2018-07-02 19.03.49

Murray Downtown Historic District in Murray, Utah

Some of the sites in the district I’ve documented:


Early Settlement and Industrialization, 1849-1896

The settlement of the area now incorporated as Murray City began soon after the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Mormon pioneers quickly spread out from Salt Lake City in search of suitable agricultural land. By 1848 a settlement was established in the Murray area eight miles south of Salt Lake City. Within a few years, a small community (first known as South Cottonwood) of loosely associated farmsteads raising cereal grains and dairy cattle was thriving along and between the courses of the Big and Little Cottonwood Creeks.

South Cottonwood did not last long as an isolated rural community. In the 1860s valuable minerals were discovered in the canyons to the east and west. With its abundant water and central location, the area developed quickly into an industrial center for smelting. The arrival of the Utah Southern Railway in January 1870 and the Denver & Rio Grande in 1881 made the smelting operations not only possible, but profitable. Eight separate smelters were established in the area between 1870 and 1900. Hundreds of workers, mostly single men from Greece, Sweden and several eastern European countries, came to the Murray. Many eventually settled in Murray to raise families. As the smelters expanded the community’s economic base, many of Murray’s early subsistence fanners sold their land to the smelters and some became merchants to serve the city’s increasing population of smelter workers.

Murray’s downtown business district was created during this period of industrial boom. Unlike most towns in Utah, Murray was not platted on a grid, but developed along existing thoroughfares leading to the commercial district at the intersection of State and Vine streets. In the late 1900s, numerous frame commercial buildings were erected along State Street. In 1883, Harry Haynes (1847-1920), the community’s postmaster, submitted the name Murray (after the territorial governor, Eli Murray) as a candidate for the town’s official postal designation. At the time, industry and commerce were gradually replacing agriculture as the dominant economy in Murray. The smelter industry had a tremendous effect on the community as the immigrant industrial workers replaced, and later integrated with the agricultural population. The 1880 census indicates that 39.8 percent of eligible workers held agricultural occupations and 29.1 percent were employed in local smelters. By 1900 the occupations had reversed, with 49 percent employed by the smelters and only 25.7 percent in agriculture. As smelter workers were primarily single men or men who had left their families behind, many of the boomtown commercial buildings were recreational. By the early 1890s Murray was home to over forty saloons, numerous gambling houses, and a few houses of ill repute. In 1897 a confrontation between ranch hands fresh from sheep shearing and a group of recently paid smelter workers resulted in robbery, riots, and the burning of a brewery and dance hall. This event prompted Martin A. Willumsen (1840-1922), the editor of Murray’s newspaper, the American Eagle, to push for the town’s incorporation. Opposition from prominent businessmen and smelter owners, who felt the new government would raise taxes and regulate business, put off incorporation for several years. It was not until 1903 that Murray was officially designated a third class city.

Incorporation and Urbanization, 1897-1920

Perhaps the most enduring component of Murray’s economic base has been commerce. Though in the beginning Murray consisted of scattered farmsteads, a stable commercial business district located between Vine Street and 4800 South (formerly Murray Boulevard) on State Street had developed by the 1880s. In the five years from 1884 to 1889, the number of general stores in Murray jumped from two to nine. By the turn of the century, a number of specialty shops (confectioners, bakeries, shoemakers, jewelers, dressmakers, furniture, pharmacies, etc.) had been established in town. By the late 1890s, the commercial business district had developed into a small urban center. Rows of brick buildings (along with a few older frame ones) lined State Street housing not only retail shops, but a number of hotels and restaurants. While many in town still practiced important trades of the nineteenth century (Murray had two blacksmiths, a harnessmaker and a female tinsmith), a new class of urban “professionals” also provided services in offices downtown: physicians, dentists, barbers, and the undertaker. During this period, the population grew steadily from 3,302 in 1900 to 4,584 in 1920

