A Is For Abomination


Just to prove that I despise other things in the world besides Dollhouse and Glenn Beck, I am going to tell you all about the evil that abounds on A Street in Salt Lake City.

A Street is the first street running north and south in the Avenues. The Avenues is a GREAT neighborhood, with lots of cool historic houses, and lots of liberals who post signs for progressive causes, and several cool coffee shops (including the Jack Mormon Coffee Roasters, which isn't actually much of a coffee shop, but it has awesomely amusing coffee mugs, which I keep planning to give as gifts to the post- or ex-Mormons in my life).

A Street is also the street immediately east of Memory Grove (which I will have to write about because I couldn't find a decent description of it already on the web), and is separated from the capitol building by the mouth of City Creek Canyon. A trail down into Memory Grove opens on A Street, and the street offers some pretty great views. The lots on A Street are GREAT lots. And they should have great houses on them, that take advantage of Utah's pretty great weather and capitalize on the really great views.

And yet, many of the houses on A Street are DREADFUL. Like, SERIOUSLY DREADFUL.

The house at the northeast corner of A Street and 7th Avenue, for instance, is the house I HATE the most in all of the Avenues. Here's what it faces:


That photo was taken standing in the driveway of the house. Here's one taken a few yards further south:


I don't know what those mountains to the south are called, but I like looking at them. I like the view of the city. (You used to be able to see the temple pretty clearly from that vantage, until the church started building this tall, UGLY building of condos to the south of it, but that's another rant for later.)

And here's what the house itself looks like:


It's HIDEOUS! It was just a mediocre ranch home to begin with, with no decent porch or outside space to take advantage of the views, but then someone took the roof off and added that DREADFUL second story, complete with a little screened-in sunroom where the people seem to keep exercise equipment.

It HURTS ME to look at this.

Now, I'm not saying this is the most hideous house I've ever seen in my life. But this house sits on one of the best lots in all of northern Utah. It has perhaps the best view of the capitol available in the city, and THAT crappy unimaginative brick thingy is the best someone could think of to build on it?

Then there's the house at the northeast corner of A Street and 8th Avenue. Its views are pretty great too:


But the house doesn't even face A Street! No! It faces 8th Avenue! Here's the view from the front of the house:


I mean, you know, what the FUCK?

And here's the view of the house from A Street:


In other words, there was some SERIOUS architectural stupid happening at some point in SLC.

Now, there are several houses and a block of apartments further south on A Street, on the west side of the street, where there is enough flat land to support a big structure. They probably have great views out their back windows. I sure as hell hope so, but until I get an invitation to inspect them, I can't know for sure. I am of the opinion that none of them are particularly interesting in design, though a few are really big and ostentatious, and one had this sort of old-world fairy-tale quality that I found really charming--until the owners put a new roof on it a few months ago. The old roof was was a very pretty gray slate, and they replaced it with standard synthetic shingles or whatever most roofing is called these days. The new roof really transformed the look of the house--in a BAD way.

There's only one attractive, lot-appropriate, nice home on the east side of A Street with a view of the canyon and what lies across it, and that's this house, between 6th and 7th Avenue:


It doesn't even have the best views on the street, but it still takes advantage of the views. It has porches--several of them. It has outside living space with varying degrees of privacy. It has decent proportions and a pretty red tile roof and decent landscaping. IT DOESN'T SUCK.

Now, I know we live in a free country and people can spend however much or little they desire to build whatever shitty houses they want on lots they have purchased with their own ill-gotten gain. But if you're going to buy a house on a really great lot with a really great view, DON'T BUILD AN UGLY HOUSE. Don't coop yourself up inside ugliness when you don't have to.

And if you won't shun ugliness for yourself, do it for the rest of us. We will walk past your house and imagine what it would be like to drink a cup of coffee on a crisp autumn morning, or sip a margarita some summer evening when the sun begins to go down. YOU PEOPLE COULD HAVE A REALLY GREAT VIEW OF THE SUNSET. Take advantage of it. And let those of us who walk down your street enjoy a pleasant moment realizing that we, like you, appreciate the harmony of good design on good lots and the way that harmony enhances our interaction with nature and our own experience of our lives.

Got it?


Very unfortunate about the architecture, but I totally hope I'm on the list for one of those mugs! ;)

I'll see what I can do, chanson :-)

That house makes me want to start an ‘Ugly House’ blog and highlight the worst homes out there, but I already have too many blogs and not enough time…

Since it’s Halloween, and since you used the word DREADFUL, I’ll build on that. I think of Frankenstein when I look at that house. In the movie, Frankenstein is made with organs and pieces from a variety of dead bodies already in the grave. This is what I think of when I look at this house. No thought about the work as a whole – just a bastard creation that meets the immediate needs of the creator. The real problem with housing in America is that typically no design professional is used in any way, even as a consultant. That is why it is so pleasant when we actually find that rare home that looks nice, addresses the unique site conditions and climate, and is appropriate in size, scale, and materiality. It takes time, work, and money to succeed with any given home.

Rather than hiring a design professional, almost all homeowners in America turn to homebuilders. The older beautiful homes in SLC and elsewhere were before this trend of turning to homebuilders, so they were actually designed by architects/design professionals. Which is why most of them are still standing and are timeless in their appeal. It’s true that you get what you pay for, so this is a case where someone wanted something for cheap and had no ability or vision to see what the home “should” be, so they have created a monster that is now terrorizing the neighborhood, and not just on Halloween.

Hi GMA--

since you are a design professional, I am especially interested in your response to my critique. I was struck by this sentence:

No thought about the work as a whole – just a bastard creation that meets the immediate needs of the creator.

I think that's actually how a lot of things are created in the world--not just houses, but food, writing, religion, etc. As a teacher of writing, I read so much CRAPPY work that is clearly intended to meet the immediate need of fulfilling an assignment to write 1,200 words on a given topic, instead of thinking about how to craft a document that actually says something, is worth the paper it's written on, and the time it takes someone to read it.

SLC is full of interesting homes, and I LOVE wandering around and finding the well designed ones. And the fact that it has so many great homes makes the ugly ones appear even uglier and more monstrous. To continue the Halloween monster theme, houses like this one aren't just like Frankenstein in their mismatched piecemeal nature; they're like Frankenstein because they attack you. At least in SLC there's some beauty around to help shield and protect you from the monsters.

Whereas Erie, PA is more like being constantly dogged by an entire horde of slow-moving but implacable zombies. Erie has many houses uglier than the one I trash here, but I never would have bothered to pick one of the ugliest and complain about it, because I wouldn't know where to start. The town is full of houses on tiny, boring lots in neighborhoods where EVERYTHING is ugly, so you don't feel assaulted by them in the same way. But they suck the life out of you and kill your soul surely and steadily. And that's what I don't understand about building hideous houses: don't the people who do it realize that it's BAD FOR THE HUMAN SOUL to live in such ugliness? It was certainly bad for me.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on October 26, 2009 7:13 AM.

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