We are all probably used to the sight of housing development construction projects around the valley. Homes are quickly completed, sold and ready for new homeowners. During an earlier period home builders were not always able to construct a complete home at once. Instead, a practice that became popular and lasted for several decades was the construction of basement homes.
Our Assessor Card collection begins during the Great Depression and probably contains records from the height of the basement home era. Basement homes, or “Hope” homes, were residences that typically consisted of a poured concrete and cinder block basement level, and a flat roof. The owners either ran out of money during construction or had started with the intent, or hope, of completing the upper floors after their financial situation improved. Some houses were eventually completed but others remained basement home gaining peaked roofs, or fancier doorways. Basement homes were probably more common outside the limits of Salt Lake City where ordinances and higher land values discouraged there construction.
There are few online resources describing the history of basement homes. There is an interesting article from 1941 in The Independent, a Florida newspaper, about the Utah Hope house phenomenon. The writer claims that the houses are “Utah’s chief contribution to post-depressionesque American architecture.” Articles in Utah’s local newspapers show that municipalities had different views of the proliferation of these homes. Bountiful and Layton passed zoning ordinances banning the practice in 1938 and 1948, respectively. Meanwhile, in Salt Lake County, the commission held a hearing in 1945 considering ordinances that would prevent or limit the building of basement homes.
Despite the threat of ordinances banning basement homes, most were either not passed in 1945 or not strictly enforced. Appraisals of new basement homes continue to appear in assessor records from the late 1940s into the early 1950s. A newspaper article that ran nationally in 1947, including Utah, suggests that outright bans were probably not practical at the time. The article is about the shortage of affordable housing for veterans and how basement homes offered a solution. The post-war boom in new families combined with high costs priced many people out of the market for standard houses. Constructing a home that only required some poured concrete, cinder blocks and a simple roof resulted in a cheaper, and hopefully temporary alternative.
A few basement homes still exist but most are easily missed behind landscaping and larger neighboring homes.
Special thanks to Elizabeth Giraud for helping to locate some of the basement homes shown below.
Photos of Salt Lake County basement homes.
6484 South 367 West, Built 1952. Image taken circa 1970s. Earlier photo of house without the roof is in Row 2 below. parcel# 21-24-255-007.
2605 South 9180 West, Built 1953. Image taken circa 1950s. parcel# 14-19-452-001.
6484 South 367 West, Built 1952. Image taken 1958. Parcel# 21-24-255-007.
12600 South 2700 West, Built 1947. Image taken 1989. Parcel# 27-28-452-007.
553 East 8800 South, Built 1941. Image taken April 1941. Parcel # 28-06-228-025.
8590 South 60 East, Built 1950. Image taken 1951. Parcel# 22-31-353-023.
12600 South, 2700 West, Built 1947. Image taken 1975. Parcel# 27-28-452-007.
8430 South State Street, Built 1941. Image taken 1941. Parcel# 22-31-351-039.
12013 South 1300 West, Built 1952. Image taken 1975. Parcel# 27-26-103-006.
8840 South 60 East, Built 1949. Image taken 1949. Parcel# 28-06-163-001.
425 East 8680 South, Built 1939. Image taken 1949. Upper floors were added in 1953. Parcel # 28-06-201-013.
12013 South 1300 West, Built 1952. Image taken 1989. Parcel # 27-26-103-006.
11722 South 1300 West, Built 1953. Image taken 1989. Parcel# 27-22-476-013.
2314 West 12600 South, Built 1939. Image taken 1989. Parcel# 27-28-477-005.
2314 West 12600 South, Built 1939. Image taken 1940. Parcel# 27-28-477-005.
~Entry contributed by Vincent Fazzi, Salt Lake County Reference Archivist.
Property Tax Appraisal Cards (1936-1987), Salt Lake County Archives
Utah Digital Newspapers – J. Willard Marriott
Davis County Clipper, Basement Houses Banished from Bountiful, 1938-08-12
Salt Lake Telegram, Officials Hear Pleas for County Zoning, 1945-07-20
Davis County Clipper, Layton Outlaws Basement Homes, 1948-05-28
Iron County Record, Basement Homes Solve Crisis, 1947-05-01
The Independent, Hope Houses Dot Utah Countryside, 1941-04-18