In the six years between 1897 and 1903, during which the battle for incorporation was raging, Murray’s boomtown (wood frame) business district was in the process of a transforming into a more permanent (brick) center of commerce. Approximately one-fourth of the contributing buildings in the district were built during these six years. This number does not include three altered (and currently non-contributing) buildings, or any other contemporary buildings, which were subsequently demolished. In general, the buildings fall into two categories: those built by established merchants who replaced frame structures with brick buildings, and younger businessmen starting new enterprises. Two examples of the former are the Bagley brothers and John Lawson. In 1886, two brothers, Edward C. Bagley (1865-1943), and Andrew H. Bagley (1867-1931) purchased land on Murray’s State Street at 4830 South. They established a meat market in a frame building. By the late 1890s, the operation had expanded to include groceries and general merchandise. In 1897 and 1898, they built two adjacent two-part commercial blocks known as Bagley Meat Market and Bagley Hall. The two buildings were later incorporated into the Hoffman Building in 1921. John W. Lawson (1853-1937), a Swedish
immigrant and harness maker, opened his first shop in a one-story frame building at approximately 5045 S. State Street around 1885. In 1903, Lawson built the two-story brick building at 4883 S. State, where he had a shop on the main floor and lived with his wife Lena Dalhquist Lawson (1850-1941) on the upper floor.

The latter category of young businessmen includes, Lawson’s neighbor for many years, Carl Gustaf Emil Carlson (1878-1960). Emil Carlson, was a Swedish immigrant, who came to Utah in 1899 as a day laborer. In 1902, he started a bicycle repair business and built a two-story block in 1903, the same year he married Martha Victoria Carlstrom (1884-1955). The American Eagle article described Emil Carlson’s remarkable year as follows:

Emil Carlson, the enterprising young bicycle man . . . has just recently completed his new two story brick building … in which he has located his shop. He is an energetic young man and had the good fortune to marry a charming young lady just as he was ready to move into his new building. Mr. Carlson has a large stock of bicycles, musical instruments, etc. and runs a general repair shop. Clocks and watches repaired, key fitting and sewing machines repaired.

Emil and Martha Carlson had twelve children, six boys and six girls, all of whom grew to maturity. The entire family lived above the shop. The children were responsible for calling “Hey, Pa, Somebody” to alert Emil that a customer had entered the front of the shop. Though primarily associated with bicycles, Emil Carlson tried his hand at a variety of enterprises. In the 1910s and 1920s, Carlson sold and repaired Flint, Durrant, and Star automobiles. A gasoline dispensing pump was located next to the curb, a few feet from the watering trough in front of Lawson’s harness shop. The Carlson family continued to run the bicycle repair shop until the 1980s. The building is currently non-contributing due to a more-recent slip-cover of aluminum siding.

Arthur Townsend (1867-1950) was another enterprising young man who established himself on Murray’s State Street. A farm worker until his marriage to Lovenia Harker Townsend (1872-1932), Arthur Townsend founded a mercantile business with the help of his father-in-law, Henry Harker, Sr. (1849-1926). Townsend’s venture was known as the Murray Mercantile and housed in a two-part brick commercial block at 4836 S. State. An article from the American Eagle in 1903 stated that Arthur Townsend started the company in 1899 and described the inventory of the Murray Mercantile as follows: “many departments of merchandise, leading with groceries, dry goods, clothing, boots, shoes, hats, etc., and including country produce and feed stuffs of all kinds.” The mercantile grew steadily in the first half of the twentieth century, especially during the peak of the smelter industry. The Murray Mercantile distributed the paychecks for the employees of the Highland Boy Smelter. The upper floor of the mercantile building, called Harker Hall, was used as a lodge hall for meetings, parties, and community events, such as funerals. As the store grew more prosperous Arthur Townsend became one of Murray’s most respected citizens. He served on the city council for eight years, and was the mayor of Murray between December 1930 and January 1931. Arthur and Lovenia Townsend had four children. Records indicate that family lived above the shop for one or two years, but unlike the Carlson family, moved to a Victorian cottage at 4843 S. Poplar Street just a little south and west of the mercantile building around 1903. The Townsend family operated the Murray Mercantile until it closed in 1976.

In the settlement and early industrial period, Murray had two distinct populations: the early settlers and their descendants who lived on their farmsteads, and the immigrant smelter workers who lived in shantytowns near the rail lines and smelter operations. During this period, a third population emerged, a community of merchants, service workers and professionals, who lived in the downtown area. Only a few of Murray’s merchants, such as Edward Bagley and Henry Harker, Sr., did not live in Murray. Most were like Lawson, Carlson, and Townsend, businessmen who lived above their shops or in family homes near their downtown businesses.

