Utah History Encyclopedia


By John S. McCormick
The Utah Heritage Foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 1966 whose purpose is to promote historic preservation in Utah. According to its articles of incorporation, its goals were "to preserve and perpetuate historic and patriotic values, including but not limited to historic districts as well as individually notable buildings, 'living monuments' as well as historic house museums, historic gardens and agricultural plots; grounds and settings, including traditional open space, as well as historic architecture; open air museums, including characteristic architecture which cannot be preserved in place; archaeological sites, including pre-historic villages, earthen mounds, pueblos and other ancient ruins, as well as historic sites with foundations and artifacts of successive periods; works of art, and objects and interior furnishings from the decorative arts, including books and documents which illuminate our past and inspire the future." It was organized with a president and board of trustees, and since 1971 has had a small paid staff headed by an executive director. Volunteers have always been important to the foundation and during 1990 collectively contributed more than 1,600 hours of their time. The foundation depends mainly on private contributions, including memberships, gifts, and grants, but during most of its existence has also received a modest appropriation, currently $10,000, from the state legislature.

At the time of the Utah Heritage Foundation's founding in 1966, concern about historic preservation was growing throughout both Utah and the rest of the country. The immediate impetus for its formation was three-fold: the demolition in the early and mid-1960s of a number of important buildings on Salt Lake City's South Temple Street and other areas of the city; the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which involved the federal government in the preservation process by directing the Secretary of the Interior to expand the National Register of Historic Places and to grant funds to states for the preparation of comprehensive statewide surveys and set up a grants-in-aid program to states and to the private National Trust for Historic Preservation; and the announcement of Mormon Church leaders in the spring of 1965 that they intended to demolish the LDS Tabernacle, in Heber City, which had been built in the 1870s. Many of the people who mobilized to try to save the tabernacle during the winter of 1965 and 1966, met to consider how to restore the Tabernacle, and buildings on the Heber City town square, subsequently decided to form a permanent preservation organization. As the Foundation's 1978-79 Annual Report states, "It was chartered as a private voice for preservation, to act when public agencies could not take an active role."

The organization's first full-time, paid director was Stephanie Churchill, who was appointed in 1971. Previously Edward C.

Smith, and then Gary D. Forbush, had served as part-time, unpaid directors. She resigned in May 1986 to become executive director of Preservation Maryland. Subsequent directors have been Joel M. Pickelner (1986-87), William S. Steiner (1987), and Michael Leventhall (1989-present).

The Heritage Foundation's first project after its founding was to begin to inventory historical sites in Utah. It gradually greatly expanded its activities, and since its beginnings has had an enormous impact and received national recognition. Currently it offers a school program, initiated in 1977, that includes classroom presentations that reached more than 8,000 students during the 1989-90 school year, in-service classes for teachers, and programs for parents. It conducts tours of historic buildings, including the Salt Lake City and County Building and the Governor's Mansion, which attracted over 5,000 people during the 1989-90 season, and walking tours of various areas of Salt Lake City. It operates a revolving fund, begun in 1973, under which it purchases and resells, with low-interest loans, endangered historic buildings, Money from the sale of the buildings is returned to the revolving fund to be used for the purchase of other historic properties.

The foundation has published a number of books, pamphlets, and other materials about various aspects of historic preservation, including Historic Buildings Along South Temple Street; Confronting the Older Home: A Home-owner's Guide, and Historic Real estate: Everything You Need to Know to Preserve It. It lobbies the state legislature and city and county governmental bodies for the passage of preservation legislation. In 1967 it successfully pressed the legislature for the passage of a bill permitting units of local government to create historic districts. It annually presents special awards to owners of restored buildings and to individuals who have made important contributions to historic preservation in Utah, and it sponsors a variety of lectures, meetings, special tours, and other events.

See: Donald J. Bergsma, Donald J. "Utah Heritage Foundation," Utah Architect (Fall 1967).