In 1985, Mary and Curt Crowther walked up the front steps of the house on Stratford Avenue for the first time. Even as she crossed the porch, Mary noticed broken windows covered with plywood. She was sure they wouldn't buy the place.
But when Curt got inside and saw the inlay in the hardwood floors, he wanted it. He didn't care that there were holes in the walls and the roof. He didn't care that there had been a fire in the back bedroom. He promised his wife that if she could put up with five years of renovations, they'd have something nice.
And they do. And this Saturday, the Crowthers' home, known as the Claude Richards house, will be one of seven homes open to the public for the Utah Heritage Foundation's annual Historic Homes Tour.
When they bought the house, the Crowthers didn't know a thing about its history.
A few months later, Curt was working in the yard when two women drove up and introduced themselves as the daughters of Hugh B. Brown, who was, before he died, a member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This was their childhood home, the women told Crowther.
They wondered what had happened to their yard. He started to explain that he planned to pull the weeds. They laughed and said what they really meant was that someone had built houses where they had had tennis courts and a grape arbor.
This was the beginning of a friendship between the Crowthers and Brown's descendants. The next year, the Crowthers invited the Browns to hold their family reunion at the Stratford home. By way of thanks, the Browns presented the Crowthers with a little leather chair, which had been part of their family's dining room set.
As they began to restore their home, the Crowthers consulted the Utah State Historical Society, the state's Preservation Office, the Utah Heritage Foundation and others. Still, the Crowthers continue to learn details about their home. Five years ago, for example, they had a visitor who took one look at the decorative geese on the dining room fireplace and said, "Those are Rockwell tiles."
In 1997, Polly Susan Hart, a consultant, wrote a nomination to have the Highland Park subdivision put on the National Register of Historic places. In the paper, Hart describes the growth of Utah's capital city in the years surrounding World War I.
It seems that the suburbs of Salt Lake City began to be developed in 1882, when the streetcar lines were built. People could escape the coal-blackened air of downtown. They also may have wanted to escape the influx of immigrants within the city, Hart notes. Homogeneity was prized and not just in Utah. (By the time Salt Lake passed its first racially restrictive covenants in 1913, for the Dunshee brothers' Westmoreland Place development many other cities already had such codes in place.)
The Kimball & Richards Land Merchants was the largest of the early developers in Salt Lake City, Hart writes. Don Carlos Kimball and Claude Richards were prominent members of the LDS Church. Between 1908 and 1925, they platted more than 30 subdivisions. They also started a construction company and a securities company so they could finance mortgages on the homes they built.
In 1909, Kimball and Richards bought 246 acres of brush-covered land from the LDS Church. They paid $90,000 for what would be the first subdivision south of Parley's Creek. They named the place Highland Park and immediately set about trying to convince Salt Lake City fathers to annex the area because the county did not provide police or schools or garbage pickup.
In 1910, when the Sugar House Annex went through, it was 30 times larger than any area previously annexed into Salt Lake City.
Kimball and Richards laid out Highland Park in a grid, with sidewalks and tree-lined park strips, as was the style in those days. Hart explains that the "City Beautiful" style of city planning had been the rage ever since the World Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Before World War II, the word suburb meant sub-urban. People who moved out of the city wanted to live a pastoral life. They wanted a house set back from the street, with a lawn in front and a garden in back and an open field nearby.
To add to the ambience, Kimball and Richards planted 7,000 shade trees in the parkways of their new development. They also offered six peach trees with every lot purchased. To give their residents easy access to jobs downtown, the developers built an "express" streetcar. For a nickel, the trolley would take you from Highland Park to the center of Salt Lake in only 17 minutes.
For the most part, middle-class families were the ones who bought the homes in Salt Lake's first subdivisions. Hart lists the first owners in Highland Park as clerks, salesmen, bookkeepers, teachers, railroad managers and engineers.
The Highland Park homes were typical of the style being built around the country during those years. They were bungalows Prairie, Arts & Crafts, California, Colonial Revival and English Tudor.
In the beginning, Claude Richards set aside a square block for his own home. His may have been the only architect-designed house in the subdivision. He hired the firm of Dallas & Hedges to design the "eclectic" style bungalow.
According to newspaper articles of the day, the Richards home had six rooms on the main floor and four more rooms upstairs, including sleeping porches front and rear. The front hall and living room were floored in oak. The downstairs bedrooms had walnut floors. The house has a full basement, where Richards allowed the LDS Sunday School to meet until the Stratford Ward was finished.
By the time the Crowthers bought the house, "it had been trashed," says Mary. The upstairs had been turned into an apartment with an outside entrance. There was linoleum and tile, and even plaster, over some of the floors. The built-in bookshelves were gone. All the original chandeliers had been sold.They restored one area at a time, camping in various rooms while they renovated others, Mary explains. For two years, her daughter, Sarah, slept in the laundry room. Eventually, she got a pretty upstairs bedroom, complete with balcony. One payoff for her patience, her mother says, is that Sarah got used to the noise of a washing machine. Now, if she ever has trouble sleeping, she knows she can nod right off to the sound of a rinse cycle.
If you go
What: Utah Heritage Foundation's 32nd annual Historic Homes Tour
When: Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Seven historic homes along Stratford Ave. (2580 South) near 1400 East
How much: $15 general admission, $10 foundation members; purchase tickets in advance by phone or on Saturday at tour headquarters, Stratford Ave. (2580 South) and Beverly St. (1380 East)Phone: 533-0858
E-MAIL: [email protected]