There is no doubt that by the city’s incorporation in 1903, the district had the look and feel of an urban center, especially as businessmen began to constructed increasingly larger commercial blocks. The Waverley Building
(located at 4910-4914 S. State Street) was constructed in 1904. It was probably the first speculative commercial real estate in the city. The First National Bank of Murray was among the first tenants. The Waverley was one of the last Victorian-style commercial blocks to be constructed in the city. The Warenski-Duvall Building, constructed in 1915 at 4867 S. State, heralded a more twentieth-century or modern style. Edward J. Warenski (1866-1934) was an example of a second-generation Murray businessman. The Warenski family had operated a general merchandise store and saloon in Murray beginning in the 1860s. Around 1900, Edward J. Warenski and his wife, Emma L. Walton (1873-1955), built the brick home at 4841 S. State just north of the store. In 1915, the older store was demolished and a large two-story brick commercial building was built on the site. The Warenski family continued to operate the grocery store in one of the building’s three storefronts for only a short time. By the time the 1920 census was taken, Edward J. was listed as a “retired merchant” living at his home at 4841 South State. The building which housed his grocery store is not listed on the census and probably had no residential occupants until after 1923, the year the upper floor was converted to apartments by the Duvall family.

The district’s non-merchant class population is represented by the Williams-Hendrickson House at 4837 S. Poplar Street. The modest Victorian cottage was built around 1900 for John G. Williams (1834-1922), a pioneer blacksmith, and his wife Sarah Ann Hughes (1844-1928). The Williams family was renting the house to smelter workers by the time of the 1910 census. The 1910 census shows the Poplar Street neighborhood as a mix of immigrants in rental housing and long-time residents in owner-occupied dwellings. By the time of the 1920 census, the Williams House was the rental home of Martin A. Hendrickson (1877-1937) and Mary Beta Hendrickson (1878-1966). Martin Hendrickson worked for the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) for forty years. He worked at unloading cars at the smelter in 1920. The Hendricksons stayed in the area, moving to another house on Poplar Street and then to 5300 South in Murray.

During this period, the fledgling city government engaged in a number of improvement projects, especially in the downtown. Electricity was used for industrial lighting in Murray as early as 1880 with distribution to business and residential customers beginning in the early 1890s. A city-owned hydroelectric plant and distribution system began operating in 1913. Telephone service reached Murray in 1887 with an exchange established in 1903. In 1893, the Salt Lake Rapid Transit Company began operating an electric streetcar line between downtown Salt Lake City and Murray. Murray built its city hall at 4901 S. State Street in 1907 and the complex also included a jail and fire station. The city hall and jail were demolished in 1957, but the fire station is extant, though altered when it was attached to a strip mall in 1962. Institutional buildings are also represented by the Murray Post Office, which was housed in various commercial buildings on State Street, between the 1880s and 1952, when it was moved to its first off-State Street location, 150 E. Vine Street. The Murray Post Office spent the longest tenancy in two extant buildings, a one-part commercial block at 4775 S. State, built in 1916 and used as a post office until 1926; and the Warenski-Duvall Building, where the post office was located between 1926 and 1952.

Many of commercial buildings from this period were relatively simple, one-part commercial blocks. One example is the Happy Hour Theater, built circa 1910, at 4872 S. State. Murray’s first theater and an adjacent building were later remodeled in the 1930s and again in the 1950s. The Iris Theatre at 4973 S. State, built in 1916, with its Art Deco pillars is a notable exception to the simple commercial style. Louis A. Walters (1882-1977) and his wife Goldie Glenn Barney Walters (1885-1969) operated the theater and were living in the apartment upstairs on the 1920 census. The census records that Louis was a time keeper at the smelter, and Goldie ran the theater. Louis Walters later became the superintendent of the Ore Sampling Mill and moved to a house by the mill on 300 West. Their youngest daughter, Kathryn Walters Hoffrnan, remembers living in the theater and watching her father provide the mood music for the silent movies on the organ and player piano in the theater.

