I have spent a lot of time in Sugar House.
I was among the throng of kids at the Saturday matinees at the Southeast Theater where a nickel bought a Sugar Daddy which lasted half as long as the movie. A few years later, I watched first-run films there'West Side Story and Lawrence of Arabia'holding hands with a Mormon girl who had braces on her teeth. For movie dates, I favored a gray, sharkskin suit with the black Florsheim wingtips I bought in a shoe store just north of the theater for (gulp!) $25.
There was a sporting-goods store in the same block where I browsed trays of trout flies with names like Mormon Girl and Dolly Madison. They were works of art on No. 16 fishhooks'the equal of any Fabergé egg'and just expensive enough that I hated to get them wet.
The slate roof on the Sprague Library contained a musty interior crowded with bookshelves. I recall a winter afternoon there, distracted by steam rising noisily in the radiators, trying to differentiate between a compound sentence and a compound predicate for a test in my Highland High School English class.
White Levis were in vogue at Highland then, as were untucked Gant shirts. I bought the Levis at Keith O’Brien, a department store on the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive. I used my mother’s metal charge plate. With its raised letters, it resembled the dog tags I eventually wore around my neck willy-nilly.
On the north side of 2100 South, next to the fire station where my Schwinn bicycle was licensed, was a bowling alley where I once disabled the pin-setting machine by rolling two balls in quick succession. A few blocks south'at the top of Simpson Avenue, across the street from Skaggs and Albertsons'I occasionally bought bouncing time at an outdoor trampoline center.
I aspired to be a bagboy at Albertsons but the jobs I landed involved shovels, not groceries, and paid $1 an hour. On a summer morning following Highland’s graduation, one of my co-workers arrived to work in a manic state. Alternately giddy and remorseful, he finally owned up to a carnal lapse with his Mormon girl the night before. It was his first time; hers too. When the crew punched out for lunch, our sympathetic boss drove him to Fankhauser Jewelry in Sugar House to buy an engagement ring.
I banked as much of my paychecks as I could. I had a savings account at Walker Bank in Sugar House. I saved enough to buy a motorcycle without a muffler. One day, I roared out of the bank’s parking lot into the arms of a policeman who ticketed me for “buzzing pedestrians” in the crosswalk just west of the Pine Cone Lounge.
The Pine Cone was a favorite watering hole for college students in the late 1960s. There we smoked Marlboros, drank Olympia beer and played The Dinger, a complicated pinball machine that required deft applications of body English to win. The rare winner collected cash from the bartender discreetely near the back door.
The Pine Cone is long gone, as are Walker Bank, the bowling alley and Dee’s Hamburgers. The Nu-Crisp Popcorn store my father frequented stands empty and forlorn. Only Fankhauser Jewelry and the Sprague Library remain. The Olive Garden restaurant has supplanted the trampolines; Barnes & Noble has replaced Keith O’Brien.
Many people object to those chain businesses, but the truth of the matter is that Sugar House is probably no better or no worse than it was in an era when “funky” had not been coined. I still spend time there. My wife’s Christmas CD came from Orion’s, and I sometimes read City Weekly at the gritty SugarHouse Coffee on the corner. I confess that I have bought books at Barnes & Noble and overpriced chocolate at Wild Oats.
The recent brouhaha over Craig Mecham’s redevelopment plan has set me to thinking about how my Sugar House experience relates to the coming changes. My wife sides with the funky, independent businesses that will be displaced when Mecham razes his building. I, on the other hand, draw a line at the pillorying of Mecham. But my view is skewed by a long-standing bias against the status quo. I relish change. I have frequently counseled others that while change without improvement is possible, improvement without change is not.
The disruption of one of Salt Lake City’s most eclectic neighborhoods will not be cataclysmic, but it is unsettling. The media coverage'which included an inconclusive shrug of a program by Utah Now'is evidence of that unease. I tend to be skeptical, however. I wonder how much of the hue and cry is ingenuous. Is it the funky stores people like or is it the idea that they exist which appeals? For example, I like the notion that the Blue Boutique is a profitable business in a city populated by outwardly modest Mormon girls, but I am never going to buy any lingerie there. Thus, while I don’t like the prospect of Blue Boutique’s forced closure, I am not invested in its viability. There are others like me, I believe.
By virtue of my long association with Sugar House, I am qualified to draw conclusions. The inevitability of change is one. Another is the fact that Parley’s Creek was restored to daylight as an adjunct of the chain stores’ construction, so redevelopment is not necessarily without its redeeming aspects. Finally, the lesson of Sugar House is that the lifespan of today’s steel-and-glass developments'City Creek and The Gateway included'is probably as short as the memory of a guy like me. And that’s discomfiting.
John Rasmuson is a freelance writer filling in for John Saltas while Saltas is on vacation. View Saltas’ vacation photos at flickr.com/photos/jsaltas.