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Westminster Heights Arts & Crafts Bungalows: 2002 Historic Homes Tour

Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:39
The 2002 Historic Homes Tour visited nine Arts and Crafts, Bungalow, and Colonial Revival homes on May 18 in the Westminster Heights neighborhood of Salt Lake City.  The neighborhood can take credit for a number of "firsts" in Salt Lake City. It was the first residential subdivision to be developed on the city's southeast bench and its creators, Clark and Earl Dunshee, are credited with introducing the strict building covenants which characterized many later east bench subdivisions. Westminster Heights also broke new architectural ground with the construction of California and Mission style bungalows. These bungalow types were unusual in Utah at the time and remain relatively rare today. In fact, the best places in Utah to see California and Mission style bungalows are the two subdivisions developed by the Dunshee brothers, Westminster Heights and Westmoreland Place.

Natives of Fairfield, Iowa, Clark and Earl Dunshee moved to Salt Lake City in the late 1800s. After working briefly for the Salt Lake Herald, both brothers entered the real estate business. Like many other developers, they hoped to take advantage of a period of tremendous growth in Salt Lake City. In 1908 they began developing Westminster

Heights on the "outskirts" of the city. This area had only been incorporated into Salt Lake City in 1907 and remained very rural.

The Dunshees wanted to create an upscale subdivision that would attract upper-middle class home buyers. Advertisements claimed Westminster Heights homes "will contain many new features never before attempted in Salt Lake" and emphasized the subdivision's location above the coal smoke, dust, and congestion of the city. In an effort to enhance the subdivision's prestige, newspaper stories about the growth of Westminster Heights often listed the names of professionals and businessmen living or building there.

To insure that only "desirable" people could build in Westminster Heights, the Dunshees instituted strict building covenants. Given the absence of zoning laws, the covenants also allowed the Dunshees to exercise some control over the subdivision's appearance. Typically, the covenants required buyers to spend at least $3000 to $4000 in building their home. At the time, $3000 was the price of a slightly above-average home. The covenants also forbade the construction of outbuildings until after the completion of the main residence to prevent people from living in shacks. To insure some regularity in the streetscape, the covenants specified that houses be set back a minimum of 20 feet from the front walk.

The Dunshee's preference for building California and Mission style bungalows seems calculated to draw sophisticated home buyers. Under the subheading of "Introduce New Architecture," a 1912 newspaper article explained: "[The Dunshees] are making a specialty of the Swiss chalet style of architecture (the local name for California bungalows), which they expect to become popular when fully understood." Their choice of the California and Mission styles also set Westminster Heights apart from other subdivisions of bungalows.

The Dunshee brothers were familiar with architectural developments in southern California. Some have noted a similarity in Westminster Heights' location along the Emigration Creek gully and the siting of bungalows in Pasadena along an arroyo. It appears the Dunshees often used pattern book plans from bungalows built in California and worked with local architect Arthur J. Hamilton to modify them to meet their needs. According to architectural historian Peter Goss, "The homes built by the Dunshees reflected quality in design, materials and workmanship, and each was said to possess an individual character."

Lots in Westminster Heights sold well and a 1912 newspaper article noted over 30 homes were built in the area making it the "best built up subdivision in the city." However, for reasons that remain unclear, records indicate that a number of the lots sold were not built upon until much later. One factor may have been that the trolley line did not extend beyond 1300 South. In the early 1920s, the Dunshee brothers moved to Los Angeles and ended their involvement with Westminster Heights. Today's tour includes both houses constructed by the Dunshees and houses built after the brothers left Salt Lake City.

The Dunshees' careful planning resulted in a neighborhood that remains a popular place to live today. Its concentration of California and Mission style bungalows, mature trees, regular setbacks, and cobblestone retaining walls contribute to its distinctive character. Many of its residents have specifically chosen to live here because of the neighborhood's architectural uniqueness. Clark and Earl Dunshee would certainly be glad to know their plans to build a desirable neighborhood have come to fruition.