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Tour on Saturday of historic Salt Lake City neighborhood

Published June 14, 2012 3:01 pm

Midcentury modern • Featured homes are in the east bench's St. Mary's and Oak Hills areas.
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Mid-century architect Eduard Dreier stood on the steep hillside above Foothill Boulevard in 1962, studying the home site and its speculator views, which would be the foundation for his design.

Dreier would use horizontal glass panels in the living room to frame the mountains to the east and large continuous windows on the home's west side to take advantage of the Great Salt Lake and the valley below, the homeowner Marie Nelson Bennett remembers. New technologies made building possible on the East Bench — and each room here would become an extension of the mountainside.

On Saturday, the Nelson/Bennett home will open its doors to a tour highlighting mid-century homes in the St. Mary's and Oak Hills neighborhoods in Salt Lake City. Two of the four homes on the tour were designed by the Swiss-born Dreier, whose work featured flat, expansive roof lines, a mix of structural materials such as steel, concrete and wood, and furnishings he specifically selected that would be part of the structure's overall design.

The tour is sponsored by Salt Lake Modern, a subcommittee of the Utah Heritage Foundation, which promotes the region's mid-century modern architecture and design.

Addresses of this home and three others featured will be announced the day of the tour.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines modernism as a design that emphasizes form rather than ornament, structure and materials rather than picturesque constructions and efficient use of space.

There's a renewed interest in modern buildings because those more than 50 years old now qualify to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Allen Roberts, president of Cooper Roberts Simonsen Architects (CRSA) and a former state architectural historian.

"Buildings that qualify must all be architecturally intact and have some kind of historical or architectural significance," Roberts said. "Now, we're paying attention to them in a way we didn't before."

Homeowner Bennett, who is a composer, hired Dreier to design and build the home to reflect her passion for music. Dreier designed 22-foot ceilings in the entry, a massive door and walls of glass, giving the feeling of a symphony hall. He also used wood ceilings and floor tiles to create architectural acoustics for musical gatherings, with carpeting to soften the sounds.

"The acoustics are excellent," said Bennett, who has written works in every genre. "I've been told this by many performers."

Bennett was widowed in 1981 when her first husband, Harlan Nelson, died — shortly after her 26-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver.

"It's common for people to move when they lose a spouse," said Bennett who would not remarry for the next 23 years. "But it is so beautiful here, I did not want to leave."

In 1991, Dreier expanded the dining room, which floats above the grand piano area and serves as an extension for larger audiences. He also designed a granite slab coffee table in the shape of the home's distinctive trapezoidal roof.

Bennett married Wallace Bennett in the patio of her home in 2003. Officiating at the ceremony was the groom's brother, then Sen. Bob Bennett.

"I didn't expect her to move anywhere else," said Wallace Bennett. "I teased that she wouldn't be able to get her grand piano through my front door."

The couple shares a love of music, friends and the home.

Mid-century modern homes incorporated the best of previous architectural eras, said Kirk Huffaker, the foundation's executive director. Homes became larger, spaces were dedicated to specific uses, such as family get-togethers, and floor plans were open — much like today's contemporary houses.

The area is named for St. Mary's of the Wasatch Academy, a women's college and later a high school, which stood in the neighborhood for nearly 50 years. St. Mary's also housed a convent, which was in operation from 1926 until it was demolished in 1972.

To the north is Oak Hills, named in-part after a drive-in theater that was built in 1951 southeast of Hogle Zoo.

dawn@sltrib.com

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Neighborhood highlights

P Tour of St. Mary's, Oak Hills neighborhoods in Salt Lake City

When • 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Cost • $15 for Utah Heritage Foundation/Salt Lake Modern members; $15 by 5 p.m. June 15; $20 day of the tour

Where • Pick up tickets, information at tent on the lawn of Monument Park 17th LDS Ward, 2795 E. Crestview Drive.

For more information • Visit http://www.UtahHeritageFoundation.org

Other midcentury modern buildings of note

Abravanel Hall • Originally known as Symphony Hall (1979), 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City. The hall is a concrete building within a brick structure and was designed by Cyril M. Harris to provide acoustic excellence.

First Security Bank • Ken Garff building (1955), 405 S. Main St. Salt Lake City. The first major building constructed in Utah after the Great Depression, it marked an end to 20 difficult years.

IBM Building • (1961) , 348 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City. Its distinctive barrel-vaulted concrete ceilings and roof were considered innovative and experimental at the time. IBM. then known for electric typewriters had sales and repair staff.

Salt Lake City Main Library • Now the Leonardo building, (1964), 209 E. 500 South. A signature architectural work that ushered in the New Formalist style in the city and state.

Weber County Main Library • (1968), 2464 Jefferson Ave., Ogden. Designed by Utah architect John L. Piers, with furnishings by the world-famous team of Charles and Ray Eames and manufactured by Herman Miller.