Main Streets Utah: Does 25th Street’s notorious past play a role in its present walkability?

At Union Station in Ogden, train passengers stepped off to sample saloons, gambling dens and brothels.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Thousands walk Ogden's Historic 25th Street during the open car show on Friday, June 2, 2023.

Editor’s note • This article is part of an occasional series, Main Streets Utah, which will take a historical and modern look at the central thoroughfares of different Utah cities.

Ogden • Historic 25th Street is overflowing in character, from the peeling paint at the Union Station Depot to the old-style brick buildings and historic placards seen every few feet.

The station was, for decades, the jumping-off point for wayward travelers stopping over in a city brimming with the wilder parts of the Wild West. The street’s history, of gambling and brothels and opium dens, is inescapable. Today, one can look east from Union Station, straight down 25th, and see Mount Ogden.

“Ogden was a railroad town,” said Sarah Langsdon, head of special collections at Weber State University’s library. “Everything that went with a railroad town in the 1870s and ‘80s ended up in Ogden — that included alcohol, women, gambling. … It became that central location because of the Union Station.”

The station, Langsdon said, is where the Union Pacific’s trains from the east and the Central Pacific’s trains from the west met. The two railroads didn’t use the same gauge for their rails, so people had to transfer from one to the other for the journey cross-country.

So people stumbled out of the station, and down 25th Street — “Two-Bit Street,” they called it — to find ways to kill time and seek pleasures.

“They didn’t hide anything: the prostitutes, the liquor, the gambling,” Langsdon said. Today, she added, many people love Ogden’s seedy history, because it sets them apart from the typical Utah narrative.

The decline of 25th Street’s notorious reputation came in the mid-1950s, with postwar families taking advantage of the interstate highway system, leaving behind the railroads and driving their cars everywhere.

The shift that led to the 25th Street of today, Langsdon said, started in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the opening of Tom Hardy’s Salon and Rooster’s began a revitalization. But that pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that Ogdenites enjoy today owes a little to that history of railroad passengers walking from Union Station to saloons and brothels without the worry of being hit by cars.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogden's nightclub Alleged is housed in the location where The Rose Room, a brothel owned by Rose and Bill Davie, once operated in the 1940s and '50s, Friday, June 2, 2023.

Leaning into the history

Jared Allen, owner of the Ogden club and bar Alleged and organizer of the Ogden Twilight concert series, likes to lean into Ogden’s colorful past.

The building where Alleged sits used to be The Rose Room, a brothel run by one of the most notorious madams of the time — Rose Davey. The name Alleged was inspired by the way people talk about what happened there.

“When we bought it, [the first] floor had been renovated into a boutique,” Allen said.

The first floor, Langsdon said, used to be a soda parlor during Prohibition — in a town where the national ban on alcohol often was felt more in the breach than the observance. Now, the first floor is Moxie, a dance floor and bar open on Friday and Saturday nights.

“The second floor hadn’t been occupied in decades,” Allen said. “There wasn’t even a staircase in the building to get to the second floor.”

Traces of the heart of the original building are still visible, thanks to the efforts of Allen and his team to keep it intact. On the brick wall, there are marks from the temporary walls that divided the brothel’s rooms. Radiators and original doors have been repurposed as furniture. The unisex bathrooms are named after madams. The drinks on the menu are also named after madams, and others who had an impact on 25th Street’s history.

“It’s a story that nobody else can duplicate,” Allen said. “It seems like everywhere else in America, it’s like, you drive five freeway exits, and it’s the exact same stores or restaurants all over and over and over again. But this is something that’s unique to us.”

In a separate bar space in the basement of the next building over, mugshots of people like Rose and her husband Bill Davey greet guests, provided by Langsdon. The Daveys, Langsdon said, ran a successful brothel, bringing in around $30,000 a month. Rose also had a secret intercom system, to make sure the girls weren’t getting hurt or stealing money.

The Daveys were arrested several times for running a house of prostitution — but the charge that eventually put them in jail was tax evasion.

