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Beehive Archive: The origins of Rose Park

By Staff | Jan 18, 2023

Welcome to the Beehive Archive — your weekly bite-sized look at some of the most pivotal — and peculiar — events in Utah history. With all of the history and none of the dust, the Beehive Archive is a fun way to catch up on Utah’s past. Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities, provided to local papers as a weekly feature article focusing on Utah history topics drawn from our award-winning radio series, which can be heard each week on KCPW and Utah Public Radio.

Rose Park began as an affordable, working class neighborhood. But the true costs for the subdivision would not be revealed until decades later.

In 1947, housing developer Alan Brockbank scoped out a plot of land not too far from the center of Salt Lake City where he would build the Rose Park neighborhood. His goal was to sell small, brick homes at a price that soldiers returning from World War II could afford.

Up until that point, Salt Lake’s population had remained largely concentrated in the city center. This was because the infrastructure needed for suburban sprawl had not yet been built. But also, the surrounding areas were largely dedicated to industry and its noxious byproducts.

Following World War II, state investments in road building and water infrastructure allowed the growing urban population to spread out into neighboring areas. Developers started building tracts of single-family homes in the suburbs designed for nuclear families whose breadwinners would commute to work in downtown Salt Lake.

The area that would become Rose Park — located just northwest of downtown Salt Lake — was in the vicinity of oil refineries. In fact, Utah Oil and Refining Co. dumped toxic sludge into a pit located at Rosewood Park from 1930 to 1957.

This unlined pit was five acres in area and went 20 feet into the ground, and contaminated soil and groundwater. The acidic waste produced vapors and odors that poisoned the environs near the new housing development. In the 1940s, the hazards and health effects of industrial waste were not well understood and did not create the same sense of urgency that would come in later decades.

It was not until the 1980s that the state pursued a cleanup of the toxic waste in Rosewood Park. In 1982 the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated the sludge pit as a “Superfund” cleanup site, and for the next 20 years, the agency worked to remedy the toxic waste site.

Alan Brockbank laid out the streets of Rose Park to resemble a rose when viewed from above.

Street names such as American Beauty and Lafayette reinforced the flowery theme. But behind the romantic concept of a rose-filled park was the uncomfortable truth about the tradeoffs that come with affordable housing in a growing city.

Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. This Beehive Archive story is part of Think Water Utah, a statewide collaboration and conversation on the critical topic of water presented by Utah Humanities and its partners. Sources consulted in the creation of the Beehive Archive and past episodes may be found at www.utahhumanities.org/stories. 

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