Building in the foreground.
The preservation efforts in many of Utah’s commercial business
districts suggest that people like old buildings. Whether the feeling is
nostalgic or reassuring, older architecture tends to reflect where people want to spend their time. Historic structures are
often the centerpieces of our communities and create a lasting cultural value. By
preserving them we are not just preserving our community’s culture, but we are also
creating sustainability for our local economies.
help to rehabilitate a home for new residents.
Older buildings are visually distinctive which gives them intrinsic
value. They often display fine craftsmanship of a bygone era and tend to be
built with higher-quality materials. With preservation of historic
architecture, we continue to tell the story or our cultures while creating an
ever-evolving inventory of architecture.
Over the past fifty years, Utah Heritage Foundation has had
great successes as well as losses in its mission to preserve historic
architecture. The wins and losses also help to tell the story of our ever-
evolving built landscape and why we all should be involved in the discussion
about how our communities change in order to save the places that matter.
Penney Store in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of the Utah Historical Society.
One of the many successful preservation stories is South
High School in Salt Lake City. The Art Deco style building opened its doors in
1931. After having over 30,000 students
graduate, the school closed due to dwindling enrollment. After a renovation and new addition, the
school reopened as Salt Lake Community College in 1992. The historic school continues
to be a thriving part of Salt Lake County, serving the community as a gathering
place and the flagship campus for SLCC.
and historic photos of South High School, now Salt Lake Community College.
Historic photo courtesy of Utah Historical society.
Another success of preservation is Downtown Murray where several
historic buildings create a vibrant presence on State Street. At its heart is the Desert Star Theatre,
which was originally built as the Iris Theater.
The theater, along with its attached apartments and commercial building,
is significant for its role in the original development and later
revitalization of Murray City. With its combination of entertainment, retail,
and residential space, the building represents a multi-use commercial block
that was common during the early twentieth-century and is popular again as a key
part of urban revitalization.
Street in Murray.
A community’s Main Street is usually the commercial core,
although over time some of the commercial nodes have moved to different parts
of the city. Salt Lake City’s Main
Street is still the commercial hub of the city, but in other communities like
Magna and Midvale, their historic Main Streets are no longer the commercial
core, but are in a state of adaptive use and revitalization. Getting kids of
all ages interested in preserving architecture can help teach them about the
history of their community and the importance of art and culture. Utah Heritage Foundation produced an
illustrated book titled, “It Happened on Main Street,” that walks school-aged
children through the importance of having a thriving commercial and
entertainment district in our communities.
Magna, and Salt Lake City Main Streets all feature great historic buildings
with new uses.
Some preservation successes are tied to the public’s support,
while others are done by individuals fighting for a specific cause. One of Utah Heritage Foundation’s successes
where the public was integral in the outcome was for what some people
considered the most important building in Salt Lake County, the Salt Lake City
and County Building. The building was
originally constructed by free masons between 1891 and 1894 to house offices
for the city and county of Salt Lake. It also served as Utah's Capitol from when
statehood was granted in 1896 until the present Utah State Capitol was
completed in 1916.
of livestock to be sold at auction. Photo courtesy of Utah Historical Society.
In the mid-1980’s there was talk of demolishing the Salt
Lake City and County Building to build a new structure. Utah Heritage Foundation was very involved,
along with political leaders and community members, to advocate for
rehabilitation of this prominent building.
With the community now invested in preserving this building there have
been several preservation projects, including a recent seismic retrofit and
stone restoration, which will help preserve this building for future
Lake City and County Building.
Recently, Salt Lake County and Utah Heritage Foundation have
supported the nomination of mid-century modern homes to the National Register
of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP is a list of architecturally significant
structures across the United States and provides honorary designation. The
homes were all built by renowned architect Cliff May, who was a prominent
mid-century designer from Southern California that is credited with the
popularity of the Ranch house style. While it may not be commonly considered
that Ranch houses are historically significant, they reflect a culturally
significant transition in Utah from a more urban culture to a suburban
lifestyle. Architecture is after all, a form of visual art, and art is subject
to personal taste.
Three homes designed by Cliff May with a floor
While the successes are to be celebrated, the losses are
important as tools for learning toward the next preservation issue. One of the
recent unsuccessful efforts occurred when the West Jordan Sugar Factory was
demolished in 2010. The West Jordan Sugar Factory Committee met for several
years to discuss what reuse options might exist for the complex. The project
had the support of the elected leaders of the community and several volunteer
organizations. The conclusion of a feasibility study determined that there was
a high demand for arts and cultural space in West Jordan and on the west side
of the Salt Lake Valley for small organizations, and that the Sugar Factory was
a unique location for these uses. A
change in elected leadership at the city changed direction for the
project and lead to the buildings being demolished within a year of the
Jordan Sugar Factory (demolished). Historic
photo courtesy of Utah Historical Society.
As the Salt Lake Valley continues to grow and become more
densely populated, the idea of reusing our existing built landscape will
become ever more important in order to conserve ever-scarcer resources and save
money. It will also become increasingly important to recognize the differences
in styles and what they represented culturally in the development of the county.
Creating the new cityscape, blending historic architecture with great new
design, is one of the most visible forms of expression of community values, and
all over Salt Lake County there are opportunities to preserve those structures
that will continue to represent our evolving cultures and those values.
Foundation creating awareness for Modern architecture.
Flanders is the Public Outreach Director for Utah Heritage Foundation.
This year, Utah Heritage Foundation celebrates its 50th Anniversary continuing
our mission to keep the past alive, not only for preservation, but to inspire
and provoke a more creative present and sustainable future.