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Gilmer Park: 2004 Historic Homes Tour

Thursday, 25 February 2010 14:48
houseGilmerIn December 2000, Money Magazine picked Salt Lake City as a "best place to live." And what is the best neighborhood in this best city? According to the magazine, it's Gilmer Park. However much value one place on such designations by national publications, this one is a nice tribute to the enduring beauty and grace of Gilmer Park. A more persuasive expression of this historic neighborhood's appeal is the surprising number of families who have made their homes here over multiple generations. Once people move to Gilmer Park, it's hard to get them to leave.  Among the reasons why Utah Heritage Foundation held our 2004 Historic Homes Tour there on May 15.

Much of the appeal of Gilmer Park derives from the skill and sensitivity applied to the design of the neighborhood. Gilmer Park was one of the first subdivisions in Salt Lake City developed with curving streets. This layout, considered very progressive at the time, was intended to give the neighborhood a rural feeling and to make driving pleasurable. Even today, Gilmer Drive's curves are a notable deviation from Salt Lake City's grid.

The inspiration for the curving streets is attributed to Taylor Woolley, a prominent local architect who participated in Gilmer Park's development. Woolley apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1900s and developed an appreciation for landscape architecture. Woolley's design for the Alpine Place section of Gilmer Park features curving streets and lots with deep setbacks. It is unknown whether Woolley laid out the other curving streets in the subdivision, but his influence is apparent.

Before it became the Gilmer Park Subdivision, this area was the Gilmer family's estate. John T. and Mary E. Gilmer purchased the land between 900 South and Yale Avenue, and 1100 East and 1400 East in 1888. John Gilmer was a successful mining operator, government mail contractor, and a partner in the Gilmer and Salisbury Overland Stage Company. Mary Gilmer was a local leader in the women's suffrage movement and helped found the Ladies Literary Club and Sarah Daft Home for the Aged.

In 1889, the Gilmers built a home near the corner of 900 South and 1100 East. In 1899, Mary Gilmer leased the house and property to the newly-organized Salt Lake Country Club. The Gilmer House became the clubhouse and the surrounding land was used as a golf course. The Salt Lake Country Club moved to its Forest Dale location in 1907 and the Gilmer House was demolished and replaced by new homes in the 1920s.

Mary Gilmer and her son, Jay T. Gilmer, organized the Gilmer Realty Company and filed subdivision plats for a portion of Gilmer Park in 1909. Although a few homes were built after 1914, the majority of development in the subdivision occurred between 1921 and 1930. Well-known local developers, including Kimball & Richards Company and the Ashton-Jenkins Company, played a major role in building and promoting Gilmer Park.

Numerous ads appeared in Salt Lake newspapers extolling Gilmer Park's natural beauty, advantageous location, reasonable lot prices, "high-class improvements," and regulations to protect against undesirable surroundings. Several Kimball & Richards ads also played to parental guilt and visions of the ideal home:

Do your little boy and girl have all the outdoor freedom to which they are entitled? Are your home surroundings all that you desire? What about your children's playmates? Do you live near good schools? Are you away from the downtown smoke?

When building a home, think first of your wife and children and of their permanent happiness. If you build in Gilmer Park, you will always have a REAL home, where you and your family will enjoy every comfort and convenience. Such a home is the birthplace of individual ideas – the foundation of citizenship – the greatest of character builders.

Whether due to successful marketing or the charm of the neighborhood, many prominent Salt Lake City residents chose to live in Gilmer Park. The neighborhood has been home to leaders in politics, business, medicine, religion, law, and the arts. For example, Governor Herbert Maw lived at 1212 Yale Avenue. Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, built a house at 998 Douglas Street. Maurice Warshaw, the founder of Grand Central Stores, resided at 1270 Yale Avenue.

Three important Salt Lake City architects lived in Gilmer Park on 900 South between 1200 and 1300 East, earning this section of 900 South the nickname "Architects Row." Taylor Woolley lived at 1222 East 900 South from 1918 until his death in 1965. His brother-in-law and partner, Clifford P. Evans, resided at 1299 East 900 South. And Harold W. Burton of the firm Pope and Burton lived at 1226 East 900 South.

Rich in history and architecture, Gilmer Park is one of Salt Lake City's best-preserved historic neighborhoods. In recognition of its significance to the city, Gilmer Park was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Gilmer Park residents continue to value the well-planned layout, lovely landscaping, and beautiful homes that give the neighborhood its distinct sense of place. Utah Heritage Foundation thanks all the residents of Gilmer Park for helping preserve a wonderful piece of Salt Lake City's heritage.