Utah Highway 89 runs like a river through the heart of Ogden, where its name changes to Washington Boulevard and “crusing the ’Vard” is entertainment in itself. As the parade of vehicles flow past, we sit on mountain bikes in front of a vacant storefront, waiting for the gondola. According to the map, it will pass right over our heads'hard to imagine, considering what the area looks like now. Since the fall of the Ogden Mall, most of the stores on this section of the ’Vard are closed. There’s graffiti, litter and dubious characters (like me) lurking in the shadows.
All this will change when the 21-acre brown field where the Mall used to be is reborn as The Junction, a mixed-use development of residences, retail, entertainment and office buildings. And when the gondola comes, it will be possible to catch a lift with our bikes to the top of the mountain and roll downhill all the way.
Until that day, we’ll have to pedal uphill on our own power, as we always have. So we geared down and started biking up 23rd Street, following the proposed route of the gondola. It will continue in a straight line up this quiet, residential street to Harrison Boulevard.
But it made for a dull, steep bike ride, so when the terrain leveled off at Jefferson Avenue, we did too, heading toward Lester Park and the historic center of Ogden. This part of Ogden will not be seen by gondola riders, almost as if planners were trying to keep tourists from seeing what the real Ogden looks like.
Anchored by the public library, Lester Park is a commons of many cultures. Three Links Towers Assisted Living Center takes up a full block on the west side of the park. On the northeast corner of the park, the Alcoholics Anonymous home and its habituÃ©s lend their raffish charm. Sprinkled among middle- and working-class older homes are group houses for juvenile youth offenders. Meanwhile, the Jefferson Avenue Historic District Association is gradually restoring the neighborhood through building incentives and regulations.
Cutting diagonally through the park takes you to 25th Street, the axis of Ogden. The recently expanded Central Middle School takes up most of this block; obsolete and overcrowded, it, too, is slated for demolition. Eighty percent of its 500 students are eligible for free meals because they come from low-income or poverty-level families. Across the street from the school, Rodeo Market rules the corner, a bustling hive of Latino commerce. Down the block, the intersection of 26th and Monroe is dominated by Stimson’s Market. Open 24/7, Stimson’s is legendary for its potato logs, and its neon sign has been a local landmark for generations.
After Monroe, it’s all uphill through ascending levels of upward mobility until you rejoin the gondola route on Harrison. Crossing Harrison, you pass through tasteful neighborhoods of upper-middle-class homes. This is where the public debate about the gondola has been most heated. Whether for it or against it, these are the people whose lives will be most impacted by the plan for a gondola, expanded golf course, gated community of 400 luxury homes and Malan’s Basin Resort.
A few more blocks of serious downshifting and you’re at Mount Ogden Park. Besides the spectacular view of the sunset, another great thing about the Mount Ogden Trail is that it passes near Weber State University’s stadium. Thanks to its new Jumbotron, you can see and hear the game from sagebrush seats.
So we enjoyed the view, watched the Jumbotron and quaffed Murphy’s Stout while waiting for the gondola. According to the plan, we were sitting in the middle of the fairway on the 11th hole. The gondola from downtown will unload people nearby for golfing and football, while another gondola will board tourists bound for the new ski resort.
Developer Chris Peterson is willing to invest $500 million in building this artificial paradise in Ogden. The only question is whether or not that’s what Ogden wants.
I’ll never forget my first encounter with an artificial paradise'Disneyland'and what I discovered there. It was 1962, and I was 10 years old. Somewhere between Treasure Island and Frontierland, I noticed an abrupt break in the scenery. A service corridor behind a scrim of trees led to a blank, beige building. A hidden door suddenly opened, and I was allowed a brief glimpse of maintenance workers, uniformed security guards and costumed staff coming and going as if working in The Magic Kingdom were no different from any other job.
I was a Boy Scout, so I knew enough to read the map and look for the places where the “Lands” overlapped as a reliable guide to the unvarnished truth. Ever since, I have made it my business to seek out interstices where reality intrudes upon the “controlled environment.” There will always be a new and better artificial paradise. Consequently, it’s those tattered remnants of the real world that will accrue in value as they grow ever more rare and precious.