I thought we would digress this week from the treasures of old and focus on a few treasures of Salt Lake. For all of you east coasters, hopefully this will broaden your view of Utah (as it did mine). For the locals, hopefully this will open your eyes to some beauties you are privileged enough to have in your own back yard. We will return to more of my favorite things next week.

Let us explore a few of the fabulous historic properties in central Salt Lake….and just enjoy. (And maybe learn a bit about the facades at the same time.) Hey, I teach now, I can no longer just have fun, I must always inform as well.

I really was quite astonished to find so many charming facades here. Of course, the city was established in 1847, so I am not sure why it was so surprising. And of course, almost everyone that moved here in the 19th century was in fact from New England or Northern Europe. But I was quite convinced such houses as per below were to be found nowhere outside of New England or the Antebellum South. I know, I know, here is the East-Coast- centric point of view I am trying to avoid. West, I apologize, you once enjoyed the finer things in life too.

I must also apologize for all the electrical wiring (please consider burying these SLC) and trees (I should have taken pictures in the winter) and the cars and the no-parking signs (not sure which is worse).

Contestant # 1: The New Englander

Really, how can one reconcile this lovely rambler with the rough and tumble pioneer state of Utah? It even has a widow’s walk! Wasn’t the whole point of the widow’s walk to look out to sea for your mariner-husband’s eminent return to Marblehead or Portsmouth? Not much sea to see here.

In fact, the widow’s walk developed from Italianate revival architecture. During the Victorian era and the Victorian’s never-ending infatuation with ever more elaborate and exotic styles, the Italianate (an over-the-top revival of the Renaissance) took off in the 1830s and lasted well into the 1870s. What does the widow’s walk have to do with Italy, you may ask? The widow’s walk form is essentially a bad version of a cupola or balustrade. Here is what the great architects of the day were looking at:

And here is how they interpreted it:


See the little cupola at the top there?
And here is how the humble mariner/builder of New England port towns interpreted it:


And finally we get to the Utah version:
A bit of a long shot, but you get the general point they were going for. This bastardized version of the cupola/balustrade did, however, turn out to be very handy when watching for storms or your loved ones who likely perished in said storms.

Contestants # 2 &3: The Federal Ladies

Talk about a perfect Federal-style entry door. I love everything Federal (almost as much as everything Empire). While the overall form of the home does not conform, this entry is perfect.

Here is a neighbor, which is a pretty good overall representation of the Federal, but lacking the door of perfection. Of course, these are all later revivals, as the Federal architecture style flourished from about 1780 to the 1820s. No SLC in those days.

Here is one of my favorite originals from the East Coast. The keys to the style are: the brick, the simplified facade, boxy shape, symmetrical layouts of windows and doors, the hipped roof, and of course the fab doorway with a fanlight above and sidelights with interlaced geometric patterning for mullions.

The Otis Gray House in Boston.

Contestant # 4: Are We in Charleston Yet?

Charleston, SC has some of the most stunning architecture on earth. One can just feel the southern hospitality seeping in…. and this Greek Revival style property of Salt Lake certainly gives a feel of the old South. You can’t beat lots of really, really large columns.

But if you want really, really, really big columns, take a look at the Milford Plantation. I was privileged enough to visit the Milford Plantation while studying at Sotheby’s. This is a private residence owned by financier turned historic restorer, Richard Hampton Jenrette. It was built in 1839 and almost destroyed by Union troops in 1865. The Union commander was so taken by the property it was spared. THANK GOD! Well done Commander! Since it is privately owned, there are very few photos online of this property , but there is a fabulous book (Adventures With Old Houses by Jenrette) which everyone should go find!

Contestant # 5: Ms. Queen Anne

The Queen Anne revival is probably one of the most recognizably Victorian type of home. Many of these gems have fallen into disrepair as they often require a lot of maintenance. However, this beauty has been very well preserved. Enough said here, I think.

Contestant # 6: The Little Cutie

OK, so this is not a stunner like the others on the list, but it just spoke to me. It is such a simple block house and could have been so plain and dull. But it’s not. It has a personality. Even despite the horrid 1970s plastic awnings over the windows. They work, painting as they are. And this house makes a good point, being that a property doesn’t have to be a mansion to be in good taste.
Contestant # 7: The Grand Dame
This Italian Renaissance building (totally different style from Italianate) is so well maintained and in my opinion, just to die for.
So what is the difference between Italianate Revival and Italian Renaissance Revival architecture? The Italianate is a loose and romantic stylization of anything Italian (or anything conceived as being somewhat Italian at the time). While the Italian Renaissance Revival took a much more serious view of things. If at all possible, there was a desire to directly copy elements of Renaissance architecture. These scrolls are a good example. They are highly ordered and strictly follow classical forms.
This is quite different from the Renaissance Revival furniture of which I am more familiar. There was absolutely no interest in maintaining purity in these items…..
But before I digress even further, I will stop….for fear of creating the longest blog in blogging history. We might have to revisit this topic in the future, but for now I will only ask you to cast your vote for your favorite (if you can decide)!


Now, I know I made it quite clear this blog is not dedicated to putting down the fair city of Salt Lake, but I must ask one question before ending. How can so many Salt Lake residents prefer to live in this:



Instead of this?????
Please take a moment to consider and then, move out of your development nightmare and move back into the city and revitalize some of these fabulous beauties just waiting for a makeover! Then hire me to do the design…I am just dying to get my hands on hundreds of them….
Christa Pirl

5 comment(s)

Are the new McMansions much lower in cost than the beautiful older homes? I'm trying to reason why anyone would choose the former over the latter as well.

Love that "Little Cutie." That'd be my choice of home in SLC.

Really enjoying your posts!

Love your writing style and info…very fun! I would have to say I lean towards the Southern Charm~

You will have to check out Daybreak in South Jordan, UT for a new development that wanted the charm and characterics of SLC Sugar House or Avenue area style of homes.

The homes are close together but the charming and colorful exteriors with front porches add interest and not the boring UT brown facade UT has been living with for the last 15 years.

Let me know if you want someone to go with and show you around.

Keep up the great post~

Thanks Melinda, and yes, Daybreak (from the little I have seen) is MUCH better. Times seem to be changing and people want a bit more personality in their homes. Thanks for the excellent comment.

Thanks for highlighting the character of Salt Lake! Sometimes you have to look hard, but it does exist. And in response to the first comment… When I ask people that question, the answer is undoubtedly because the McMansions are bigger. More square footage for the dollar. And there are a lot of big families out here who think they need all that space.

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