Utah Stories

Salt Lake Architecture – It’s All A Facade

Urban Architecture’s Eclectic Elements


Mixed design elements give the Sampson building a visually interesting facade. Photos by Paige Wiren

Apartment buildings were built beautiful back in the day. If form was to follow function, then the function was to create a unique and eye-catching residence.

In the first three decades of the 20th century, over 180 apartment buildings were constructed in Salt Lake, many of them still in use in the near-east side of downtown.  They include three-story structures with names such as Peter Pan, Lorna Doone, Ivanhoe and Ruby. Almost all are either a walk-up or a double-loaded corridor building type, and some are listed in the National Register for Historic Places. The facades of these architectural treasures are an eclectic mix of early 20th-century design features,and these distinctive structures not only connect us to the city’s past, but also add visual interest to the streetscape,

BROADWAY1Architects and builders blended Revivalist elements to create a building’s unique character, the details of which are interesting to note. For example, the Sampson and Altadena buildings on 300 E/300 S have commanding pedimented entrances, an architectural term which refers to the weighty decorative gable supported by modest columns. The Ruby, located at 435 E/200 S, has columned porches with wooden balustrades. Sister properties Lorna Doone and Annie Laurie on 100 S in the 300 East block showcase Tudor-style entrances and facades decorated with lion medallions and gargoyles. The nearby Ashby apartment building features three different types of bricks in its varicolored exterior.

Apartments dwellers typically were middle-class folk, married with no children, single or widowed. Sometimes the building’s owners lived in one of the apartments, as did Octavius and Eunice Sampson. Active members of the First Church of Christ, Scientist (now called the Christian Science Church), the couple wanted to live near their church located just east of their dual Samson and Altadena properties on 300 S and 300 E.

Learning about these buildings’ architectural elements allows the curious pedestrian to identify the Ivanhoe’s bay windows, the contrasting quoins on the corners of the Armista, the Sampson’s stylized keystone detail, the hint of Spanish roof tile topping the Peter Pan, or the Silverado’s columned porches capped by gabled roofs. And modern city residents can piggyback on the previous century’s urban expansion by taking up residence in one of these historic flats. The price, however, may have increased a bit since 1927, when tenants in the newly-constructed Armista Apartments could rent “Splendid three-room apartments, equipped with electric ranges and electric refrigeration” for $40-42 a month.


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