Provo Landmarks Commission highlights historic homes

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The city of Provo has been working to preserve local historical buildings with the help of city codes, guided tours and community support.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded the city of Provo in 1849. It was the first Latter-day Saint colony in Utah outside of the Salt Lake Valley. With landmarks such as the Brigham Young Academy — now Brigham Young University — founded in 1875, Provo is home to many culturally significant historic sites.

Title 16 of Provo’s City code was passed in 1994. This new title, known as Provo City Landmarks Preservation, formed a commission called the Provo Landmarks Commission dedicated to preserving Provo’s historic sites.

“The Provo Landmarks Commission may designate historic properties to the Historic Sites List as a means of providing recognition to and encouraging the preservation of historic properties in the community,” according to Title 16.

There are seven members of this commission that serve for a period of four years, each appointed by the mayor. Each member has the job of adding historic landmarks to the Historic Sites List.

The Historic Sites List has a specific set of criteria for a property to be added, including being at least 50 years old, retaining its historical integrity and having no major alterations or additions that “have obscured or destroyed the significant historic features.”

However, the Landmarks Commission is not only interested in preservation.

The old Provo Third Ward Chapel and Amusement Hall stands tall despite its age. The LDS Church sold the building and it eventually became owned and operated by Discovery Academy. (Dylan Eubank)

“Our role really is to try to preserve that built heritage — to try to maintain it in such a way, not that it’s some kind of archaic museum, but somehow that it’s still relevant to the community (and) speaks to our past as well as to our future,” Jeff Ringer, a member of the Landmarks Commission, said.

There are a number of properties registered on the Historic Sites List that still house residents. These buildings can be preserved but also renovated to be functional for the local community.

The Provo Third Ward Chapel on 500 West Street is one such place.

The chapel served as a place of worship and recreation for years. Saints completed construction on the building in 1903. During World War II, the Specialized Training Units associated with Brigham Young University used the hall as barracks.

The building was eventually sold and vacated by local saints.

However, the chapel gained another lease on life when it was bought in 1992 by the Discovery Academy, a private school for troubled youth. Eventually, the chapel was added to the historic Provo Landmark register on April 28, 1995.

The Landmarks Commission started offering walking tours to highlight success stories such as the Provo Third Ward Chapel in order to show their historical value. However, because of the impact of COVID-19, the commission implemented a self-guided walking tour.

This eventually led to the creation of the Provo Historic Tours app. The Historic Tours app is a free mobile application that shows different historic sites around Provo and gives a detailed history of each of the sites. Each site includes a before and after image of the building. The app works as a built-in tour, allowing users to tour Provo without the need for a guide.

The Provo Historic Tours app encourages residents and visitors to learn more about Provo’s historically significant buildings. The app has an interactive interface that allows the user to see before and after pictures of buildings. (Image courtesy of Provo City)

Dustin Wright, the project manager of the app, said that creating the app was a challenge as he did not have a background in app design.

The team developing the app added a digital slider to the photos that seamlessly transitioned from a photo of the site in the past to a current photo. Wright said that it was an important component for the app.

“I think it helps not just bring awareness to some of those (buildings),” Wright said. “But it helps you be able to see where things have (been) added to over the years.”

Although many of these buildings have seemingly lost relevance, Ringer has hope for their future.

“Sometimes students come in and their focus is only on campus … they think of Provo only as campus,” Ringer said. “The more students get off campus, get into the community, get downtown, participate in making sure the downtown is a vibrant economic — that’s a really positive role the students can play in the city’s future.”

Ringer encouraged students to get downtown, explore Provo and learn about its history so that they can contribute to its future.

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