16 September 2021

La France Apartments Slated for Demolition

The La France Apartments (originally called Covey Flats)
at 246 W 300 South Salt Lake City.  Image from UDSH.

Demolition is planned for the La France apartments at 246 W 300 South. The current owner, the Greek Orthodox Church, plans to demolish the buildings for a new complex consisting of apartments, hotel, parking garage, shops, and restaurants.

The La France was one of the first urban apartment buildings constructed in SLC. Boarding houses, hotels, and rowhouses had been used for multi-person housing for decades but this new style of a walkup multi-story apartment which included individual kitchens and bathrooms was a new building type for SLC in the early 1900s.

The first apartment house built in SLC was the now demolished Emery-Holmes apartment building constructed in 1902 which was located where the Eagle Gate Apartments are now situated at 109 E South Temple.

The La France was built in 1904 and was the first collaboration among Covey Investment Co, architect David C. Dart, and builder Charles Andrew Vissing. This group built about 20 apartment buildings in SLC, many of which survive today including the Kensington, Princeton & Boulevard, The Covey, and Hillcrest buildings.

The La France is unique as it includes rowhouses in the back of the main buildings. All apartments provided modern conveniences including steam heat, hardwood floors, gas range, refrigerator, colored tile bath with shower, tile drainboard in the kitchen, and janitor service.

Like today, Salt Lake City was experiencing a population surge in the early 1900s. The La France was built to accommodate the white-collar worker of the railroad, mines, and other industries. Common occupations were railroad clerk, salesman, engineer, bookkeeper, and draftsman.

Although the La France was built in the emerging Greektown it did not serve the housing needs of the Greek community. The 1910 and 1920 censuses show no Greek or Italian immigrants living in these apartments. Rather, all La France dwellers were of Northern European decent indicating a that the Greeks and Italians living in the neighborhood were discriminated against for housing at the La France. 

Covey Investment Co owned the building until 1981 and ownership ultimately transferred to the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 1989 and 1992 the La France had the opportunity to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and by default become a local SLC Historic Landmark site (those rules have since changed) but the owners objected to its listing on the local historic register. It was included in the 2016 Warehouse District National Register listing so it would qualify for tax credits if it was subject to historic rehab but there are no historic legal protections on the buildings.

Sources: SL Trib 1904-01-27; Des News 1906-09-01; SL Trib 1937-05-25; SL Trib 1980-06-20; UDSH site file, census records.

05 September 2021

Hawaiian Royalty in Utah

King David Kalakaua.
Image from wikimedia.
Hawaiian royalty stopped in Utah to check on how their Native Hawaiian subjects were adjusting to life in SLC.

The Mormons started missionary work on the Hawaiian Islands in the 1850s and established a sugar plantation at Laie on the island of O’ahu (remember my honeybee post where Brigham Young wanted better access to sugar).

Before the 1893 overthrow of the last monarch of Hawaii, each Hawaiian needed permission from the monarch to leave the islands. Consequently, only a few Mormon converts arrived in Utah from the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1893 (refer to previous posts about Kiha Nebeker and the Hawaiian neighborhood near Warm Springs).

The first Hawaiian monarch to visit Utah was King David Kalakaua. In Dec 1874, he was on his way to Washington DC to negotiate a treaty when his eastern bound train passed through Ogden without a stop, despite several SLC dignitaries waiting in Ogden hoping to meet with him.

Kalakaua did stop in Ogden in Jan 1875 during his return trip west and briefly met with several officials from SLC and spoke with 13-year-old Kiha Ka’awa Nebecker, at the time Kiha was the only Native Hawaiian living in SLC (one other similar aged boy named Kahana was living in Central Utah). King Kalakaua was pleased that young Kiha had not forgotten his native language.

In April 1887, Kalakaua's wife, Queen Kapi’olani, and his sister Princess Lili’uokalani (who later became Queen Lili’uokalani, the last sovereign of Hawaii), traveled through Ogden, SLC, and Provo on their way to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. A group of SLC and Mormon church dignitaries and about 20 Native Hawaiians Salt Lakers boarded their special train in Ogden and rode with them back to SLC.

Queen Kapi’olani seemed to recognize one of the Native Hawaiian Salt Lakers, a woman by the name of Kapukini, and the two of them sat together for some time speaking in Native Hawaiian for nearly the entire trip from Ogden to SLC. The Queen asked about her Hawaiian subjects living in SLC and whether they were happy and how they were occupied.

