JetModern: Fifty Years

Posted on: September 25th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments
The first building built in SLC after the Depression.

The first building built in SLC after the Depression.

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?

First floor office space in office/residence in Salt Lake City.

First floor office space in office/residence in Salt Lake City.

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.

Second floor interior of the same Salt Lake City office/residence as above.

Second floor interior of the same Salt Lake City office/residence as above.

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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Modern Architecture

2 Responses

  1. Sydney

    September 25, 2009

    I’m finding that a lot of people don’t care about historic preservation, they tear down 200 year old houses in Maine to put up new houses, forget about what WallyWorld does when they build a box store in a small town.

  2. Suzanne S. Kellam

    September 30, 2009

    Fell behind a bit, but have caught up. When do you get home? Liked the piece on Salt Lake City…never been there. Is it an uphill battle to get people to consider preservation of structures of this time period?? I would think so, but that does not make them less important. Right?