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The City Journals

Sandy’s legacy of historic houses

Jun 04, 2019 03:34PM ● By Heather Lawrence

In 2010, this Victorian house was used on the This Old House website as an example of the Old Historic Sandy District. It was listed as a “Best Old House Neighborhood.” (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Sandy has grown a lot since its beginnings as a farming and mining town in the 1860s. The original neighborhood, Historic Sandy, occupies roughly the stretch of land from State Street to 700 East and 8500 South to 9000 South. Of the nearly 60 structures in Sandy listed on the National Register of Historic Places, most of them are in that area.  

Sandy’s growth meant the loss of some of its historic structures (shed a tear for the old Jordan High School). “Sandy’s rules are not as strict as Salt Lake’s, which oversees the Avenues and Harvard Yale area. Buildings of historic value do get demolished,” said Mike Wilcox, Sandy’s zoning administrator.  

Wilcox works with the Sandy Historic Preservation Committee, which gets a say in demolitions, rebuilds and add-ons. The committee includes City Councilmember Brooke Christensen. 

“There is a delay provision in our code that if someone files for a demolition permit on a historic building, we work with them to see if we can preserve it. If we can’t, we at least try to document or relocate it,” said Wilcox. 

In the 1990s, many Sandy structures were placed on the national and state registers of historic places. In 2007, the entire historic district of Sandy was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

“To be considered historic, a building must be over 50 years old and have some kind of unique architectural character worth preserving,” Wilcox said. “Once listed, there are grants and federal and state tax credits for structures on the register. These incentives are meant to offset the costs of maintaining an older home.”

Despite the number of buildings on the register, preservationists like architect David Amott of Preservation Utah haven’t had much experience working on Sandy homes. “There isn’t as much of an investment in that neighborhood as, say, the Avenues or Capitol Hill,” said Amott. 

The neighborhood will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who call it home, like Scott Cowdell. “My grandfather built a family home in 1922 near Main Street Park. My daughter lives in it now. My father and uncle were contractors on the Sandy Elementary project, and when they tore down the old one, they used a lot of the materials for the garage,” Cowdell said. 

“It’s a nice neighborhood. The streets are still quiet. People still know each other. They walk down the street, they say hi to each other,” Cowdell said. 

Keith Callister grew up in Historic Sandy and said he sees value in a home that tells a story. “I lived for six years in a house on Main Street, just down from Sandy Elementary. It was a Victorian with a dirt cellar, wrap-around porch, front porch swing. I loved that house,” Callister said. 

Callister, a real estate broker, has clients who are interested in historic homes. But he said money is a big consideration. “You know when you buy it there are going to be major costs. You’ll probably have to replace knob and tube wiring and poor insulation, and most people aren’t up for that,” said Callister. 

Not every house in Historic Sandy is a gem, but a walk along roads like Main Street, Pioneer Street, Center Street and 8800 South gives one a glimpse into its heyday. 

“It hasn’t gone through the same gentrification as some of the other older neighborhoods in the valley. Every seventh or eighth house has a lot of character. If you have a house like that, it’s something that no one else has, and there’s a certain amount of pride in that,” Callister said. 

For Amott, the stories behind the older structures are what he said keeps him coming back for more. “The great thing about old buildings is their features. You start, for example, with a mysterious metal object on a Victorian door (see photo spread). Before you know it, you are researching the use of calling cards in rural 19th-century Utah. Small details can lead you down a thousand paths,” Amott said.