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The City Journals

West Valley City Is a Melting Pot

Mar 10, 2016 11:49AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Natalie Mollinet | [email protected]

West Valley - Believe it or not, Brigham Young, the first governor of Utah, said that the west side of the Jordan River would be more populated than the east side. This prediction was made in the mid-19th century, and it doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore, especially considering the amazing culture that West Valley has, with an estimated 37 different languages spoken. 

Before the Mormon pioneers entered the valley, the western part of the valley was occupied by the Ute and Shoshoni Native American tribes. Once the pioneers came into the valley in 1847, West Valley was called “over Jordan.” Joseph Harker and his family were the first the settle in “over Jordan,” but very little was happening in growth. Harker, according to records, would have settled around present-day 600 West and 3300 South, where a Motel 6 currently resides.  

As soon as the 1900s hit, the farming communities were developing into residential communities. By 1918, West Valley had a paved road (3500 South). and cars were coming through and people were becoming more connected with Salt Lake City. 

As farms started to disappear, the Granger and Hunter neighborhoods found ways to provide their own sewer and water. With this new development, subdivisions became a reality and people were now able to start moving down. 

The growth was a bit unorganized, and political leaders in Salt Lake County placed disproportionate shares of the valley’s multi-family residential units in the area – neither did they focus on aesthetics of business signage, neighborhood street infrastructure or parks and recreation needs. But residents kept pressing to organize groups and even a chamber of commerce, and finally in 1980 West Valley City was born. 

“West Valley City was a popular place to settle for new immigrants,” former mayor Mike Winder and member of the West Valley City Historical Society said, “be they ‘boat people’ from Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War, LDS Pacific Islanders desiring to live near the center of Mormonism or Hispanic immigrants working in the area.” 

In fact, in the past 10 years the demographics of West Valley have changed dramatically, with the caucasian population decreasing quite a bit and immigrants’ demographics growing. According to the West Valley government website, in 1990, 90 percent of West Valley City was white; as of 2013 the white population decreased to 5.4 percent, and almost all other ethnicities grew more than 10 percent. 

West Valley is known for having a lot of immigrants because the housing is so affordable. Even when the city’s housing stock improved, minority groups felt more comfortable in a community where there was more diversity and continued to settle in West Valley.  

“We’re Utah’s most ethnically diverse city. [45 percent are minorities and 31 percent speak a language other than English at home.] We have the highest percentage of Pacific Islanders of any U.S. city larger than 100,000 in the country, second only to Honolulu,” Winder said.

Another surprising fact is that West Valley’s Chinese Heritage Gate at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center (UCCC) is larger than San Francisco’s Chinatown gate. Also at the UCCC, West Valley is one of the three places in the United States that hold ones of the three Olmec heads from Mexico. 

West Valley’s culture and many mixed cultures are what makes West Valley such a rich part of the community. It started off with people wanting to improve their way of life, and today there are still people doing the same thing. 

“Sometimes people forget we are Utah’s second-largest city because we are in the shadow of the giant capital city next door. We’re Salt Lake City’s scrappy, blue-collar, can-do little brother. We had ice hockey. We have the number-one Olive Garden in North America here and the highest-tech movie theater in the state,” Winder said.

As West Valley continues to grow, so do its people, and even though West Valley may be young, is showing it has great things ahead for the future.