Riddled with asbestos and prone to break-ins, a cluster of vacant, century-old row houses in downtown Salt Lake City is nearing its end.
In a letter to parishioners Tuesday, the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake’s parish council said it would move to demolish the La France Apartments imminently.
“Because of the deteriorating condition of the vacant apartments and the danger to the parish, its employees and the surrounding community,” the letter states, “the parish council decided it could wait no longer and voted to demolish La France as soon as possible.”
The La France Apartments, just east of the church’s Holy Trinity Cathedral at 279 S. 300 West, are part of a larger group of church-owned properties included in a massive $300 million redevelopment effort.
George Karahalios, president of the parish council, said he doesn’t know what exactly will replace the apartments, but it will include some sort of housing. He said he doesn’t know when construction on a replacement to the La France Apartments will begin.
Karahalios said an asbestos problem was a major factor in vacating the apartments last fall. Since then, a fence around the buildings and daily patrolling have proved unsuccessful in securing the property.
The congregation council said three fires have broken out in the homes since they were closed and that police remove trespassers daily.
Karahalios said the buildings need to come down because the church doesn’t want anyone to get hurt inside.
“We also have a moral obligation,” the council wrote in its letter, “to assure that this level of depravity is not allowed to continue on the properties of the parish.”
The council held an emergency meeting Monday and decided to move forward immediately with tearing down the units. The city has already issued a permit to raze the buildings, according to the letter.
“The parish will be safer,” the council wrote, “and the redevelopment of the property will be one step closer.”
Asbestos abatement at the La France Apartments is scheduled to start April 19, Karahalios said, but it is unknown how long the process will take. The demolition timeline also is unclear.
For decades, the apartments were a popular spot for lower-income residents. The Greek Orthodox Church bought them in the mid-20th century, Karahalios said.
The apartments were built in 1905 by the Covey brothers in what was one of the first major developments, if not the first, they undertook. The Coveys were responsible for many of the city’s early apartment buildings.
At the time the row houses were built, Salt Lake City was in the midst of a growth spurt, according to David Amott, executive director of Preservation Utah.
The design, with some units facing the street and others located on the opposite side of the building, allowed people of different income levels to live in the same place, Amott said. Even in their dilapidated state, he said, the La France Apartments add class to the streetscape.
Still, Amott said, he understands the decision to demolish them and build something that will help the Greek Orthodox community preserve its landmark cathedral.
“But I think it’s terribly sad that they’re disappearing,” he said, “because they have been, architecturally speaking, such standouts in Salt Lake for the last 100 years-plus.”
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