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Historic Salt Lake City buildings at risk of being demolished for redevelopment

Posted at 10:11 PM, May 05, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Historical housing is facing a threat as Salt Lake City undergoes rapid development.

While iconic mountain ranges and red rock formations are often associated with Utah's scenery, the city's architectural landmarks are often overshadowed.

Despite the city's rich history and preservationists' passionate efforts, the development of new buildings has become a threat to these century-old buildings.

Local historic districts provide a haven for these buildings, but creating them has become increasingly difficult due to a 2016 state law.

"Historic preservation has been stemmed because it is so hard to do hit local historic districts," said Chris Jensen, a historic homeowner and preservationist.

Jensen has dedicated a significant amount of time to improving and protecting his historic home, which was built in 1884. He has also spent time researching and learning how to protect homes like his.

The National Registry of Historic Sites is symbolic and serves as one way to look for protection, but real protection comes from local districts.

Preservationists like Adrienne White, the founder of the website House Genealogy, understand the importance of the stories behind these buildings.

"Each building tells many, many stories. Where we live is very, very unique," White said.

Rachel Quist, the author of Rachel's SLC History, is another passionate preservationist who recognizes the lack of protection for historic buildings.

"Sometimes I'll just see a building and then I'll just start to research it," Quist said.

Her blog and social media pages encourage others to learn more about Salt Lake City's history, particularly the absence of protection.

Demolished buildings are what Wendi Pettet knows best as the host of the Demolished Salt Lake podcast.

Pettet understands that not every building can be saved, but she feels like she's bringing back parts of her community's narrative.

"I know that not every building is going to be saved," she said. "[If] somebody from 1920 were to come back, they would not recognize the city at all."

As Salt Lake City continues to grow, there is a tension between preserving the city's history and promoting new developments. Taylor Anderson, the editor of the independent publication Building Salt Lake, recognizes this tension in a growing city like Salt Lake.

"There's a lot of tension around how we grow," Anderson said.

Developers in Salt Lake City are opting to integrate historic buildings into their properties rather than demolish them, and this trend is on the rise.

Adrienne White, the founder of House Genealogy, believes that preserving historic buildings is crucial because "to lose those stories would be a tragedy."

One such building that almost faced demolition is the Musser House in Sugar House, which is now going to be a part of a luxury apartment complex instead with the developers opting to save the structure instead of demolishing it.

This trend is one that the city of Salt Lake is embracing, with several successful examples, including the Charlie apartment complex, Salt Lake Community College, and the Kramer House.

Salt Lake City Councilman Chris Wharton, who has a degree in history, also acknowledges the importance of historic preservation. He notes that historic buildings should be "alive with activity and take on a new meaning as well."

While not every structure can or should be preserved, most people believe that there needs to be a balance between preservation and development.

As more people look for new uses for historic buildings, it seems that this trend will shape the future landscape of Salt Lake and Utah.

"Let's preserve what we can in the midst of all this new development," White said.

Preservationists like Jensen, White, Quist, and Pettet have dedicated their time and effort to protect historic buildings and bring their stories to life.

However, the lack of protection for these buildings has made it increasingly difficult to preserve them amid new developments. And as the city continues to grow, it is important to strike a balance between preserving history and promoting new developments.