Federal Heights is one of the neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, Utah. The following text is from Preservation Utah’s 2023 historic tour pamphlet:

Federal Heights

As you stroll through Federal Heights, it may be hard to imagine that this neighborhood occupied by stately homes was, in the early years of the city, something of an industrial park full of brickyards, lime kilns, and slaughterhouses. (In the 1870s, prospectors even attempted to excavate a coal mine in the nearby foothills.) By the late 1800s, however, Salt Lake City had grown to the point at which the land had become much more valuable for homes.

But what we now think of as a single neighborhood for many years actually comprised two separate subdivisions: a lower section (“The Lower Heights”) bounded by Virginia Street on the west, Perry Avenue on the north, the University of Utah on the east, and 1st South on the south; and an upper section (“The Upper Heights”) bounded by Virginia Street on the west, Popperton Park on the north, the University of Utah on the east, and 2nd Avenue on the south. Although both were developed in the early 1900s, their respective histories are quite different.

The Upper Heights

Today’s tour progresses primarily through The Upper Heights, an area with a complex and intriguing history. In 1864, Charles Popper settled here, occupying approximately 160 acres near the mouth of Dry Canyon (below what is now Popperton Park). Although neighboring Fort Douglas disputed the ownership, Congress in 1885 ordered the fort to cede the land to Popper.

Three years later, Popper sold the land to Salt Lake real estate agents Colborn Skinner & Co., who promptly resold it as “Popperton Place” to a development group, the Denver Syndicate. But various factors conspired against the Denver Syndicate, most notably the “Great Panic” of 1893 that sent the country spiraling into economic depression and, as one local paper would later observe, “reduced many of the wealthy. stockholders of the Denver syndicate to paupers and left Popperton Place with an impotent ownership.” So it sat essentially untouched, with only a relative handful of houses constructed, until Utah mining magnate Samuel Newhouse purchased it in 1908.

Newhouse had elaborate plans for the property that he modestly renamed “Newhouse Park.” Like the Denver Syndicate, however, Newhouse encountered severe financial difficulties-mostly of his own making-and in 1917 sold Newhouse Park to the local development firm Bonneville-On-The- Hill, which promptly renamed it “Bonneville-On- The-Hill.” Unlike Samuel Newhouse and the Denver Syndicate, Bonneville-On-The-Hill was financially stable and proceeded to develop the property. Within the relatively short period of 30 years, Bonneville-On-The Hill was essentially built out, with only a few vacant lots remaining.

The Lower Heights

In 1906, partners Lucien Nunn and A.W. Wrench purchased 60 acres from LeGrand Young that contained “some of the finest building lots in that part of the city.” Operating as Telluride Realty, Nunn and Wrench subdivided the property that they called “Federal Heights” into over 300 lots.

But their plans hit a snag when the University of Utah objected to the configuration of streets-in particular, the extension of 100 South, “because a number of the houses in that addition will back against the north front of the university campus and the regents fear that coal sheds and outhouses will be built on the lots and thereby mar the view from the University.” After a couple of years of haggling (and litigation), the dispute was resolved by aligning 100 South so the houses faced north instead of south toward the university. With no other obstacles, development in Federal Heights proceeded apace, and by the mid-1950s it was essentially built out.

Federal Heights (Upper and Lower)

One of the distinguishing features of Federal Heights is its street layout. Rather than modifying the area’s rolling topography, the developers of both the Upper and Lower Heights decided to capitalize on it. As one local paper noted about the Upper Heights, “There will be no corners and no straight streets and the natural undulations of the landscape render it a notable opportunity for the very best work landscape effects.”

The other distinguishing feature of Federal Heights is the reserved character of its architecture. In contrast to the decorative exuberance of late-19th century Victorianism, the designs of these houses are generally stylistically conservative, reflecting the developers’ intent to add an air of refinement to their neighborhoods. In keeping with this goal, the developers of both subdivisions established strict limitations (the private-sector equivalent of ordinances) on what could and could not be built, as exemplified by an ad for Bonneville-On-The-Hill from 1919:


Apartment Houses, Commercial Garages, Corner Groceries, Board Signs, Double Houses, Flats, Signs “Furnished Rooms” Fifty-Foot Lots.

By the late 1940s, however, these limitations no longer applied. Sharing concerns about the potential for homes to be converted to apartments or fraternity houses, the residents of the Lower and Upper Heights collaborated to petition the city to establish a unified Federal Heights zoning district, limiting such uses. The city granted their petition, thus creating a single Federal Heights district.

But the resulting ordinances have not prohibited even limited a more significant change: demolition. Without adequate protections, Federal Heights is experiencing numerous demolitions, as new owners seek to construct substantially larger homes or subdivide large lots. With several homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many more identified as “contributing” to the character of the neighborhood, Federal Heights could be designated as a historic district with accompanying ordinances that would protect its distinctive character.

The Federal Heights neighborhood is one of the 20+ neighborhoods making up Salt Lake City, Utah.

It covers the area east of the Avenues from about Virginia Street to the University of Utah and from about 100 South north.

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Points of Interest in Federal Heights:

All places I’ve documented that are in Federal Heights: