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Salt Lake High School – Oregon Shortline Railroad (1897-1898, by Carl M. Neuhausen)

The Oregon Shortline Railroad Company built the lower, eastern section of this building to house its offices in 1897. Shortly thereafter, the Salt Lake City School Board contracted with the railroad to build the small annex and larger, more elaborate building to the west. This was the first building in Utah specifically constructed to house a high school. Neither the railroad nor Salt Lake High School, however, lasted long at this location.
Between 1905 and 1940, the Utah National Guard occupied the building. The Western Newspaper Union leased the building in 1940. The building was rehabilitated in the early 1980s to house three restaurants and offices.

Salt Lake High School

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The complex of buildings found at 126-140 Pierpont Avenue was originally constructed by the Oregon Short line Railroad Company during 1897-98. The earliest section of building, situated to the east of the existing structure, contained offices and has been-razed. The OSLRR was organized in 1878 and gained control of Union Pacific Railroad interests in Utah in May, 1897, as the later railroad was forced into receivership in I893. Anxious to quickly develop their enterprise, partners John E. Dooley, R. Mackintosh and R.C. Chambers commissioned local architect Carl M. Neuhausen, to draw up plans for a large office building, for which a building permit was taken out in June, 1897.

C.M. Neuhausen, born and trained in Germany, came to Salt Lake City in I892 at the age of thirty-four and worked for three years under Utah’s most prominent architect of that period, Richard K.A. Kletting. Neuhausen established his own office in 1895. The offices for OSLRR were his first major commission and represent his first independent design accomplishments. His success with this project propelled him into a long and prominent career, which produced the Thomas Kearns Mansion (NR), J.D. Wood Mansion, Cathedral of the Madeleine (NR), St. Ann’s Orphanage, F.D. Clift Building, Orpheum Theatre, and a multitude of other impressive buildings.

Even before completion of the eastern section of the offices, Neuhausen was retained to design a large addition to the west of the original building. Apparently an agreement was made with the Salt Lake School Board which permitted the use of this annex for a high -school. In addition, another building was to be constructed due west of the annex to be used specifically as a high school. The annex and new high school building were sufficiently completed by September, 1898, to be opened for school .

Originally nameless, Salt Lake High School was Utah’s first high school and came into existence in 1890 following the passage of Utah’s public school law. In its early days the school led a vagabon existence. First it was housed in the second floor of the Fremont School, then known as the Fourteenth Ward School. A few years later it was transferred to the Clayton Block at 214-218 South State. The next move was to the OSLRR annex and new high school building, the first structure specifically built to house a Utah high school.

The high school rented its new facility from the railroad but soon found that continued use of the building was contingent upon economic factors that influenced the OSLRR management. Despite its enthusiastic beginning, the OSLRR relinquished part of its interests to the Union Pacific Railroad in I898, and by I899 the UPR held nearly all OSLRR stock. Shortly thereafter, OSLRR again became a part of the UP.

Consequently, because of changes in ownership of the building, and because the school had no recreational area and was made uncomfortable by the noisy boiler factory located next door, the school decided to seek other facilities. A fire in 1901 or 1902 forced the school out immediately. The old University buildings located on 200 West had recently been vacated and provided a new home for the school.

Beginning July 1, 1905, the complex of buildings on Pierpont Avenue was leased by the National Guard for use as an armory. The Salt Lake companies of the National Guard found the large assembly rooms to their liking and leased the buildings until 1924. During the twenty-year period during which the Pierpont Street Armory was occupied by the National Guard, it played an important role in military affairs in Utah. The National Guard was mobilized on three occasions: to guard the Mexican border in 1916; as part of the general mobilization during World War I; and in 1922 during a strike of Utah coal miners. In about 1940, the buildings were occupied by the Western Newspaper Union. Howard and Harold Gerber, brothers, presently own the buildings and run a small printing shop there while leasing the larger portions to the Restaurant and Store Equipment Company for use as a warehouse and workshop. The Gerbers plan to restore the buildings and have been approached by a professional theatrical group which may want to establish their theatre there.

In summary, the significance of this site derives from its being the early home of the Oregon Short Line Railroad, the first “permanent” home of Salt Lake City’s first high school, the early home of the Salt Lake companies of the Utah National Guard, and the first major architectural work of Carl M. Neuhausen, prominent Utah architect.