Sunday, November 4, 2012

Historic Downtown Provo... but for how long?

I love downtown Provo.  I think that has a great charm and is really fun and entertaining to walk around.  However, if I currently have one major issue with downtown Provo, it is the dramatic rate at which historic buildings are being demolished.  I wanted to address some of Provo's architectural gems that have been lost over the last couple of years.

The first is the Hotel Roberts.  The hotel Roberts was built in 1882 on the corner of 200 S and University Ave.  For several years, Hotel Roberts was the center of social life in Provo.  Between 1900 and 1926, the hotel went through several renovations and additions which gave it the mission-style look it retained throughout the rest of the century. In 1919 the hotel was purchased by Mark Anderson and remained in the family until 1995.  In 1995, the hotel was sold due to the high cost of upkeep.  The hotel was purchased by Jo Ann and Scott Mills who had the intent to restore it.  However, due to a lack of investors, profound structural and water damage, and being a locale for transients, the Provo city condemned the building and demolished it in 2004.  Here is what it originally looked like (it didn't get the mission style look until 1926, which is why it looks different in the first photo) and what it looked like with the mission style exterior:

Courtesy of the Provo City Library

 Courtesy of the Provo City Library

Since its demolition, the lot has stood empty.  Here is what it currently looks like:

The LDS church recently purchased this block in order to do some type of visitors center or other type of development in relation with the Provo tabernacle which is being restored as a temple.  While it is nice to see some going in at the vacant lot, it would have been wonderful to somehow include the old historic building in the new design.  For more pictures of the Hotel Roberts, click here.

Next on the list is the St. Francis Catholic Church.  The church was constructed between 1923 and 1936 and is the only know mission style structure in Provo City (Hotel Roberts does not count because it was not originally constructed as in the mission style).  In 2000, the parish moved to Orem in hopes of selling the property, and use the money to build a new church.  That seemed possible in 2007 when a developer offered to buy the property if allowed to demolish it and replace it with condos.  The one problem was that the building needed to be removed from the Provo's historic registrar, which prevented its demolition.  The city voted 4-1 in favor of the new condo project, the building was subsequently demolished, and the developer eventually pulled out.  Now citizens in Provo are left with an empty lot and Utah Valley Catholics are still worshiping in a basketball gym in Orem where they have been located since 2000.  Here is what St. Francis looked like before demolition and what it looks like today:

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Googlemaps

Next is the Kress Building.  I have looked for a long time and have always struggled finding information on the Kress Building, when or why it was built.  It was located on the corner of 100 W and Center Street.  A few years back, Nu Skin presented a proposal to build a large addition to their office building.  The addition would come at the cost of five historical buildings, including the Kress Building and the Firmage Building, in addition to closing 100 West between Center Street and 100 S.  Once again, Provo City Council had to take these buildings off the historical register in order for them to be demolished.  The Council voted to take them off, stating that the large amount of changes to the facade of the Kress and Firmage Buildings over the years had resulted in them no longer being historical.  Here is a picture of the buildings, the Kress Building during demolition, and what the new addition will look like:

Courtesy of the Utah Heritage Foundation.  As a reference, the Firmage Building is where Bio Medics is located and the Kress Building is the large three story building between the Firmage Building and Nu Skin's office tower

I really like the old lettering that you can see in the middle of this photo.  The 'ess' of 'Kress' is visible over what was the door.

Photo courtesy of Nu Skin 

Photo courtesy of Nu Skin  

Photo courtesy of Nu Skin 

If you would like to watch a video of the demolition of the Kress Building, click here.

Continuing on down Center Street, you will notice two additional holes, one at where Lloyd's Business Machines stood and the other at the Roasted Artichoke Building.  Here are pictures of what they looked like before:

Photo courtesy of googlemaps 

Photo courtesy of googlemaps 

Both buildings were demolished because they were dilapidated.  In their places stands dirt lots.  In addition to these two, a large section of Center west of Freedom (where Atchafalaya was located) was demolished to make room for the new convention center.

While the historic nature of downtown Provo could be an excellent asset, Provo is currently treating it like a burden.  The Utah Heritage Foundation wrote an excellent article on the subject.  It seems that Provo City and developers are attempting any way possible to remove buildings from the historic registrar, whether that be allowing them to be altered and thus no longer historic, allowing them to fall apart, or simply demolishing them to build the next big thing.  

I understand the need for progress and totally support it.  However, progress and preservation do not need to be competing entities, as they currently are in downtown Provo.  I find it saddening that so many historic buildings are being demolished for the next shiny building, when there are so many empty lots and parking lots around downtown where a new building could just as easily be built.  I hope that in the future, preservation and progress will be able to work together and Provo will keep its historic charm.


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  2. Hi Chad,

    My name is Romy and am a college student at the Y. Having grown up my entire life in Provo, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your documentation of Provo's history. It breaks my heart to see it torn down so readily. Is there anything we can do to defend it? How might we get involved in preserving our past?

    Thanks again!

  3. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your documentation of Provo's history.