The United States has many historic places that can be considered links to the past, places that help us remember our past and honor the people who shaped our nation. California has its famous historic bungalows of the 1920’s; Newport, Rhode Island has its famous historic mansions once occupied by wealthy bankers, politicians and industrial barons; and The New England area has perfectly clapboarded Cape Cod Colonial homes. These are some of the better known historic places that come to mind but there are also many wonderful places right here in Utah. When people talk about Utah and history most tend to think of Mormon Pioneers and Pioneer Era settlements, but Utah also has a rich and varied post Pioneer history in some beautiful neighborhoods and one of those sparkling gems is Yalecrest.
Yalecrest, also known as “Harvard/Yale” is a residential neighborhood located on the East Bench of Salt Lake City, eight blocks to the south and thirteen blocks to the east of the downtown area of the city. The boundaries are 800 South (south side) to 1300 South (north side) and 1300 East (east side) to 1900 East (west side). It is a remarkably visually cohesive neighborhood with the majority of the houses built in subdivisions of period revival-style cottages in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Yalecrest neighborhood is locally significant both architecturally and historically for its association with the residential development of the east bench of Salt Lake City by real estate developers and builders in the first half of the twentieth century. Its tract period revival cottages which were smaller and more modest homes coupled with subdivisions of larger homes for the more well-to-do represent the boom and optimism of the 1920s and 1930s in Salt Lake City. The neighborhood is also significant for its intact architectural homogeneity. It was built out quickly with 22 subdivisions platted from 1910 to 1938 containing houses that reflect the popular styles of the era, largely period revival cottages in English Tudor and English Cottage styles. The architectural variety and concentration of period cottages found in Yalecrest is unrivalled in the state and examples from Yalecrest are used to illustrate period revival styles in the statewide architectural style manual. The subdivisions were platted and built by the prominent architects and developers responsible for early twentieth century east side Salt Lake City development and who shaped the patterns of growth of the east bench of Salt Lake City.
The National Historic Register has noted that the architecture of Yalecrest is remarkable for the concentration of fine period revival style houses; seventy four percent were built from 1920-1939. These houses exhibit a variety of period revival styles with the largest portion being English Tudor and English Cottage styles. There is a district of small cottage homes, located from 1500 to 1600 East on Princeton and Laird Avenues that was for the most part constructed by Samuel Campbell; Princeton in 1924 and Laird in 1925. He built primarily on speculation and many of the houses served as rentals to middle class tenants before being sold. There is also a section of Yalecrest that is above 18th East that was developed later in the century and features post-war cottages reflecting the economic boom of WW II that pulled this country out of a great depression.
Anyone who would happen upon Yalecrest today would say it is a grand beauty and yes it has aged well. The trees have fully matured providing a beautiful and magnificent streetscape that cloaks the streets in a canopy of shade. The charming homes perfectly aligned with consistent setbacks, manicured lawns and glorious gardens tell a tale of the grace with which Yalecrest was built and has endured over time, that which makes Yalecrest a desirable community to live in. Unfortunately, the last few years have not been without a few blemishes in the way of demolitions, large mansion style rebuilds and out of character remodels. This trend of the destruction of existing homes, incompatible remodels and new development by developers, those without a vested interest in the community, looking only to maximize profits is the biggest threat that Yalecrest faces today. How will Yalecrest age into the future or will there by a future for Yalecrest? There may not be if the demolitions, mansion rebuilds and out of character remodels continue.
Yalecrest is an eclectic collection of homes, architecturally interesting, charming homes as most would say, old homes as some would say. Big homes, little homes, all different types of homes and that’s where the real value of Yalecrest lies—in its wide variety of homes that cater to different walks of life. There are sections or what were built out as subdivisions of different sizes and styles of homes. Noticeably there are larger, fancier homes—homes that were originally built for the more well-to-do, there are middle size homes and there are also smaller homes, cottages, modest period-revival Tudors and bungalows—homes that were originally built for a middle-class clientele. In our current culture of bigger, better and MORE, it is these smaller and more modest homes that are the ones most vulnerable to demolition, new development and out of character remodels. They are not large or showy, some more simple than others, all unique in their own way with their own stories to tell, more importantly they are the most affordable starter homes in Yalecrest, homes that allow a large variety of people from empty nesters and single people to small families to live in Yalecrest. As some would like to say “what makes a neighborhood great the people or the homes?” It definitively has to be both, as one cannot thrive without the other. What draw the people to Yalecrest are the charming homes, magnificent streetscapes and unique architecture and in turn the people drawn to it make a vibrant community.
Is Yalecrest destined to be a neighborhood of $1,000,000+ homes, available only for an elite few? Can it stay true to its roots and remain a vibrant neighborhood for a mix of varying degrees of people, able to accommodate all sizes of families, a neighborhood that can age well into the future? And so we must ask “Why Preserve Yalecrest?” And what exactly does preservation mean? A textbook definition would be “to keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged” what most people think of when they hear the word preservation. But we don’t live our daily lives by a textbook definition and the same can be said about preservation. Does preserving a neighborhood stop progress? Certainly not, as with all things in life neighborhoods move ahead, progress, go forward. People die, new people move in, babies are born—they grow up and leave, return with their own families, people move away, and through all of this homes are remodeled and changed, it is an ever revolving door. Preservation does not freeze a time in place, rather it is a means to hold together that which is most cherished, valuable and sustainable for future generations. It allows for places to evolve in an orderly and well thought out manner while providing a path for the future and future generations who strive to call Yalecrest home, by honoring the past, the vision of those who have gone before us and by cherishing the past souls who breathed life into Yalecrest and made it the beautiful community that it is today.
Please join with K.E.E.P. Yalecrest in its endeavors of educating people about the value of preservation and protections for Yalecrest so that it can remain a gem of Salt Lake City and a community accessible to many.