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KUED review: 'Brigham Street' a glimpse of fabled history of state's most prestigious address

Published: Thursday, May 23 2013 9:15 a.m. MDT

The Kearns Mansion was draped in patriotic bunting when President Theodore Roosevelt came to visit in 1903.

KUED

Editor's note: The premiere of Brigham Street can be viewed online at KUED.com.

It was once known as Brigham Street, and Utah’s first governor predicted it would “eventually be the finest residence street of the city.”

“Brigham Street: Salt Lake City’s Grand Boulevard” is a glimpse into the fabled history of what is now known as South Temple, the most prestigious address since the city was first settled. The KUED-produced documentary airs Tuesday, May 14, at 7 p.m.

From 1880 to the 1930s, the vast majority of Utah’s wealthy residents resided along Brigham Street. The South Temple Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and the American Planning Association selected South Temple as one of 10 great streets in America. It was recognized “for its historical residential design and craftsmanship, diversity of land uses and the integration of multiple forms of transportation throughout history — as well as commitment on the part of the community to preserve its legacy.”

“Brigham Street” begins with a brief review of the homes built by Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Beehive House was completed in 1854 and the Lion House in 1856.

One humorous account that is mentioned involves a newspaperman who was initially critical of the opulence of the public areas of President Young’s homes. While on a tour led by the prophet, the reporter pointed to an entrance hall chandelier and reportedly asked, “How much did that cost?”

“I don’t know” came the reply. “I made it.”

As downtown visitors know, those two homes still stand and remain prominent structures, as a restaurant/reception center and a tourist attraction. But a grand Victorian mansion on the corner directly south of the Beehive House is a much lamented loss to the street. The Gardo House, another residence built under President Young’s direction, was demolished in 1921.

Land grants were given to church leaders to build homes along Brigham Street, and in the last decades of the 19th century, the wealth flowing out of Utah’s mines continued the street's transformation from a noisy, dusty thoroughfare into a stately, tree-lined boulevard.

Thomas Kearns made a fortune on silver from Park City mines. The Kearns Mansion, comparable in quality and style to mansions built by the Vanderbilts and Carnegies in the East, was a centerpiece of the city elite’s social life. The Kearnses entertained often and lavishly, hosting political and religious dignitaries. In 1903, the house was draped in patriotic bunting when President Theodore Roosevelt, a family friend, came to visit. In 1937, the French Chateauesque-style mansion was donated to the state, and today the restored structure is better known as the Governor’s Mansion.

Along with the Kearns Mansion, “Brigham Street” tells the story of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the Devereaux Mansion, the Masonic Temple, the Alta Club and the Bransford Apartments. The buildings represent the finest work of Utah’s most prominent architects in various architectural styles, and in some instances, they are the best examples of a particular style in the state.

Produced by Isaac Goeckeritz and written by James Findlay, “Brigham Street” has one major drawback: At one hour, it is much too short. There is a fine collection of archival photos mixed with current footage of the street, but the history whizzes by at a rapid pace.

However, thanks to Utah Heritage Foundation, the first statewide preservation organization in the Western United States, visitors can enjoy both docent-led tours and self-guided walking tours of many of downtown Salt Lake City’s structures. The "Historic South Temple Street Walking Tour Guide" is a wonderfully organized and illustrated brochure containing descriptions of 39 buildings and sites along the historic district. Just less than two miles in length, the tour takes about two and one-half hours. For more information and to download this guide and similar brochures, visit utahheritagefoundation.com.

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