Once known for being an ultra-religious Mormon stronghold and not much else, Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City, is having a moment. As it slowly sheds its teetotaling, conservative past, SLC is becoming a destination for craft beer, arthouse movies, and coffeehouse culture. But Salt Lake City also has a rich and compelling history, and its pioneers played a major role in the westward expansion of the United States. Read on to learn more about this dichotomous—yet somehow harmonious—city by the Great Salt Lake.
1. THE MARMALADE DISTRICT
Just north of downtown, on Salt Lake City’s Capitol Hill, you’ll find the Marmalade Hill Historic District, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. They’ve laid on the charm here, with Italianate, Carpenter Gothic, and Russian-influenced architecture sprinkled throughout. It’s also one of Salt Lake City’s LGBT-friendly neighborhoods, along with the avenues just to the east. The Marmalade District got its adorable name thanks to the names of its streets, some of which are named after fruits, themselves referencing the orchards once planted there by the city’s founders. (The 19th century pioneers who settled Utah were big on preserves, understandably—such as marmalade.) Fruit-themed streets in the Marmalade District that have survived to the present day Quince Street, Almond Street, and West Apricot Avenue.
2. SUGAR HOUSE
Sugar House Park. Image credit: Edgar Zuniga Jr. via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Another one of the city’s oldest districts is Sugar House, established in 1853. Not long after its founding, the Deseret Manufacturing Company set up shop in an old smithy in the neighborhood, aiming to avoid the high cost of importing sugar to the Utah Territory from the Midwest by processing beets into refined sugar. The construction of the factory was plagued by delays, and when it was finally finished, the machinery didn’t actually work. The building was converted into a paper mill in 1856.
But the name Sugar House, suggested by the mayor’s wife, stuck, and subsequent building projects were also christened with it, including the now-defunct Sugar House Prison and later the Sugar House Park that replaced it. When the neighborhood’s Sprague Library was dedicated in 1928, Mayor John F. Bowman suggested at the ceremony that Sugar House be rebranded as "South East Salt Lake City." His idea was rejected.
3. AGRICULTURAL PARK
In 1902, the Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star reported that “The Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society of Utah … now proposes to hold all State fairs at the Agricultural park on the western outskirts of Salt Lake City. A $30,000 permanent building will be erected in the spring.” This fair had begun in 1856 as an “agricultural sermon” intended to “encourage the production of articles from the native elements in Utah Territory,” and was held irregularly in various offices and LDS meeting houses until the legislature bought the aforementioned agricultural park—known thereafter as the Fairpark. (Records for an early incarnation of the fair show that it awarded prizes for best boar, best pair of woolen hose, best six brooms, best map of Utah, best shoelaces, best penmanship, best fall pear, and best sweet potato, among other categories.)
Folks mostly refer to the whole area as Fairpark now, but some real estate types still use its earlier name—Agricultural Park—to talk about a select triangle of Fairpark southwest of the Jordan River and down to North Temple and Redwood Road. The city limits have expanded since 1902, of course; no longer on the city’s outskirts, the Fairpark neighborhood now sits roughly in the center of SLC. By the way, the $30,000 building mentioned in the Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star article—a mix of Beaux Arts and Mission styles known as the Horticulture Building until it was renamed Promontory Hall in 1977—still stands at the entrance of the Fairpark.
4. THE GRANARY DISTRICT
Once an industrial area, the emerging Granary District is named for its colossal grain silos, which served the area’s once-numerous flour mills in a past life. Left to decay for decades after the rail lines moved west, the neighborhood has benefited from a recent redesign campaign, and it’s become a haven for artists and entrepreneurs who’re attracted to its gritty personality. These days, the Granary District is better known for its indie breweries , hip coffee shops, and Granary Row, an annual street festival that comprises a beer garden, food trucks, and pop-up shops housed in shipping containers.
5. EMIGRATION OAKS
Although it sits just outside of Salt Lake City proper, abutting the city’s northeastern border, Emigration Oaks and the adjacent Emigration Canyon play an important part in SLC’s history. The small township takes its name from a 18-square-mile swath of woods, which itself is so named for the emigrants who passed through it and the canyon in the 1840s. These included both the Mormons and the ill-fated Donner-Reed Party that forged a route across Emigration Canyon, en route to California, a year before Brigham Young and his pioneers led their own wagon trains through the rocky terrain. (Nearby Donner Hill is named for the groups’ leader, George Donner; they climbed it afer having given up on the canyon, a decision that may have doomed the group.)
Young himself would later lead between 60,000 and 70,000 more Mormons from the Midwest to the Salt Lake Valley through this region—Mormons who, in turn, built around 400 settlements, including Salt Lake City. Today, the area is known both for its tony new mansions and its offbeat vintage architecture, such as the Pink Garage—once the supposed gangster hideout of Prohibition-era bootlegger Cleveland Bunnell Lester.
6. PEOPLE’S FREEWAY
Edgar Zuniga Jr. via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Located just south of downtown Salt Lake City, People’s Freeway is sort of like the southern half of the Granary District—or perhaps it’s the Granary that seems to be rising out of a portion of People’s Freeway. This neighborhood is known for its affordability, its mass transit, and, unsurprisingly, its easy access to the freeway, with I-15 forming its western boundary and two major freeway entrances within its borders. It’s also got great old diners and dive bars—as well as Smith’s Ballpark, which hosts minor league and university baseball games.
Like the Marmalade District, the Harvard-Yale neighborhood is another SLC district known for both its architectural jewels and themed street names. Also called Yalecrest, the area features streets named for Ivy League universities, such as Princeton, Yale, and Harvard Avenues. The neighborhood’s homes are largely from the late 1800s and early 1900s, with English Cottage and English Tudor styles featured prominently. The area was once used as farmland by Salt Lake City’s early settlers and is overwhelmingly residential today, having served as a home base for many LDS church leaders, business executives, and the well-to-do in general. The whole district has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007, although a single home within Yalecrest—a Prairie School-style bungalow formerly belonging to 8th LDS president George Albert Smith—has held its own spot on the National Register since 1993.
8. WASATCH HOLLOW
Located in southeast Salt Lake City, the community of Wasatch Hollow is named for a valley—or hollow—created by the Wasatch Mountains, which stand over the city from the east. The Wasatch Range itself is named after a Ute (a local Native American people) word meaning "mountain pass" or "low pass over high range.” Established in the 1920s, the neighborhood is mainly residential, although the “15th & 15th” business district boasts several popular restaurants. (“Wasatch Hollow” and “15th & 15th” are sometimes used interchangeably.)
9. ROSE PARK
Rose Park’s name isn’t terribly imaginative, but involves a cute story. In the 1940s, the area’s developer set out to realize his vision of a neighborhood laid out (vaguely) in the shape of a rose, with short residential streets curving around one another like petals. The main street, American Beauty Drive, was supposed to make it a long-stemmed rose. The dedication to this idea was so intense that all the houses’ roofs originally had either red or green shingles. One the most ethnically diverse areas in the state, Rose Park is in full bloom these days after a period of economic depression, and Salt Lakers appreciate its affordable real estate prices, huge community garden, and excellent Latin food. The layout has grown and changed since the ‘40s and isn’t really shaped like a rose anymore, but the idea is preserved in the names of the streets, which are different varieties of roses: Capistrano, Topaz, and Nocturne, to name a few.
Primary image via iStock.