Commerce, Community Development and the Rise of the Automobile Period, 1921-1945

Through the 1920s and 1930s, Murray’s commercial district continued to grow with the increase in population. Murray’s population grew from 4,584 in 5740 in 1940 despite the depression years and the decline of the smelter industry. Soon after incorporation, Murray leaders began several projects designed to turn Murray’s half-mile long business district into a “white way” on State Street. Street lights were upgraded, sidewalks were laid, and phone lines extended through the city. State Street had been macadamized before 1895, but was paved for automobile traffic by the 1920s. 8 The automobile made it easier for persons living in the outlying farmsteads to visit downtown. Several businesses adapted to the change. Heckel’s (originally Lawson’s) harness shop switched from harnesses to shoes, and Carlson’s Bicycle Shop added automobile supplies and service by 1914. The Heckel and Carlson families continued to live above their shops. The streetcar along State Street stopped running in 1933. Several gasoline service stations appear on State Street in downtown Murray during this period, however, none of the historic gas stations are extant.

During this period, new residential space appeared in the form of multi-unit apartments above the main floors of the commercial buildings on State Street. The Harker Building, constructed in 1921, was Murray’s first largescale mixed-use development. In the 1920s, the three storefronts were leased by Electric Home Bakery (south), Murray Eagle newspaper office (center), and Murray Floral (north). The building was truly mixed-use as the
upper floors were both offices and residential. There were originally seven units on the second floor and eight on the third. The 1925 Polk directory provides the first glimpse of the occupants. Three units were leased to professionals: one doctor, one dentist, and one lawyer. None were residents of the building. The La Von Beauty Parlor was in one of the units on the second floor. Henry Harker was listed as a resident on the second floor, but it is not known whether this is Henry Harker, Sr. (who owned the building and died in 1926) or Henry Harker, Jr. (1881-1942). The remaining residential units were occupied by local workers: a gas station attendant, a laundress, a smelter worker, a city patrolman, a teacher, and two others. Three units were vacant. The 1930 census provides more detail about the residential occupants in 1930. Of the eleven units listed, seven were occupied by couples with children. There was one young (as yet childless) couple, one single man, one single woman, and three single men sharing a unit. The occupations were primarily working-class. Two each worked at the local smelter, for the railroad, the woolen mills, and a quartz mine (location unknown). One worked for a chicken ranch and one for the newspaper. The women worked as a family housekeeper, and a teacher (Harriet Little, the only occupant also listed in 1925).

As noted earlier, the upper floor of the Warenski block remodeled into apartments after the building was purchased by Tony Duvall (1895-1978) and his brother-in-law John W. Johnson (1886-1945) in 1923. Several members of the family lived in the Duvall apartments, including Tony and his wife, Marguerite Johnson Duvall (1897-1960), and his mother, Minnie Torrance Duvall (7-1952). In 1930, Tony Duvall built the Iris Theater at 4861 S. State. The Iris Theater commercial block was Murray’s largest mixed-used development. It included the first talking pictures theater, two commercial storefronts and apartments above. The Duvall family moved to the Iris apartments in 1930, but managed both buildings until 1952. According to the 1930 census, the residents of the Duvall and Iris apartments were mostly young married couples with few or no children. They were mostly working class who were employed in the Murray area as smelter and railroad workers, or store clerks and other service workers. They came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds reflecting the diversity found in Murray’s downtown. The Iris Theater catered to the immigrant population, for example, Thursdays were often reserved for Swedish films for the large group of Swedes living in Murray.

This period, between the 1920s and 1940s, is remarkable for the level of integration and ethnic diversification of the Murray’s downtown community. While early immigrants and second-generation Murray residents continued to live and work in the downtown (for example, the Warenskis and the Townsends), they were joined by an increasing number of later immigrants. The Hoffman family is one example. In October 1918, Joseph Hoffman (1882-1927) purchased the Bagley buildings from Edward Bagley for $2,000. He and his brother Edward Hoffman (1885-?) may have taken over the meat market after Bagley retired in 1915. In 1921, Joseph Hoffman remodeled the two buildings into a single façade. Joseph Hoffman was born in Yugoslavia and immigrated with his brother Edward Hoffman in 1907, possibly to work in the smelters. After Joseph Hoffman’s death, his wife, Therese D. Hoffman (1889-?), ran the shop, until 1930 when Edward Hoffman took over the management of the meat and grocery business. Edward Hoffman ran the grocery in the Hoffman Building until 1938 when he moved the business to 4854 S. State Street. Therese Hoffman continued to live in the building and lease it to various entities.

