When I moved back to Salt Lake City, I was shocked to find that Gravity Hill, one of the standard romantic haunts of my youth, was no longer.
For those of you who for reasons of extreme youth may have missed out on Gravity Hill altogether, this was the hill of illusions by the Capitol on the way to Memory Grove.If you drove a car northeast from the State Capitol toward 11th Avenue around the City Creek Canyon gully that separates Capitol Hill from the Avenues, you were struck by a phenomenon.
There was one wonderful stretch of roadway on Bonneville Drive submerged in the canyon with walls on both sides. It seemed as if you were traveling up hill, when in fact you were running slightly downhill.
It was a fascinating illusion.
So as soon as teenage boys learned to drive cars they inevitably took dates to see it. It was much more effective if the girl had never heard of it.
You would say, "Hey, want to go to Gravity Hill?"
The girl would say, "What's that?"
Then you would grin knowingly and say, "I'll show you."
You would drive silently up Capitol Hill until you reached just the right spot and then you would say, "Now watch this," and turn off the engine. Amazingly, the car would continue to coast up hill!
As simple as it sounds, it was always the highlight of the evening. And every boy who managed to show it to a girl for the first time seemed so remarkably savvy.
Oh, I know - there were the superb views of the valley from various vantage points, and Memory Grove itself had its moments. But Gravity Hill provided a bit of unique punctuation.
Since then we have learned that many cities have gravity hills or so-called "spook hills" that produce this phenomenon. But even if it was not unique, it was an important part of growing up in Salt Lake City. How could the city fathers have allowed it to disappear?
It happened after the floods of 1983 when the city closed Bonneville Drive to two-way traffic. Ever since, the only travelers who can negotiate this route going north are bikers and joggers - and they can't appreciate it. Vehicle traffic is only allowed to go south, and the trick doesn't work in that direction.
According to city officials, Gravity Hill was discussed when a master plan was designed for the City Creek area, but nobody felt strongly about it.
Gravity Hill should have been preserved and protected just as any historic site should be preserved. Still, it's not surprising. The whole area has been cursed with controversy since Brigham Young's day, when he owned a sawmill up on City Creek, called the Empire Mill.
In 1850, the legislature of the state of Deseret granted him exclusive control over the timber, rocks, minerals and water in City Creek Canyon.
Brigham built a road into the canyon and erected a tollgate at the entrance to his estate - the famous Eagle Gate. The toll irked the miners when they hauled ore out or brought supplies in, but they paid it. Since Brigham had built the road he felt entitled to the fee.
In fact, at that time there were tollgates at most of the canyons to collect funds for the building and maintenance of the roads. (Take note, Salt Lake County Commission!)
Then in 1920, 20 acres were set aside by the City Commission for the purpose of developing a memorial park to honor war veterans. In spite of careful planning culminating in Memorial House and winding paths leading to shady nooks where marble seats invite one to rest and meditate while the waters of the canyon creek fall into a shimmering lake, Memory Grove has been continually plagued with vandalism and even turned into a likely spot for the congregation of protesters and dissidents.
Yet it has remained a beautiful, romantic, idyllic place that recalls diverse memories for anyone who grew up here.
But it will never be the same without Gravity Hill!