West Valley City • Some things stand the test of time. Good music, a black dress and — at least for those who pay attention to home design — the modern living spaces found in the Westshire neighborhood.
Some 50 years ago, Utah architect Ronald L. Molen designed — and Research Homes built — the 160 homes in an area now bounded by 3800 South, Interstate 215, 4100 South and Constitution Boulevard (2700 West) in West Valley City.
The Molen homes were competitively priced — initially selling for $17,000 to $25,000 — and were different from the standard rambler and split-entry homes that were on the market during the mid-1960s, said Kirk Huffaker, executive director of Preservation Utah (formerly the Utah Heritage Foundation).
“This was more of an experimental development,” Huffaker said. “It looks a little different, but that is what makes it endearing. The homes have tremendous character and have been well stewarded by the owners over the years.”
Three of the Westshire homes will be open to the public Saturday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the Salt Lake Modern Homes Tour. (See box for details.)
While each home is unique, there are common threads that bind them: floor-to-ceiling windows, open-air atriums, aggregate floor entryways, wood paneling, eat-in kitchens and formal dining rooms. Most of the homes are one level, but a few are two stories.
“We rarely did basements,” said Molen, who is now 89 and recently moved into a Salt Lake City condominium. “Our idea was bring the basement out of the ground, so you could look out rather than into a window well.”
At the center of every Molen home is a sunken living room with built-in benches and a fireplace, giving the owners an intimate gathering space.
Molen changed the traditional orientation for his Westshire houses, moving the focus to the backyard rather than to the street, with prominent decks or patios and the inclusion of 12 swimming pools in the neighborhood.
In his push to make homes affordable, Molen included built-in furniture in his homes. The master bedrooms have built-in platform beds and suspended dressers. Children’s rooms have built-in bunk beds with ladders to climb to the upper bunk and a firefighter pole to descend.
“We did a lot of playful things,” said Molen, remembering a trip to the zoo that sparked his creativity. “I saw what fun spaces the monkeys had. It was full of things that kids would love.”
In April 1973, Family Circle magazine featured a Molen design, saying, “You could move into this dramatic seven-room house with little more than a toothbrush.”
Besides the Westshire homes, Molen designed hundreds of buildings in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland and California. His commercial work includes several prominent Salt Lake City buildings, such as the Salt Lake Hilton Hotel (originally the Sheraton), 150 W. 500 South; the Utah State Board of Education Building, 250 E. 500 South; the Envirowest Office Building, 205 W. 700 South; and American Plaza, 200 S. West Temple.
Molen said Research Homes and its owner, Vern Hardman — who has died — took a chance on his designs.
“We just appealed to a certain market,” Molen said, “one that was more interested in aesthetics than square footage.”
Brian Garrett and Scott Pulley, who have lived in their Westshire home for seven years — along with Moses and Agnes, their two Great Danes — take pride in the uniqueness of their house and, like most of the homeowners, work to retain the original look and feel.
“We appreciate the thought that was put into the home,” said Garrett, who waited several years for a Westshire home to come on the market.
People in the design community are especially fond of Westshire’s Midcentury Modern style and are eager to buy in the neighborhood, Garrett, who owns the design firm M3LD, explained.
That doesn’t happen often, Pulley added. “So it’s exciting when one comes up for sale."
Those who live in the neighborhood have formed a tight-knit community, said Garrett, hosting an annual pancake breakfast and community garage sales. The money raised helps keep the flower beds at the 2700 South entrance looking nice.
It’s the kind of neighborhood that Molen set out to build.
Salt Lake Modern Homes Tour
When • Saturday, Oct. 13, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where • Headquarters and day-of ticket sales for the tour will be on the 4000 South block of Westshire Drive
Tickets • $20 per person in advance and for Preservation Utah members; $25 day of tour
Details • preservationutah.org. or 801-533-0858, ext. 107