The Sheranian family is a notable example of the upward mobility of Murray’s immigrant population. A convert to the LDS Church, Nishan Sheranian (1860-1945) brought his wife Rebecca Niggos Sheranian (1868-1928) and their young family to Murray in 1902. Nishan Sheranian operated a barbershop on State Street. Their son, Herond N. Sheranian (1892-1978) worked at the smelter for a short time to support himself at the University of Utah’s medical school. After finishing his medical training in New York, Dr. Sheranian and his wife Marie Gutke (1894-?) moved back to Murray. He began his practice in the Harker Building, where he had offices for seven years. Between 1927 and 1931, he built the Murray Clinic Hospital at 120 E. 4800 South. The clinic hospital was designed by a Murray architect Lenord C. Nielsen (1884-1954). Herond Sheranian and Lenord Nielsen were among those prominent Murray citizens who had homes in the adjacent residential district.

For the most part, businesses established in Murray stayed in Murray. Though few were as long-lived as the Murray Mercantile (77 years) or Carlson’s bicycles (eight decades), most enterprises lasted at least twenty years for both owner-occupied and leased businesses. Many businesses, like Hoffman’s grocery, moved from one location to another. Department stores like Thomas Martin, Leader Clothing, and J. C. Penney’s had two or three different locations each. Between the 1920 and 1930s, Dutch immigrants Frank and Johanna Kaper moved their Up-2-Date Bakery from the Hoffman Building to the Harker Building. Robert Heckel (1891-1940), who had a shoe store in the former Lawson harness shop, expanded his building to meet the neighboring building and add a cafe in 1931. His widow, Margaret Bishop Heckel (1898-1962) continued to live in the building and manage the shop after her husband’s death until just a few years before her death. After the Heckel shop closed, the Hendricks brothers moved their shoe shop across State Street to the Heckel building. Tony Duvall and his partner Joe Lawrence built the modern air-conditioned Murray Theater in 1938. That same year the Grand Central Market chain built a one-part commercial block at 4868 S. State Street.

Many residents started out living in the downtown apartments or west-side cottages, and later moved to more substantial homes while staying in the downtown area. For example, two renters of the Williams House on Poplar became long-term Murray residents. Ernest J. Davies (1901-1988) and his wife Tessa Bernice Seal (1908-1980) were living in the house in 1930. They stayed in the rental house only for a few years, but lived in Murray for the rest of their lives. Davies was the superintendent of Murray City Water Department for 32 years. Another resident was Grant M. Evans (1902-1967), a dentist who lived there in the late 1930s, and had offices in the nearby Harker Building. Meanwhile, the Townsend House on Poplar passed from father to son. Delbert H. Townsend (1896-1974) and his wife, Theata Olivia Hughes (1897-1971), moved back to Murray to help with his father with the Murray Mercantile business.

Post-War Modernization Period, 1946-1957

This short period of Murray’s history is remarkable, primarily for what was occurring outside the downtown area. Prior to 1945, only one subdivision had been platted in Murray. In the decade between 1945 and 1955, twenty-six subdivisions were platted, mostly in the former farmland south of the downtown. Murray’s population began to double with each decade from 5,740 in 1940 to 9,006 in 1950 to 16,806 in 1960. Murray’s downtown benefited from the increased population and increased traffic on State Street. A few downtown businesses invested in new buildings, including the Murray Feed & Seed Store, which moved from the Harker Building to a new building at 4777 S. State. Another tenant of the Harker Building, Murray Floral constructed a new building around 1950 at 4969 S. State next to the Murray Theater. J. C. Penney‘s moved from the Iris Building to a new structure at 4849 S. State, between the Iris and the Warenski House. In the neighborhood west of State Street, the Safeway chain built a large supermarket in 1950, and Money’s Ice Cream parlor was built adjoining Margaret Gaboon’s House on 5th Avenue. Even more extraordinary is the number of storefronts and other buildings modernized during this period. These include the Murray Mercantile and Harker Building, the Murray City Pharmacy, the Lawson-Heckel and the Carlson buildings. In 1951, the Jenkins-Soffe Mortuary, modernized its funeral home on State Street, several professionals updated older buildings near the Murray Clinic Hospital to create a medical-dental enclave along east 4800 South.

