Tom Clyde: Disposable buildings
September 4, 2015
We had another teardown in my neighborhood. This one kind of hit home because it’s a house I remember watching get built. It was kind of controversial in the neighborhood at the time. Most of the other houses were cabins, with cabin-y architecture, modest size, and few luxury features. The covenants required indoor plumbing. Several of them have bit the dust over the years, and in most cases, they were no great loss. Tiny, faux-Swiss, plywood-sided jobs that weren’t winterized at all — they were really obsolete.
This one was different. It was a regular house. In fact, it was so regular that everybody else thought it was oddly out of place, and a strange thing to have built in a subdivision of summer cabins. It was the classic 1960s split-level, like a couple of thousand identical houses blanketing the Salt Lake suburbs. And it was house-like in terms of finishes. It had a garage. A two-car garage. Nobody had a garage. There were storage sheds, and places to park snowmobiles for the few who had heat in their cabins back then. This house was just very out of place.
Although the couple who built it owned it for 30 years or so, I don’t recall ever meeting them, or even seeing any sign of activity at the house. It sat there empty for the most part, though if they had been there, the car would have been inside the garage and nobody would really have noticed. They sold it, and a family with a couple of kids bought it. They really went after it, and while it was still a Sandy split-level, the interior was updated and finished off very nicely. They used it and spent a lot of time there for several years before deciding to sell it after the kids had grown up.
It was a nicer house than most of the American people will ever live in. But it’s a teardown. It’s a teardown because we are in a surreal market where nothing really makes sense. Pricing in my immediate neighborhood has, at least until now, reflected the distance (it’s a 30-mile round trip to a quart of milk), and the third-world utilities and services. Yet within a radius of a couple of miles, there are a dozen or more listings over $5 million, and a couple for twice that. A bit of a shock for sheep ground.
The current owner bought it, and to my knowledge, never spent a night in the place. A year and a day after the purchase, he pushed it over. I suppose there is some tax write-off if you’ve held it that long. He paid what seemed like a pretty high price for it, given that it’s on a dirt road and the utility service, snow plowing, and winter access are all a little sketchy. But it’s in the dump now.
The new house, though modest by Park City standards where houses are measured by the acre, is the biggest in the neighborhood by quite a bit. It’s a nice lot, riverfront with big trees (that probably won’t survive the excavation) and nice views. Ironically, the design is a lot more cabin-y than what it replaces. Aside from the size, it seems really appropriate on the site.
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I’m not sure what to make of our world of disposable buildings. The Park City School District is asking voters to fund a lot of new projects. Treasure Mountain may be a disposable building. It’s been problematic from the beginning, and is just plain depressing inside. The high school is new, but apparently in the most recent tear-down-and-rebuild cycle, they forgot to build locker rooms for the gym or something.
I am an alien in the District and since I can’t vote on the bond issue, I haven’t followed it in any detail. Not that there has been any detail provided. It’s like Trump’s health care plan to replace Obamacare — "It’s gonna be terrific!" Whatever it is. The growth here over the last 30 years has been exponential, and designing buildings that could be afforded at the time, but had the potential to expand to meet the growth, would be difficult.
Still, the Park City School District is routinely tearing down buildings that are newer than any school I ever attended. I’m really bad at math, but I don’t blame that on the fact that I attended an elementary school that was 60 or 70 years old.
I guess I had kind of assumed that once we reached "build-out" that it would all slow down. Instead, we are going for a second cutting, plowing down the existing houses and starting over. Because, you know, some of them are 30 years old now, and nobody can be expected to live in conditions like that. For two weeks a year.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.