Text and Photographs by Lisa-Michele Church
Salt Lake City contains many beautiful examples of early twentieth-century apartment buildings constructed to house a growing urban population. With whimsical names such as Piccadilly, Peter Pan or Waldorf, these buildings beckoned to Utahns interested in a new approach to residential life. Apartments became places of beginnings and endings for the young couple starting out, a single woman with her first job, an immigrant family new to the area, or a widow no longer able to care for her home. Apartments were a stage on which the rest of your life came into view. As one resident put it, “You moved in with a suitcase, and out with a truck.”
The buildings were designed with style and architectural flair. Residents could enjoy amenities such as electric stoves, night watchmen, elegant entryways, and, for some, Murphy “disappearing” beds. Local families, including the Coveys, Downings, and Sampsons, constructed many of the complexes. Monthly rents ranged from $30 to $50. The last of the distinctive buildings was built in the 1930s; after World War II, people preferred cozy bungalows in the suburbs. But about half of the original 180 apartment houses are still standing as a vivid illustration of the boldness with which Salt Lake City entered the twentieth century.
The following photo gallery features a few of these buildings. Download a self-guided walking tour brochure to see the historic apartments buildings at your own pace.
Pauline. The Pauline was built at 278 East 100 South in 1904. This is a “walk up” design where each apartment has its own entrance landing and balcony. Note the cut sandstone foundation, iron railing balconies, and brick details.
The Woodruff, located at 235 South 200 East, was built in 1908 and contained 51 units. The building advertised to “young men looking for desirable apartments close to their work.” There was a café, The building featured steam heat, hot water, telephone, gas range, a dresser, buffet, and Murphy bed. Tenants had the option of choosing the color of their walls. A night watchman and janitor were assigned to the apartment, and a café was an added amenity to residents.
Note the lovely lamp posts, now gone, and the bold entrance. Abraham Gross and his wife, Vera, were typical residents in the 1930s, living in unit 60 and raising their young son, Jerome. Abe and Vera were Polish immigrants; he worked as a cattle buyer. When Abe was killed tragically in a 1935 train accident, Vera and Jerome moved out and the apartment stood vacant for two years.
The Altadena, at 310 South 300 East, was built in 1905 at a cost of $21,000 by the Octavius Sampson family. The Sampsons originally named it Vivian Flats but changed the name a few years later to match that of their baby daughter. Typical residents included sisters, Annette and Martha Rustad, Norwegian immigrants who worked as seamstresses in Salt Lake department stores. They lived at the Altadena for many years; neither ever married.
The entrance doors at the Altadena are especially detailed. Both buildings feature pediments, Tuscan columns, dentillated cornices and accented cornerstones.
The Sampson building is at 276 East 300 South, around the corner from the Altadena. It contained seven “walk up” units. The Altadena and Sampson Apartments are almost identical plans. Both buildings have red brick, white trim, substantial balconies, and oak doors. One luxury item was an elevator at the back of the building.
The Elise, at 561 East 100 South, features a massive columned entrance with decorative iron railings and balconies.
The detail on the Elise columns is striking. The building was built in 1914 and contains eight “walk up” units.
The Hillcrest is located at 155 East First Avenue and was built in 1915. It joined other apartment buildings financed by the Covey family, including the Covey Flats (now LaFrance), Buckingham, Kensington, New Hillcrest, and Covey. All were built by W.C.A. Vissing, a popular apartment contractor of the time and member of the Covey family.
The u-shaped court of the Buckingham (241 East South Temple) is echoed in the other Covey-designed buildings. All were carefully landscaped with generous courtyards and flower beds.
The Ruby, at 435 East 200 South, was built in 1912. It contains 21 “walk up” units and beautiful wood framed doors and windows. The detailed brick work is also remarkable.
One resident of the Ruby, Sadie Baldwin, worked as a dressmaker earning $720 per year in 1940. Sadie was a young widow with three children to raise.
The Embassy was built at 130 South 300 East in 1926. It contains 31 units using a double-loaded corridor plan where each room opens off a central corridor, and few have balconies. This plan type was a particularly efficient use of Salt Lake City’s deep lots, and was common in the buildings built after World War I. It is currently called the Pauline Downs.
Most early apartment buildings used bold signs to attract attention and convey style. The Embassy sign is no exception. The Embassy was built, along with two adjacent apartment buildings, by Bessie P. Downing and her husband, Hardy. Hardy was a famous tandem bike racer and boxing promoter. Bessie lived in this building and managed it until Hardy’s passing.
