Condos slated for historic church and library Vine Street siteMar 23, 2020 04:36PM ● By Shaun Delliskave
Demolition crews began tearing down the landmark Vine Street properties on March 9. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
History made way for the wrecking crew, as demolition began on the former Mount Vernon Academy property (180 E. Vine St.). The historic Murray First Ward chapel and Carnegie library, once given a dramatic reprieve by preservationists, now sits as a pile of rubble.
Construction workers started knocking down the chapel on March 9. The developer, Mohsen Panah, and his partners determined that the structure was beyond saving and acquired the permit from Murray City to tear down the buildings. City regulations had saved the buildings from an earlier fate due to the historic nature of the buildings, but those regulations have since been amended.
“We looked at restoring the buildings,” Panah said. “But there were too many problems with the structure. We even considered saving the church tower, but even that wasn’t doable.”
Panah and his associates intend to place 134 condominium apartments on the site, with retail on the main level. He indicated that business owners were interested in locating a restaurant and medical clinic offices in those spaces. Panah did not purchase the Jones Court apartments, and their future remains uncertain.
“We will put some type of monument up to remember it by,” Panah said. “My architect is working on some idea; maybe some type of similar style.”
Panah, an owner/partner of five businesses in Utah and California, also owns the Ivy Place Shopping Village’s The Royal club (900 East Van Winkle) in Murray.
The chapel was constructed in 1907 and housed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Murray First Ward. The congregation attending in the Gothic-style LDS church later moved to a new, larger meetinghouse further east on Vine Street in the 1960s, with the stained-glass windows as the most notable surviving memento; they were relocated to the new building. The building experienced several modifications over the years, including additional classrooms that nearly doubled the space.
The Carnegie library dated back to 1911, when steel magnate Andrew Carnegie granted money to the city for its construction. The neoclassical building was expanded in 1979, which included modification of the original entrance. Of the 23 Carnegie libraries constructed in Utah, there are now only nine remaining.
The Lambson family acquired the chapel in 1975 and established the Mount Vernon Academy. After the Murray Library relocated to 5300 South, the school purchased the property and expanded its campus to both buildings. Michael Lambson, who is also the current principal of Mount Vernon Academy, relocated his school to Christ Lutheran Church (240 E. 5600 South) in 2017.
The buildings have since sat unoccupied, with numerous buyers backing out of sale agreements. In July 2017, when a buyer put the properties under contract with the intention of tearing down the chapel and incorporating the library as part of a senior assisted living center, Murray residents interested in preserving the historic buildings organized groups, such as Preserve Murray and the Historic Murray First Foundation, to fight their demolition.
Kathleen Stanford filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming it acted against its own code in regards to preservation, which specifically named the Mount Vernon school property as historically significant and was to be preserved in the Murray City Center District (MCCD).
Judge Keith A. Kelly, Third District Court, ruled against Murray City and spared the buildings, stating, “Murray City and its Planning Commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and illegally, in approving the destruction of the historic buildings.”
In a letter to the Murray Journal, Kathleen Stanford included, “What about the interest of the private property owner, who needed to sell the buildings? Of course, they had a right to sell. But the community should have maintained a right to require preservation from the new owner. There was a party ready to buy the buildings for restoration, rather than demolition, although it took time for them to obtain financing.”
In November 2019, the city gutted regulations designed to protect historic buildings in the MCCD. The City Council did reject the Murray Community and Economic Development’s recommendation of doing away with the Design Review Committee, a committee Panah and his partners will need to seek approval from for their condominiums.
“Our mayor and city council should have protected these buildings but they did not. Not only did our elected officials not protect them, they deliberately took steps to disenfranchise and block the citizens who tried to advocate for and preserve the buildings,” Stanford said.
Preserve Murray posted on its Facebook page, “Doing this for building more housing is ironic. Getting rid of a community’s heritage makes it less appealing of a place to live in.”