The Parade of Homes in 1955 was a “show of unprecedented size,” according to a newspaper article from that time, featuring 30 model homes in Murray and what is now Holladay.
The Murray homes at 6400 South and 400 East cost under $15,000, while the “more expensive” living options around 5600 South and west of Highland Drive were designed by innovative Utah architect and University of Utah professor Stephen Macdonald and sold for $15,000 and up.
While each Macdonald house is unique, there are common threads that bind them. These single-level homes, with no basements, have open floor plans and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that extend the home into the outdoors, while the stone flooring, wood beams and, in some cases, indoor fountains bring nature in.
More than six decades after those homes were built, Preservation Utah will showcase these Holladay gems during its 2019 Salt Lake Modern Homes Tour. This modern-day re-creation of the 1955 Parade of Homes takes place Saturday, Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 the day of the event. For more details or to buy tickets, visit preservationutah.org.
“We hope that people get a better understanding of the neighborhood’s unique history," said David Amott with Preservation Utah, “a history that, up to now, they likely have taken for granted.”
This particular neighborhood — surrounding the Cottonwood Country Club — features progressive architectural styles from 1955, including midcentury modern, chalet-modern and ranch, Amott said, noting that as home prices across the Wasatch Front escalate, the architectural history of the area is threatened.
In August, one of original Macdonald homes was torn down as Preservation Utah volunteers were planning the annual event, he said. “It’s one of the reasons we are doing the tour — to let residents know they live in a historic neighborhood and many of their homes are architectural treasures.”
To understand the significance of the 1955 midcentury modern homes, it’s important to remember what was happening at the time, said Amott. Post-World War II, people were more mobile, thanks to automobiles. And after living in inner cities, potential homebuyers were lured to the open spaces and affordability of the suburbs.
Homebuilders responded, pitching designs and products to make houses easier to manage, he said, and “free up the housewife’s time.”
A lot of the home designs were coming from Los Angles and the West Coast, with architects integrating courtyards and views of the backyard into their home designs.
“Walls of glass made the separation of inside and outside almost seamless,” Amott said. “In one of my favorite homes, an indoor fountain separates the kitchen and sitting room.”
Macdonald was one of the leaders in the midcentury modern movement in Utah. A Beehive State native, he earned an engineering degree from the U. and went on to study modernist architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He returned to his home state to teach at the U.’s new architecture school, but after several years, decided to put his ideas into practice, constructing several midcentury modern homes in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo, according to a 2009 Utah Heritage Foundation (now Preservation Utah) newsletter.
He designed commercial buildings as well. The most notable was the clubhouse at the Cottonwood Country Club — which has since been demolished and replaced — and the Mount Eyrie Racquet Club in Ogden.
Macdonald also designed a prefabricated structure that housed P-M Laundry in Salt Lake City, the newsletter states. “This unique glass and steel, flat-roofed building was placed on a raised foundation, giving it a floating appearance.”
While a number of Macdonald’s homes no longer exist, there are still several that have been thoughtfully renovated to show people they fit a 21st-century lifestyle.
Diana and Gerry Johnson bought their Macdonald-designed home near the Cottonwood Country Club about three years ago, deciding it was time to downsize to a one-level home with a smaller yard.
“When I was younger, I remember looking at Sunset magazine and photos of California homes, where the whole back wall was glass, opening onto a deck or patio,” said Diana Johnson, now in her mid-70s. “I always thought I would love to live in that kind of house someday.”
Those who participate in the tour will see all the classic Macdonald details in her home, she said, including a “beautiful stone walkway,” which starts outside in front of the house and continues into the entryway.
“It’s artistic,” she said, “like a painting.”
Same goes for the stone fireplace and the floor-to-ceiling windows, which flood the house with natural light throughout the day. “We are bird-watchers,” she said, “and we love to sit in the living room and watch [who visits] the bird feeders.”
Down the street, Jason and Courtney Hawks, and their three young children, moved into the neighborhood about a year ago — buying their midcentury modern home from the original owners.
While they remodeled the master bathroom and replaced damaged sections of kitchen cabinets and paneling using materials that fit the style and colors of the period, the home remains as it was in 1955, said Jason Hawks. “We wanted a home that honored the materials, design and feeling. It’s such a cool era in architectural history.”
The 2,400-square-foot home, which is part of the Oct. 5 tour, has an indoor fountain and large gathering areas, but the bedrooms are small by today’s standards.
Hawks said the design encourages more human interaction, something that is needed as much today as it was in 1955.
“The intention is that it would be more appealing to be in the family room than a small bedroom,” he said. “That is something that we love and that really resonates with us, and we hope to encourage that with our children.”