The Embassy Arms was a little fancier than the Embassy, with its French door balconies and elaborate stone entrance. It was built by the Downings next to the Embassy, at 120 South 300 East, in 1930. Note the stone “D” over the sign; it was originally named the Downing Deluxe.
These French door balconies were unusual in a double loaded corridor plan. Note the brickwork and stone accents.
The Spencer Stewart, at 740 East 300 South, was built in 1926 and included 29 units. It was advertised in the 1935 Salt Lake Telegram for its “three rooms, electric refrigerators and ranges, furnished or unfurnished, disappearing beds, nice large rooms, moderate rent.”
The Stratton was built in 1927 as part of a building boom where at least ten new apartment buildings appeared on the downtown skyline. It is located at 49 South 400 East and features some castellation along the roofline, two balconies, and an imposing entrance.
The Peter Pan is located at 445 East 300 South. It is notable for its tile roofs, brick detailing and lovely sign. The building was built in 1927.
The name signs on the early apartment buildings were often neon and included colorful metal designs.
The Bell Wines apartments were built in 1927 by a married couple, Hazel Bell and Stanley Wines, who combined their surnames. It is located at 530 East 100 South. The building is evocative of a southern plantation home, with a center porch and tall columns around a courtyard.
The building contains 30 units opening off a long hallway. One early resident, Eva Harmer, became engaged to her sweetheart, Blaine Allan, while living here in 1934. She was alarmed when she discovered she had dropped her engagement ring down the apartment’s sink. Fortunately, city water officials blocked off the pipes until the ring could be found.
The Annie Laurie, located at 326 East 100 South, and its sister building, the Lorna Doone, were both built in 1928 by the Bowers Investment Company at a cost of $80,000 each. The Lorna Doone has 33 units and the Annie Laurie has 30.
The Lorna Doone, at 320 East 100 South, shared an interior block parking lot with the other nearby apartments. Between the two sister buildings is a landscaped courtyard.
Both buildings feature elaborate gargoyles and ornaments at the entrance and on the roofline.
The Armista, located at 55 East 100 South, is a substantial building of stone and brick with little ornamentation. Its doorway features beautiful lamps. Herrick and Company built it with 30 units in 1927. Its name was later changed to the Waldorf Apartments. A 1927 Salt Lake Tribune ad read: “$40.00 to $42.00. One of the most modernly equipped and conveniently located apartments in the city.”
The Piccardy, at 115 South 300 East, was built in 1930. It has 40 units: five one-bedroom and five studios on each floor. It features Jacobethan styling, twisting columns at the entrance and some leaded glass windows.
Acanthus leaf trim and original light fixtures adorn the Piccardy entrance.
The Los Gables is one of the largest apartments of the early period with 80 units. It was built at 135 South 300 East in 1929. Note the imposing stone work and arched doorways.
The Los Gables also features inset stone pieces and timber accents.
The Piccadilly is a typical double-loaded corridor plan, built in 1929 at 24 South 500 East.
The doorway at the Piccadilly features the original light fixture and decorative sign.
The Bigelow apartments were built in 1930 at 223 South 400 East, containing 30 units. A 1940 ad read: “2 r[oo]m modern, lots of space, light, all electric, good service, exclusive.”
The Premier was built at 27 South 800 East in 1931 for $50,000. The site features an unusually large front courtyard with lush landscaping. Note the upright metal sign on the roof.
The Premier entrances have striking stone work and wrought iron gates.
The Chateau Normandie, 63 South 400 East, was built in 1931. It is a rare example of a “walk up” design built at the end of this apartment era. It has stately trees and extensive timber accents.
The windows at the Chateau Normandie are extensively decorated.
The East Cliff and West Cliff buildings sit together on 200 South between 400 East and 500 East. They were built in 1927–28 and originally named the Cummings apartments.
The Mayflower, at 1283 East South Temple, is one of the largest and most elegant apartment buildings of the first half of the twentieth century. Built in 1929 from a design by the architect Slack Winburn, each floor has only five 2,600-square-foot units. Arches and ivy adorn the exterior.
The Knickerbocker apartment building at 1280 East South Temple was built in 1911 by W.C.A. Vissing. It has a large carved cornice and massive columns with iron railing balconies.
The Castle Heights apartment building opened in January, 1931 to great acclaim. A Salt Lake Tribune ad dated January 18, 1931, read: “Every kitchen in this ultra modern apartment house is equipped with a genuine Frigidaire unit.” It still stands at 141 East First Avenue. Note the stone work, arched entrance, and neon sign.