Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ethnicity, rise, decline, and regeneration. A study of Salt Lake City

I've posted here a couple of times on ethnic neighborhoods in posts inspired in part by the City of Denver. I happened to be in Salt Lake the other day when the same thing occurred to me. That is, ethnicity and how it strongly impacted urban areas and regions in the past.

Salt Lake is a city which, if looked at in terms of demographic groups, is normally associated with the Mormons for obvious reasons. That's so strongly the case that we just don't think of it being a big urban area with strong ethnic neighborhoods, but apparently that''s just flat out wrong.  Around the turn of the last century, it definitely did.

The first time I became aware of that is when a friend of mine pointed out the impressive Catholic cathedral there.

The Cathedral of the Madeline, Salt Lake City Utah.

The Cathedral of the Madeline is a huge beautiful Gothic cathedral. Built in 1900, it is just off downtown in a hilly area.  The cathedral, I learned, was built due to the large Irish Catholic population that was working in the mines and plants just outside of the city.  Building the cathedral, in some ways, showed that they'd really arrived, and were doing well.

But that's not the only, or even the most surprising, example.  Just recently I was in a part of the city down by the old railroad station.  Located in that area of the city is a Greek Orthodox cathedral.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which still has its own school, was built in the 1920s, just a bit later.  That Salt Lake City had a significant population of Greeks was surprising.  More surprising, however, is that they were the largest immigrant ethnicity in Salt Lake City at the time, and the part of the city that the cathedral is located in was called "Greek Town".


Greek Town was in a part of the city which was quite industrial at that time, so the location of the cathedral reflects that condition that existed in many urban areas of the time, that being that people lived, went to church, and worked, all in a concentrated area.  They apparently weren't the only immigrant group working in that area.  Only a couple of blocks away from the cathedral is a church built specifically with the immigrant Japanese population in mind.

Japanese Church of Christ, Salt Lake City.  This church was built in the same year as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

That Salt Lake City ever had such a significant population of Japanese immigrants that a church would have been built with them in mind is a surprise.  But obviously it did.

Salt Lake by the late 19th Century had a sufficient population of Jewish residents that they had two synagogues built in the last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th Century just off of the downtown area.  Presumably the existence of two synagogues within a block of each other reflected some division in faith.  Here too, this was a bit of a surprise to me when I first learned of it.  That the two synagogues were so close to each other would also suggest that the neighborhood they were in was Jewish at the time, although this assumption could be in error.

B'nai Israel Temple, Salt Lake City.  This building is no longer a synagogue, but rather is an architecture firms office.

St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City, which was originally a synagogue.

All of this shows a much more diverse ethnic diversity in Salt Lake City a century ago than I would have expected, and it stands in contrast with the common presumption about the city.

 Former Firestone facility in Salt Lake City.

Of interest as well, while some of the buildings shown in this thread have been kept in their original uses, the neighborhoods have clearly gone through changes.  Greek Town, as noted, was once very industrial and was associated with a Firestone Tire Company plant.

 Firestone plant location, now a restaurant, in Salt Lake City.

 California Tire & Rubber Company building, Salt Lake City.

This area of Salt Lake is no longer industrial, and its undergoing some changes. It clearly fell into a state of dilapidation, and there are still some areas of it that can be pretty rough.  I'd be careful walking around this area at night.  Nonetheless, during the day there's some trendy cool looking restaurants and bars in the area.

That Salt Lake's history apparently reflects a pretty common urban story probably shouldn't be surprising, but in some ways it is.  It isn't a city we really think in an industrial context, with immigrant populations, but it was.

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