Editor's note: This article is part of a series reviewing Utah and national history for KSL.com's Historic section.
MURRAY — Kathleen Stanford decided she couldn’t just stand by and watch Murray City officials tear down a few pieces of the city’s history, so she fought back two years ago — and won. The Murray resident sued the city to preserve five buildings in the city and a 3rd District Court judge sided with her.
Now, more than a year after the court ruling, she’s taking the preservation level to the next level. Stanford started the Historic Murray First Foundation and on Wednesday the group announced a lofty goal to help renovate the Historic Murray First Chapel, 184 E. Vine Street, which is where half of Mount Vernon Academy was previously located before it moved in 2017.
The group hopes to raise $1.5 million to restore the building and bring it into compliance. Stanford would like to add the other preserved buildings in the future but found the old chapel and school was the best starting point.
Her story truly started on Dec. 14, 2016. That’s when a developer proposed to tear down the historic buildings for a senior living center in its place. The Murray City Planning Commission approved the motion in May 2017. Also in 2017, Stanford attended a city history advisory board meeting and learned the historic buildings — all built more than a century ago — were slated to be demolished.
The Murray First Chapel built in 1907 and the adjacent Carnegie Library completed in 1916, which was the other half of Mount Vernon Academy, were slated to be demolished. The Vine Street Duplex at 190 E. Vine St. built in 1906 and Colonial Dutch Revival Jones Court Duplexes at 5000 S. and 5004 S. Jones Court were the other buildings set to be torn down.
She filed a lawsuit against Murray City on Sept. 8, 2017. In the lawsuit, she alleged the plan violated two city codes related to demolishing historic buildings. Judge Keith Kelly agreed in a decision handed down in May 2018. He wrote the city’s planning commission decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and that the commission, as well as the city’s Community & Economic Development staff “never mentioned, applied, or reviewed” the codes related to the historic buildings.
It was a sort of a surprising result.
“Utah doesn’t have a really good record for historic preservation, so most people would have thought we would not win that court case,” Stanford said. She said she probably wouldn’t have won either had it not been for another woman who headed the city’s history board in 2005 for listing the buildings on the city code back then. “We could have not won the court case had those not been listed on the city code.”
The city and developer later decided not to appeal Kelly’s decision.
It’s been more than a year since then and the buildings remain in the city. Sales of the chapel/former school have fallen through because of the cost of the building and the cost of upkeep. Stanford said others haven’t been able to get the financing for the building, which is currently listed for $749,000, according to Berkshire Hathaway. The Carnegie Library building is listed for $800,000.
Historic Murray First Foundation was set up to help. Stanford said she hoped to raise money to assist in any way possible to preserve the buildings for anyone who buys them. The group is focusing efforts on the chapel right now, but plan to assist on other historic buildings in the future.
Stanford said she preferred the buildings were renovated and refitted since that would be cheaper than tearing them down and rebuilding anyway. She envisioned many uses for them aside from a chapel, school or library.
“We feel like this could be a cultural center or small shops or restaurants or (for) small start-up computer companies,” she said. For her, preserving the buildings are a way of preserving not just history, but architecture that inspires like artwork.
“We see a community banding together for something that’s beautiful. Our environment makes a big difference for how we feel as a community,” she added. “People want either brand new things or very old things. … We see these buildings because they are so old. They have this classic architecture that can add so much and something Murray could be so proud of.”
Donations can be made at the foundation’s website.