As a commercial and civic center, Murray City’s downtown thrived in the first half of the twentieth century; however, by the time ASARCO (the only smelter to remain in operation after 1908) shut down production completely in 1950, the city had already begun a transformation into a major retail center and bedroom community for Salt Lake City. While the commercial district suffered some setbacks, such as the Depression and the smelter’s closure, the district remained economically viable until the 1960s. For a time, the district continued to draw patronage from the influx of post-war suburbanites. Many older storefronts were updated to reflect modern styles in order to draw in the automobile oriented customers. Unfortunately, the businesses could not compete with new suburban shopping malls, such as the Cottonwood Mall built in the Holladay area in the late 1950s.

Another blow to the downtown was the loss of the city complex. The Murray City Corporation sold the city hall complex to a developer in 1957, and the city hall and jail were demolished in 1958. The historic integrity of the fire station was altered by the construction of the adjoining strip mall in 1962. Even the power department offices, which had been housed in the old Iris Theater since the late 1930s, were moved south to the new Murray City Municipal Building at 4561 S. State.

Downtown Neglect and Decline Period, 1958-1982

With growing pressure from suburban malls, the construction of the Interstate 15 freeway, and the loss of the civic center, the downtown district a period of neglect and decline. Numerous buildings were demolished or fell into disrepair, and a large portion had absentee landlords. In 1971 the J.C. Penney department store, which had been operating at various locations in the community since 1910, closed its Murray location and left the city. A year later, the city’s new “tax base,” the Fashion Place Mall opened at the southern edge of the city. By the end of the period, half of Murray historic downtown remained intact. Numerous family owned businesses closed their doors for good during this period, including Carlson’s bicycle shop. The Murray Mercantile, reportedly had turn-of-the-century inventory on hand (buggy whips and button shoes) when the store finally closed in 1976.

Late Twentieth-Century Development Period, 1983-present

Several events of the 1980s and 1990s focused attention on Murray’s historic downtown. The .first was the 1983 renovation of the Arlington Elementary School (built in 1939 at 5025 S. State) into the Murray City Hall. The return of city hall to the downtown area was the beginning of the city’s re-investment in the historic business district. The second was a 1987 car crash and gas line explosion that destroyed a historic building at 4907 S. State and damaged several other buildings. The subsequent (and unfortunately incompatible) redevelopment projects at Vine and State in the area included a gas station/convenience store and a strip mall. As the “hub of the Salt Lake Valley,” the city’s motto for many decades, Murray City’s recent history has included a steady expansion of subdivision and retail development in other parts of the city. Recent annexations have expanded the city’s boundaries to borders of adjacent municipalities.

Through this expansion, Murray’s historic downtown has evolved into a retail area for specialty shops. Day Murray Music, housed in the Waverley building, continues to develop a loyal patronage. Other enduring enterprises include the Wright Costume Shop, the Murray Vision Center, Don Blair Photography, and the French Lady Boutique. The wildly successful Deseret Star Playhouse, in the rehabilitated Iris Theater, draws patrons during the evening hours. Another evening draw is the ballroom dancing, held in the former old Grand Central Market building, across the street. In the past decade, redevelopment plans for the former smelter site have started a renaissance economic development and historic reservation in the historic downtown commercial district. Redevelopment projects in the area have included street pavers on Poplar Street, sidewalk upgrades and the replica period lighting on State Street. In 2005, Murray City Council passed the Downtown Historic Overlay District ordinance and accompanying design guidelines. The two main objectives of the design guidelines are to help protect the historic district from incompatible spillover development from the IHC Hospital currently under construction on the former smelter site to the southwest, and to guide rehabilitation projects, which may preserve the extant contributing buildings, and possibly reverse incompatible changes to non-contributing buildings.