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Holladay Journal

5 historic Holladay homes featured in Modern Home Tour

Oct 31, 2019 04:03PM ● By Stephanie DeGraw

The Robert J. Hawks backyard and patio featured in the home show. (Stephanie DeGraw/City Journals)

By Stephanie DeGraw | [email protected]

The quiet tree-lined street where one-story homes hug the landscape showcased the Salt Lake Modern Home Tour recently.

The tour featured mid-century architecture sponsored by Preservation Utah, formerly known as the Utah Heritage Foundation. They have been doing historic home tours for decades according to David Amott, Preservation Utah’s interim executive director. “Our fall tour features exclusively on modernist architecture from the 1940s to the 1970s. Our spring tour focuses on homes built in the 1930s.”

This area of Holladay/Cottonwood began as Lakewood Farm in 1900 by James Henry Moyle, one of the most influential Utah politicians in the early 20th century. In the early 1950s, the land was developed as a large lot subdivision.

“We did not choose this particular neighborhood. This neighborhood happily found us," Amott said. "The neighborhood is full of great homes that tell a fantastic story, but many of these same homes are being torn down and replaced by much larger builds that do not complement the community,” he said. In working with this neighborhood we realized that one of the best ways to get people to know the Cottonwood Club’s story would be to ‘invite them into’ and personally experience this story, so to speak.”

One homeowner, Diana Johnson, explained her attraction to buying an older home. “These neighborhoods are beautiful and interesting, and the homes are well built. They tell us something about what it was like to live in an important historical time in our country — post–World War II — about our values, hopes and dreams,” she said. “The neighborhoods are walkable. The trees are very important to me, and are also historic.”

There is a giant London plane tree in her front yard well over 50 years old. The trees provide shade and a sense of constancy to the neighborhood, as well as helping to improve the effects of climate change, she added.

Holladay is a designated Tree City USA. Each time an existing home is demolished, most, if not all, of the trees are removed. New trees are to be replanted according to the Holladay city code. “But it will take many decades for them to reach the stature of the existing tree canopy, which is one of the characteristics that makes Holladay such a desirable place to live,” she said.

Many of the modernist homes in this neighborhood involved a collaborative effort between Stephen Macdonald, an architect; V. Douglas Snow, a prominent Utah-based artist; Arthur Munse, a structural engineer; Noal Betts and Blair Bowen, interior designers; and Richard Hatch, a landscape architect. These individuals gathered together to discuss culture, politics, and how they could collectively “improve” conservative Utah via modernist art, architecture and other artistic creative endeavors, according to Amott.

Throughout the tour, attendees commented on how “thoughtful” the homes were in terms of space, materials, setting, design, etc. Macdonald's use of partitioned space created homes that encouraged social engagement by making private spaces like bedrooms small while opening up public spaces for maximum human interaction. He created “sanctuaries” within homes with atriums and walled gardens, and engaged with other cultures to enrich his architecture. Some homes feature Japanese and Brazilian modernist motifs in much of his architecture. Macdonald played with materials such as precast concrete in creative, new ways. He pushed to the edge of residential design in mid-century Utah.

When Amott was invited to view the neighborhood, he witnessed a Macdonald home on Lone Peak Drive being demolished. “Not surprisingly, the tear-downs in this neighborhood have made many of the neighbors upset. They want to help the community appreciate the history that surrounds them. The history that many community members have likely never recognized or have always taken for granted. This was the genesis for our tour,” he said.

Johnson hopes to preserve the feeling of permanence and history of the neighborhood, as well as protect the low profile of the homes that hunkered into the landscape, rather than towering above it like so many homes built today. “The new houses being built are generally large and tower over the existing homes in the neighborhood, destroying the sense of cohesiveness that has existed for years,” she said.

The lack of affordable housing is happening in Salt Lake County and many places around the country. Many of the homes being torn down are modest homes in size and stature. They are being replaced with homes that sell for nearly $1 million or more. “Some original houses could be renovated, as many in the neighborhood have been, creating good homes for seniors or young, first-time home buyers. Many of the older homes never come on the market before being snatched up by developers with plans to demolish and replace them,” Johnson said.

The tear-down phenomenon is not unique to Holladay’s Cottonwood Club community. In Holladay, Millcreek and elsewhere, people or developers often buy a house for the lot it stands on, not for the house, Amott said. People tear down these houses without thinking twice. Most people don’t realize that communities like Holladay contain some of the most important and interesting architecture in all of Utah, Amott said.

Before Holladay was a suburb, wealthy Utahans built large summer homes designed as a reprieve from June to August heat. Residents commuted by automobile or streetcar to jobs in downtown Salt Lake City. “Holladay still has a handful of architecturally impressive, historic homes, but they are disappearing oh so quickly,” he said.

Amott encourages people to discover the history of their homes and share. One not only learns about their home but also about their neighborhood and the larger community. If one learns about people who lived in the past they can become friends. "As you learn what their hopes and dreams were, you begin to sympathize with them, and soon you see your neighborhood with completely new eyes,” Amott said.

Homes older than 50 years old can be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. An entire neighborhood can apply to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register provides (1) tax credits for undertaking historically sensitive renovations to your house, (2) registering the history of your house with the State Historic Preservation Office, who will preserve this history for future generations, (3) and plaques you can put on your house to notify one and all that “here lies history.”

For more information, contact Preservation Utah at 801.533-0858 or