Fairpark Community

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29th LDS Ward House: 100 Years

by Steve Johnson, Fairpark Community Council Chair

Photo1910This photo, taken around 1910, shows an isolated church in a bare field with a dirt road to the side. This early image of the 29th LDS Ward House shows a building that is, today, the vacant, boarded up Ward House we see at 1102 West 400 North.

Construction of the building began one hundred years ago, 1904, to provide a place of worship and social activities for the 29th LDS ward, organized in 1902.

As stated in the 1982 application to have the building listed in the Salt Lake City Register for Cultural Resources, “The twenty-ninth ward served as an entertainment and social activities hub for the northwest community, which was undeveloped and scattered until the early 1950s.”

This role was demonstrated with the 1925 construction of a wing that included a recreation room and the 1926 purchase of two 35-millimeter film projectors. As stated in the 1982 application, with this purchase “the ward became a particular focus for entertainment, especially during the Depression years….”

By the early 1980s, the building was vacant; its role as an LDS Ward House had ended.

The vacant Ward House returned to serving the community when the LDS Church donated it to house the New Hope Multicultural Center. The New Hope Center was established in 1985 by Betty North – a long-time volunteer who worked with refugees. Her vision of the center was one of a place where refugees, many of them living in what is now the Fairpark Community, could get food assistance, clothing, and household items. Old Sunday school rooms were now sites for English as a second language and other classes on skills to help refugees integrate into Utah society.

In September 1986, just one month shy of its first year anniversary, the organization experienced a serious set-back when a fire damaged several rooms and the materials in them. Betty North vowed to keep programs going, and she did; but the fire damage added to people’s realization that the cost of operating and maintaining the old building was going to be a major challenge.

This old Ward House did more than just house the New Hope Multicultural Center. For a number of years, it was the headquarters of the Wasatch Fish and Garden Program – today’s Wasatch Community Gardens. Back then, the organization focused on several large community gardens and ran the fish co-op. A couple of times a month, the parking lot would fill with people, mostly refugees, holding buckets. When it was their turn, live carp that had been netted in Utah Lake, would be scooped up from large tanks and poured into each person’s bucket.

For several years, it was the first Westside location for a Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) food program clinic.

And 29th Ward House again became a place of worship as several refugee groups conducted church services in their own languages, continuing the religious practices they had left in their homelands.

The Ward House recreation hall also provided space for dances, celebrations of holidays observed in home countries and other social events.

With the involvement of many volunteers, the donation of food and household supplies, especially from the LDS Church, and small grants, the New Hope Multicultural Center continued to serve the community’s refugee populations well into the 1990s.

In the end, many of the services offered by the New Hope Multicultural Center were being provided by other organizations receiving government grants. The burden of keeping the old Ward House functioning was also simply overwhelming the organization’s finances. As a result, in the 1990s, the 29th Ward House became vacant once again and the property remained owned by Salt Lake City.

It also appears that the 29th Ward House’s story might not yet be over. As noted elsewhere, the City is hoping to change the property’s zoning designation from R-1/7000 (residential) to R-MU-35 (mixed use – commercial and residential). The City is also preparing an application to have the building listed in the National Historic Registry.

According to the City, both of the above actions are intended to make the building more attractive to developers.

Fairpark Community residents should plan to attend the public hearing on December 4th and contribute to the next chapter of the 29th Ward House.

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