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West Jordan couple petition city to preserve their 115-year-old home as an art gallery

Published June 19, 2017 11:25 am

Preserving history • Mayor says city has some interest in purchasing the property.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Jordan • A funny thing happened on her way to the post office — Joan Crowther decided to petition the City Council to purchase her 115-year-old home and turn it into an art gallery.

Built in 1902, the house sits on nearly an acre and has historical significance she said she wants to see preserved. David Dahl — a prominent Utah rancher whose son Lawrence was the first town board president of West Jordan — once lived there, and the house is believed to have been the first in West Jordan to have indoor plumbing.

"Out of the blue, I mean literally, I'm driving to mail some letters, and I don't get 20 feet down the road when I think, 'This house should be an art gallery,' " she said. "So instead of going to the post office, I went to the West Jordan City offices and gave them my idea. And I come home — I've been gone too long — and I'm like, 'Honey, guess what I've done?' "



Joan, an artist, has exhibited work in the house and said it might lend itself more to becoming a gallery than it would to becoming someone else's residence.

"It is not a convenient house," she said. "It really has its charm and we love it, but it's like — who would want to live here? Which is part of the reason we think it should be an art gallery. You know? It really has a nice flow for art, but the closets aren't very big and [there are] a lot of things that these days people may not want for their home."

The location's proximity to West Jordan High School and to the TRAX line would also make it a convenient location for such a public purpose, she said.

Joan went before the West Jordan City Council at its March 22 meeting to request help preserving her home.

"This may be one of the more unique citizen comments that you get," she started.

Mayor Kim Rolfe noted that the request is unusual — he said he has never seen a house with this kind of historical significance up for sale during his time in elective office. Though he said he "wouldn't be at liberty to discuss real estate," he added that the city is interested in the idea of purchasing the property.

Carl, Joan's husband, believes the chances of that happening are "pretty nil," but she is a little more positive.

"There's certainly interest there," she said. "But I also think things move slowly in government. Especially cities. And unless there's somebody in the city that's particularly interested, it might just kind of slide by."

The Crowthers have lived in "the old Dahl house" for the past 45 years. When they bought the property for $18,500, the area was rural, with an 80-acre farm just to the north.

Joan said it took only months for development projects to begin sprouting, and Carl explained the city has changed even more over the past few years.

"Anything that looked like it was of substantial meaning to the city got torn down," he said. "So our home is one of the … last standing old buildings" in West Jordan.

Joan said preserving old structures like hers should be more of a priority.

"It tells about who we are," she said. "It tells such a history. You know what families were like, you know what was important to them [and] you know how so much living has gone on in a place. You go into somewhere new and it doesn't have that same feeling. It just seems like it kind of seeps into the walls, you know? Just the process of living."

If the process of living did make its way into walls, Joan and Carl would be deeply ingrained within them.

The two schoolteachers moved into the house in their mid-20s, three years into their marriage. They raised their four children there and now play with their grandchildren in the "dress-up room" and the backyard.

They renovated the house room by room — resulting in dozens of stories about the way each one used to be, and what it took to get it to the way it is now.

"We had no money," Carl said. "So you do it yourself or you don't do it."

Though he had no training, Carl began building furniture to keep expenses low.

"He would build me the cutest things. This table, that table, that," Joan said, pointing around the living room. "I would draw it up and he would build it. It just made it so [the house] had charm, but we didn't have to go buy antiques that wouldn't fit."

Joan said the two have put countless dollars and hours into improvements. They rewired the home (which was built 16 years before electricity came to the city), turned the coal bin into a bedroom for one of their children and tore through walls three-bricks deep to add on to the house.

The Crowthers thought countless times about moving to a house that would require less work, but said their investments were worth the effort. Then, after Carl had a heart attack last November and spent as many as 45 days in and out of the hospital, Joan said she realized they couldn't take care of the property any longer.

"It breaks our hearts," she said, becoming emotional. "But on the other hand, we have just a great sense of accomplishment that we turned something that was beautiful at one time and really became so run-down and shabby and it's beautiful again."

Joan said her uncertainty about what will happen to the property she has put her "heart and soul" into makes leaving even harder.

"There's no question we could sell the house," she said. "But what if someone buys it and tears the house down to put three houses on the property? We want it preserved. We would love to be able to bring our grandchildren back because it is kind of a landmark to the neighborhood."

As they try to make plans for their home's preservation, the Crowthers also have to think about their next move — which Joan said will need to be far away from the house they have spent their lives building in order to help ease the pain of leaving.

"It's a little bit like going through a divorce, I think, to leave our home," Joan said with a small laugh. "We will be bawling when we drive out of here with the last of our stuff. But it's … I mean … it's just going to go to the next phase, I think."

tstevens@sltrib.com Twitter: @tstevens95

 

 

 

 

 

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