Still standing and how after all these years
June 16, 2007
Not too many years ago, 251 Ontario Avenue/252 Marsac Avenue dominated a hill half-full of empty lots, but 20 years later, a fort of tall new homes and old trees cast long shadows on its roof.
Its location has become something of a secret. The front door is accessible only from a three-flight staircase from Ontario.
The current owner, Katie Eldridge, confesses that before she posted a sign on the street, friends couldn’t find it, and even now, some still can’t. She wonders if people on the 11th Annual Historic Homes Tour might miss it.
According to the Park City Historical Museum, the bright yellow T-cottage house with two addresses was built in 34 days. At the time it was a record for contractor M.H. Pape, until he and 25 builders finished a four-room house in four days.
William and Alma Austin purchased the home for $250 in July 22, 1890. The three-room home consisted of two wings, a porch, bay windows and two front doors.
The Austins lived in the home for two years before selling it for $900 and moving to Antwerp, New York.
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Like neighboring miners’ homes also built at the turn of the 20th Century, it might have collapsed to the ground and mowed over to make way for new development, if it weren’t for the improvements made by its subsequent owners.
The house used to be accessed by a wooden four-foot-wide boardwalk that wound up from Marsac, but over the years, it’s been swallowed by overgrown plants. The planks were installed during the days when Ontario Avenue was not a street, but a railroad track that helped to service the mines.
Left from the last century is also a post for a clothesline, created out of metal scraps from the mines. Eldridge uses it as a hook for her birdfeeder over her garden of johnny jump-ups and pansies.
Rocky Smith, who purchased 251 Ontario 25 years ago, remembers the clothesline being one of the reasons he spent so many hours chatting with miners over an oil tablecloth. They barely discussed the property, but he learned a lot about mining, he recalls.
"I owned the house when it was brown and when I purchased the property, there was nothing over here," he says. "I rented it to ski bums."
Smith lives in a condo he built adjacent to the property, with a bird’s-eye-view of the western half of Old Town, from St. Mary’s Church to Park City Mountain Resort and yonder down the canyon. The little cottage, half its size, might have a lower left-hand corner of his view, but trees get in the way.
Smith sold the property to Chris Larson in 1989 for $43,000.
"It had sat empty for a couple of years and by the time I bought it, it was in bad shape," Larson says. "It was the tail end of the $50,000 miner’s house you could buy. There were a bunch of miners’ houses around at that point some could be rehabbed, some could not."
When Larson’s friend, Charlie Sturgis, who runs White Pine Touring, helped him pull out old, stained carpeting, Larson recalls Sturgis instructing him to "torch the house now." The comment impressed Larson, since he regards Sturgis, an avid outdoorsman, as a man with a high tolerance for dirt and grime.
Yet Larson was convinced the home could be transformed it had a rotten foundation, but the walls had studs. Over 15 years he slowly rehabilitated the home with his own hands, tearing out the kitchen, gutting the back and bathroom, rewiring and re-plumbing it.
Beneath the floorboards, Larson found Cornish newspapers from 1909, he says, and buried in the walls, he discovered an original stained glass door.
Larson lived in the house for 15 years.
"As I started renovating and as I lived in Old Town, I just really grew to love it," he says. "You could walk anywhere to restaurants, to bars, to the post office."
According to Larson, in the 1990s, besides Smith’s condo, there were just empty lots and to the east, there was nothing but a run-down house called "Jack’s Shack."
Then as he watched Park City grow, the neighborhood got noisier with construction on Marsac, he says. Larson decided to paint the house yellow. "I was surrounded by very large condos and I wanted it to stand out," he explains.
Larson, who served on the Park City Planning Commission for eight years and the Historic District Commission (now the Historic Preservation Board), moved to a log cabin he built at the base of Wyoming’s Tetons three years ago, after selling the home to Eldridge.
"Park City is not the town it was when I first moved there," he explained. "It changed so much that I was ready for a change."
Smith says the house was fortunate to have Larson.
"Miners didn’t own the property, so they just put up a crummy shack and lived in that, and if no one lived in them for a few years, they fell down," he says. "And life goes on."
Within the last year, Eldridge says the house has been appraised at more than $700,000.
"It’s so cute and small and it’s my style," she said. "I was lucky, because I definitely couldn’t afford it now."
Visit 251 Ontario Avenue today, Saturday, on the Park City Historic Home Tour until 3 p.m. Tickets are available for $20 at City Hall, 445 Marsac Avenue. Preservations awards will be presented at Zoom Restaurant, 660 Main Street from 3 to 5 p.m. Tickets for the reception cost $35 each.