Like many of the cities I have visited, Salt Lake City saw a large break in new construction from the depression until the 1950s. Beginning then, though, construction restarted and mid-century modern buildings appeared scattered throughout town. Kirk Huffaker, of the Utah Heritage Foundation brought to my attention the first building built after the depression, which is pictured here. This building really helped bring Salt Lake City and Utah out of both an economic and emotional slump. Completed in 1955, it was a technological achievement for both Utah and the United States. It was also a stylistic gamble, as Huffaker suggested, with which to inaugurate new construction in Salt Lake, especially when viewed against structures from the 1920s.
Bound up in this newness, Salt Lake showed that it was willing to adopt a new aesthetic and to leave the depression behind. As a symbol of the break from the difficult years of the Great Depression, this building has become a powerful reminder of Salt Lake overcoming difficulty and beginning to participate in economic life on a national scale. Many consider this building to be as revolutionary as the United Nations Headquarters (1950) in Manhattan.
Is this building significant? Does, as the Trust often asks, this place matter?
Surprisingly, it seems that Salt Lake City does not allow for exceptions to its rule that buildings must be fifty years old before they can be considered eligible for protection/listing. This building meets the city’s hard-and-fast fifty-year rule on buildings.
What about another structure that may not be that old yet? How long is appropriate to wait?
The structure pictured to the right and below -- a first floor office from 1968 and a second floor residence from 1969/70 -- is worth thinking about. In its completeness and form, it is certainly a fine example of modernism in Salt Lake. In addition, the degree to which its interior remains largely unchanged is striking. Most of the pictured pieces are original.
Could this slightly newer home also be significant? Is it as much a cultural marker as the first?
(As a side note, according to Kirk Huffaker, when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City in 2002, there was no loss of buildings for the Olympic Village.)
Next stop: Seattle
Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.
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