The royal train stopped in SLC to a crowd of a thousand people and music from Held’s Band. Many Salt Lakers greeted the two royals in their native language, to the surprise of Queen Kapi’olani. The royal train soon departed resuming their travels east.

Lili’uokala and Kapi’olani at the Golden Jubilee, 1887.

03 September 2021

House at 235 South 600 East Salt Lake City

235 South 600 East Salt Lake City
This house at 235 S 600 East will be getting some much-needed love and attention. Yesterday (2 Sept 2021) the SLC Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) approved the current owner’s plans to add an addition to the back of the house and move forward with repairs and historic rehabilitation for the rest of the house. Because it is in the Central City local historic district any modifications must be made in consultation with the HLC to ensure they are appropriate.

The house was initially built sometime in the 1880s. The first occupant I could find was Dr. Lorin Hall, the SLC Physician, who lived in the house with his family between about 1887-1893. A funny story relating to his time in the house pertains to Dr Hall trying to grow grass in the front yard for nearly a year when his neighbor’s cow got loose, opened the gate with one of her horns, and walked into his front yard to munch and trample the grass.

Hiram Johnson owned the house between about 1895 and 1900. While in SLC Hiram ran a wholesale grocery business and served on the SLC school board. Of note, his obituary states that as a young man he was a follower of the abolitionist John Brown and part of the militant actions in Kansas prior to the Civil War (John Brown was portrayed by actor Ethan Hawke in the 2020 miniseries @thegoodlordbird).

The next significant occupant was Charles S. and Florence Varian who owned and lived in the house between 1908-1927. Charles was a US Attorney who, during the Utah Territorial days, vigorously prosecuted polygamists making him quite hated among the Mormons of SLC. He was booed by Mormon women in the Tabernacle and in 1885 when living in a townhouse (called Reggels Row) his home was bombarded with jars of feces, breaking the front window and splattering the filth throughout the parlor. By the time he moved into this house the days of polygamy were mostly over and he was largely respected by Mormon and Non-Mormons alike.

After the Varians died the house was sold and converted to apartments. A 1980 historic survey of the house listed it in good condition. A 1992 sales advertisement stated it needed some work. The house seems to have been in decline since the 1990s.

SL Democrat 1885-09-14; Des News 1888-07-03; SL Herald 1900-05-06; SL Trib 1908-05-13; SL Trib 1992-09-07; Sanborn maps, various records on Ancestry.com; HLC staff memo.

235 S 600 East in 1980. Image from HLC staff memo.
235 S 600 East about 1935. Image from HLC staff memo.

02 September 2021

Adaptive Reuse Planned for the University of Utah's Historic Fieldhouse

Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse at the
University of Utah, Sept 2021

A good news post! 

Recently the University of Utah announced that it will be turning the historic Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse into a 375-seat state-of-the-art theatre.

A seismic renovation has recently been completed and some new paint has been applied to the rooftop letters. A gift from the Meldrum Foundation will transform the space so it can be utilized by the Department of Theatre and Pioneer Theatre Company.

The fieldhouse was designed by prominent local architecture firm Ashton and Evans and built in 1939 by contractors George A. Whitmeyer & Sons. It was partially paid by a grant from the Public Works Administration.

When it opened it was known as the Ute Fieldhouse and was the largest building on campus with a seating capacity of 4,000. Basketball games and physical fitness exercises were the principle uses of the building. It was renamed in honor of Einar Nielsen in 1954 in recognition of his 40 years of service as the U’s athletic trainer.

During WWII, the fieldhouse was converted for use as a massive dormitory for military personnel who were receiving medical training at the University of Utah. The bleachers, basketball standards, and basketball floor were removed and stored in the balcony and new oak tongue and groove flooring was installed. The bathrooms were expanded and a post office, officers’ quarters, barber shop, and a lounge were installed in the balcony.

After WWII the fieldhouse was the home venue of Ute basketball.

Sources: UofU Finer Points Blog Aug 18 2021; UofU Historic Buildings Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse; SL Trib 1954-06-27

Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse at the
University of Utah, Sept 2021

Architectural plan composite for the fieldhouse,
top from SL Trib 1938-07-07;
bottom from SL Trib 1938-07-10.

University of Utah Commencement ceremony
inside the fieldhouse, early 1950s
 From Marriott Library.