Taylor Hartman, director of marketing and communications for Visit Ogden, pointed during a tour of 25th Street at another facet of Ogden’s history: Electric Alley.

“Electric Alley basically stretched all the way down,” Hartman said. “It was a whole city block of just six-foot-by-six-foot, 10-foot-by-10-foot brothel rooms.” It was owned by another madam, Belle London.

The rooms in Electric Alley, Langsdon said, were called “cribs.” They consisted of a bed, a sink and a toilet — and, at any given point, there were around 50 women in the alleyway itself.

Today, the alleyway is a decrepit passage next to Tom Hardy’s Salon.

About a block west, on Wall Avenue off of 25th Street, Hartman pointed out, was the Royal Hotel. It was notable as one of the few places that accepted Black customers. Many of teh porters working the rail lines in the late 1800s were Black.

“You would have people from all over the place coming here, because of the railroad and the industry surrounding the railroad,” Langsdon said. “We had a huge population of Chinese, Japanese, African American, Greek, Italians, Latinos during World War II. … They flocked to this area because the railroad was an amazing employer that gave them a chance to have a middle-class life.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Thousands walk Ogden's Historic 25th Street during the open car show on Friday, June 2, 2023.

City planning from the ‘80s

One of the reasons 25th Street is so walkable, said Barton Brierley, planning manager for the city of Ogden, is that the street is owned by the city, not the Utah Department of Transportation.

“It’s not a big thoroughfare with trucks and heavy traffic and everything,” Brierley said.

In the early ‘80s, Brierley said, city planners laid out the street. They decided to put angled parking in front of the businesses on 25th Street. They also made sure the street and sidewalks were built wide, allowing room for trees and outdoor dining.

Part of the plan was to make 25th Street a slow street, though the streets running perpendicular to it allow faster traffic.

The last big renovation to the street happened in the ‘80s, Brierley said, though redevelopment has happened since. A lot of the buildings now standing on 25th were built in the early 2000′s, but are designed to maintain a historic look.

“We have very specific design standards for the street,” Brierley said. “Any project has to go to our landmarks commission and, yes, we do scrutinize all the details.”

A five-story housing development is underway on 25th Street, one that some Ogdenites (as reported by The Standard-Examiner) fear will take away from the street’s charm. The building sticks out now, largely because it’s unfinished but also because it towers above other buildings on the street. The builders’ renderings show that a brick facade is planned to cover the building’s face.

A block south on 26th street, but visible from 25th, the WonderBlock project is planned — a mixed-use development with apartments, retail space and parking garages, reportedly costing $240 million.

The parking structures, he said, are designed to encourage visitors to come to 25th Street without parking on the actual street.

“It’s really intended as a catalyst project to spur more development and redevelopment in our downtown,” he said. “Bring more customers and residents there.”

The city, Brierley said, is also looking at a “refresh” of 25th, replanting new trees to replace aging ones and replacing some sidewalks. In April, the city began resurfacing the asphalt on the street.

City planning, Brierly said, is like caring for a piece of art. “When everything clicks, it just clicks,” he said. “So you try to adjust one thing, and making sure that you keep that art is a real challenge.”

(Jared Allen) Purity Ring performs at the 2015 Ogden Twilight concert series, held at the Ogden Amphitheater.

Attracting crowds

The street’s lasting walkability allows it to host many events, such as Ogden Twilight. Since 2015, the concert series has brought big music names — Bleachers and Bon Iver, just to name some recent headliners — to the northern Utah city, usually outshining the Salt Lake City Twilight Concerts lineup.

Allen said he only has to plan for 10 shows a year — the most the city will allow him — so he tries to get the biggest names he can, to make them count. In 2022, Allen said, the series sold 72,321 tickets out of a possible 75,000, and sold out seven of the 10 shows.

Only 30% of the ticket sales last year were bought by Weber County residents. Salt Lake County accounted for 40% of ticket sales, with another 18% from other counties in Utah — and about 12% of ticket buyers from out of state — with all 49 other states represented in the sales data.

