Salt Lake Modern | New School

4/10/2014 | Amy Tibbals
Kirk Huffaker


According to one of Salt Lake Modern's founding members, Lewis Francis, the stylistic rules of architecture are a lot like the stylistic rules of, well, everything else. “There’s a certain amount of time that passes when something becomes interesting. It doesn’t just become ‘old’,” says Lewis. “It becomes ‘vintage’. Like when you start digging into your father’s record collection.”

A member of the Utah Heritage Foundation’s SL Modern committee himself, our cool cap'n, Cody, invited Lewis down to the COLLECTIVE HQ for some good old-fashioned cabernet and casual convo. The gents talked all things modern, what makes SLC so solid, and the committee’s recent field trip to L.A., which included our fave mid-century-modern guru, Ron Green, and thee founding father of SL Modern, Kirk Huffaker, a.k.a. the Executive Director of the UT Heritage Foundation and cityhomeCOLLECTIVE real-life hero.

For those unfamiliar, members of the SL Modern committee are dedicated to doing to our local buildings something that all of us wish our parents had done with their old clothes -- they save them until they’re cool again. “The Prudential Building is a perfect example,” explains Lewis. “To a lot of people, that was just an old building. But to the people who know [architect] William Pereira, it was amazing. When it’s gone, everyone will look at pictures and say, ‘How did they ever tear that down?’” So was the case, says Lewis, with the old Louis Sullivan-designed Dooly building [which stood where now stands the Shiloh Inn on 200 S. West Temple]. “When they tore it down [in 1965], that was the impetus for the Utah Heritage Foundation to really start to look at historical preservation.”

According to Lewis, the amount of time it takes for something to go through the cycle of new to old to vintage is approximately 50 years. “Right before 50 years, stuff just looks old,” says Lewis. “It doesn’t necessarily look cool. It’s like there’s a tipping point. I mean, the people on the vanguard can see classic architecture no matter what stage it’s in. But to the general public, they’re just like, ‘That’s an old, used building.’ Some of Salt Lake’s choicest “old, used” buildings? The First Security building [now the Ken Garff building] and IBM building on South Temple, and the JC Penney building on State St., to name a few. It’s that magical, 50-year sweet spot that makes us fall head over heels with the many delectable mid-century moderns sprinkled throughout the valley. “The older generations were more interested in bungalow or Victorian [styles], because those were 50 years behind them,” explains Lewis. Think: vintage vintage.

As an avant-garde style of design, the mid-mod movement runs rampant in the hills of Los Angeles, making it a plum perfect destination for the committee’s 2014 enterprise, which is documented beautifully by Mr. Huffaker in the photos below. ModCom -- The Los Angeles Conservancy’s answer to SL Modern -- has been safeguarding the stellar architecture that So Cal is known for an astounding 30 years. But we in SLC needn’t be intimidated by these big leaguers. “Certainly per capita we have greater support, I would say, in Salt Lake than they do in LA,” Lewis reports. “They obviously have a lot more buildings, but I think we’ve been really effective in the last five years, as far as really getting people into showcasing architecture and making those buildings important.”

So what makes the Salty City so rad? As Lewis states, “the evidence is in the architecture”. Perhaps it’s the fact that we boast bungalows, mid-mods, and pretty Victorians all in a row. It’s the juxtaposition of these disparate [yet, in their day, equally cutting-edge] design styles that prompts a reminder that “there were cutting edge people doing cool things here 50 years ago.” Innovative architecture from any era, according to Lewis, “gives you a sense, not only of history, but of belonging. It’s like, you’re not the first freak in Salt Lake.”

Still not getting why Salt Lakers are getting so gung-ho over the preservation of our modern architecture? Perhaps it’s that people -- particularly here in Zion -- have always “wanted to think of themselves as being more modern or more cool,” notes Lewis. “This isn’t your grandpa’s Salt Lake anymore.” True enough. The fact is, this is our city, and perhaps it’s high-damn-time we all took a little bit of accountability when it comes to the things that we allow to be erased from our historical chalkboard. Think of this as a call to action from our past, present, and future brothers of the beehive. The time has come, sayeth Lewis, “for the next generation to make this theirs.” Yes, yes, y'all. Email us to join the crusade and learn more about modernism in the Salty City.

Salt Lake Modern | cityhomeCOLLECTIVE/mid-mod

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