Main Streets 2017: Utah
From the historic Union Pacific Depot at one end to the University of Utah campus at the other, South Temple Street is an 18-block landmark of Western history and architecture. “The street encompasses everything from a mature tree-lined, mixed use district with historic homes, churches, commercial services, and retail establishments to the city’s central business area and downtown,” notes the American Planning Association, which has named South Temple one of its Great Streets in America.
Impressive and well-preserved along South Temple are Mormon and Masonic temples, a Catholic cathedral, a Protestant church, mansions built in a variety of styles by the city’s 19th century mining elite, and impressive headquarters of local groups and clubs. Today, the broad avenue is lined with mature shade trees, vintage sandstone sidewalks, carriage steps, hitching posts and streetcar poles turned into lampposts.
This street’s story begins with the “Plat of Zion,” a vision for a planned city drafted in 1833 by Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints. LDS President Brigham Young built his home on what would become South Temple, soon after the Mormons arrived in this valley in 1847.
But the street remained a rutted, rural dirt road until the late 19th century, when Utah’s mining boom brought great wealth to a number of families who built 40 finely made mansions along South Temple. “Hoping to share in the prestige of their fabulously rich neighbors, successful businessmen constructed grand homes on the east end of the street,” relates a walking-tour guide for the street by the Utah Heritage Foundation.
The mid-20th century brought a time of struggle and loss to South Temple, as changes in zoning laws and a demand for commercial development helped to bring about the demolition of 30 of the original mansions. But when citizens demanded that the avenue be protected, Salt Lake City made South Temple Utah’s first historic district in 1975, and in 1982, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the street is home to some 39 historic buildings. And those treasures combine with the avenue’s expansive width, shade trees, bike lanes and well-preserved details like the sidewalks and lampposts to make South Temple a fine, rewarding avenue to explore.
Photo Credits (L-R): John Benwell, VXLA, Chuck Peterson