Big artists, Allen said, are attracted to Ogden Twilight because they see how passionate the fans are — and the artists report that back to their agents and management. The Ogden Amphitheater has a capacity of 7,500, but Allen said it feels intimate, and fits with 25th Street’s overall vibe.

Thomas Kiernan, director of the Ogden Downtown Alliance, owned a coffee shop and was a vendor at Farmers Market Ogden – which, as the alliance’s boss, he now oversees.

The alliance took over bids for Farmers Market Ogden in 2016 from Ogden City, he said, and moved it from Municipal Park, on 25th and Grant, onto 25th Street itself.

“Moving it to the street really allowed a lot more vendors to participate, as well as it brought a lot of foot traffic down 25th Street in front of the businesses,” Kiernan said.

On the market’s summer opening in May, Kiernan said, close to 25,000 people visited. The average during the market’s 16-week run is 18,000 attendees a week. Many vendors are Ogden natives, though some come from southern Idaho and other places, he said.

25th Street, he said, is a jewel, but the downtown alliance is excited for developments like WonderBlock, because they almost “can’t contain” the amount of people that come to such events as the farmers market, the annual car show (held in early June) and the Harvest Moon Festival in September.

Kiernan said the alliance, over the next three-to-five years, is to try to replicate the farmers market’s success in other areas of downtown Ogden.

“A lot of what we’re doing is just bringing people downtown, getting them to come down more frequently, and stay longer so that they spend money while they’re here,” he said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A vinyl records enthusiast combs through the bins at Lavender Vinyl lovated on 25th Street in Ogden, Thursday, June 1, 2023.

Local flavor

Part of 25th Street’s continued success lies in its local businesses, such as Gallery 25, Grounds for Coffee, and the Beatles-themed bar City Club.

There’s Beehive Naturals, whose retail storefront is at 186 25th St. The business sells hygiene products made of goats milk and honey sourced from the owner’s farm in Plain City.

Abi Woodall, an employee there, said her favorite part of the job is talking to customers about the products and encouraging them to shop local. Her favorite product is the goats-milk lotion, because she has dry skin and eczema.

Kye Hallows and Blake Lundell opened Lavender Vinyl in 2016. Inside the record store, an entire wall is dedicated to queer music recommendations. The building they’re in now at 123 25th St. was constructed in 2005, but way back when the address was home to the Porters and Waiters Club — a spot where famous jazz musicians played.

Being on 25th Street, especially during the summer, is great because they get a lot of foot traffic,” Hallows said. “There’s thousands of people down here for the farmers market,” he said.

At the other end of the street, past the amphitheater, there’s Art Box, a candle-making art studio. Nevaeh Morgan, a sales associate there, said the best part of the job is the hands-on experience of helping someone create something new. “Every candle is different,” she said.

Art Box shares a space with The Monarch, a creative studio space that houses 41 creatives. The building, like others, has lived many lives and used to be a parking garage, Mexican restaurant and nightclub.

Thaine Fischer, The Monarch’s managing partner, renovates historic buildings and is working on his 15th in downtown Ogden. They started construction on The Monarch in 2018. Now, it’s a sustainable and affordable art space for creatives. Fischer said his company charges anywhere between $650 and $700 a month for studio spaces, and doesn’t take commissions from artist’s sales.

“We looked at Salt Lake and we could see that they were going to start overpricing the creative market,” Fischer said. “From my standpoint, we don’t want the creatives to leave the Wasatch. We don’t want them to move to another state. … So we were like, ‘If we could grab 20, 30, 40% of the artists and have them come to Ogden because we’re more affordable,’ than we felt that that was a good strategy.”

Fischer said to keep the space sustainable, they share it with other retail shops and host events, but he finds that “art always pays off in your community. … Investing in art is always a good idea.”

Hartman said, “what has made Ogden stand out from the rest of Utah since its inception? It’s that notorious, rugged sort of thing.”

Editor’s note • Previously, The Tribune’s Main Streets Utah series profiled Spanish Fork’s Main Street. If you would like to see a street in your Utah city covered in this series, fill out the form at bit.ly/MainStreetsUtahForm.

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