Paula Norris remembers how lights glowed and how the grass-covered islands in the middle of the street looked when she first saw the house she eventually bought near downtown Salt Lake City.

"I just fell in love," she said. A native of Michigan, she thought the street, 600 East, looked homey and attractive.It wasn't until later that people told her they regard the area a ghetto.

But Norris hopes to change her neighborhood's image. She has been working with other residents for four years to designate the area roughly between 500 East and 700 East and South Temple and 900 South as the Central City Historic District.

"It's a recognition that this is the oldest area of the city," said Norris, who lives in a house that was finished in 1912.

Her regard for her neighborhood does not surprise Mayor Palmer DePaulis. Under his direction, the city recently sent surveys to 60,000 residents asking them what their concerns were. Of the 10,064 that were returned, most said they worried about their neighborhoods - about protecting them and stopping their decline.

Salt Lake City has lost about 30,000 residents in the past 30 years. Many, particularly middle-income people with children, have chosen instead to live in the suburbs.

DePaulis said he thinks the trend is changing. "I see it going the other way," he said. "The last census seemed to show that."

He refers to the fact Salt Lake City was counted as having lost only about 2,000 residents during the 1980s - far fewer than in past decades.

"I saw that as a good sign," he said. "What we want to do is nurture that trend."

DePaulis sees basic city services, such as police and fire protection and efficient garbage pickup, as ways to do that. But he, like Norris and other city residents, also worries about the number of old, architec-turally unique houses that are being destroyed, vandalized or boarded up.

Since 1980, about 2,500 houses and apartment buildings have been demolished in Salt Lake City. As of January, 372 houses were vacant with boards over the doors and windows, according to officials from Assist Inc., a private non-profit group that provides grants for low-income people to repair their houses.

According to Jack Walters, president of the National Trust, people nationwide seem to be waking up to the historical significance of old houses and buildings.

"There simply no longer is any debate that a sense of pride in where you live has a whole lot to do with your sense of livability," said Walters, in Salt Lake City for a conference of conservationists and preservationists.

Not every central-city resident is happy with the idea of becoming part of a designated historic district. Some worry they will lose control of their property and will have to get permission from the city for every home improvement.

But Jim McPherson, a member of the board of director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said the results of a historic designation will be worth any inconveniences.

"It's a trade-off of either becoming a historic district or having a continually declining neighborhood," he said. "Over the long run, the concerns will turn themselves around. People want to move into historic neighborhoods."

The city's Planning Commission will decide March 7 whether to recommend that the neighborhood become a historic district. The city's Historical Landmark Committee gave its blessing to the idea two years ago. The final decision will be made by the City Council.

Not every building in the area would receive the designation - only those considered significant.

Norris said old-timers in the area have told her of the days when people would promenade on the grass-covered islands in the middle of the street or ride carriages on a sunny afternoon.

"There are so many charming things about this place," she said. "We see this (historical designation) as a continuing process of protecting our neighborhood."

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(Additional information)

City Decision

Two years ago, the Salt Lake City Historical Landmark Committee approved making this Central City neighborhood a historic district. The city Planning Commission will make its decision on Thursday. From there, the issue goes to the City Council.