Written by Christopher Merritt, State Historic Preservation Officer
The rich historical legacy of Utah’s Latino residents can be difficult to find. Few of the Latino community’s physical places have been identified or recognized for the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, many of the places that hold value or historical connection to the contemporary Latino community have been erased through development and demolition.
Without recognition in our nation’s list of significant places, the National Register of Historic Places, Utahns continue to overlook the contributions of Latino people to the state’s storied history. [More about our use of the term Latino here.]
From Omission to Recognition
That’s why it’s so significant that the National Park Service accepted — on July 5, 2022 — the first-ever listing for a Latino Historic Context and Building to the National Register of Historic Places in Utah. That recognition came from a partnership between the Utah State Historic Preservation Office and members of Utah’s Latino community.
In 2019, the Utah Division of State History received an “Underrepresented Community Grant” from the National Park Service. Since 2014, the park service has awarded nearly $3 million in grants to local governments, state agencies, and nonprofits to address the lack of diversity in historic recognition. Less “than 8 percent of sites on the National Register are associated with women, Latinos, African Americans or other minorities,” writes Sara Bronin, in an opinion piece published in 2020 in the Los Angeles Times.
Through a contract with the consulting firm of SWCA Environmental Consultants, State History launched the creation of an overview of Latino history in Utah between 1776 and 1942. The project outlines important historical themes and identifies potential historic properties. An advisory committee of community members and scholars was created to engage with the Latino residents throughout the project, in all its phases. Collaboration was key to make this a successful first effort — but it won’t be the last.
From a technical standpoint, SWCA created the Multiple Property Documentation Form, which aside from its bureaucratic name, outlines the Latino history in the designated time period, listing major themes, potential property types, and criteria for listing properties. The form streamlines future nominations of Latino properties by front-loading the heavy lifting of historical writing.
To accompany this form, SWCA wrote a nomination for Salt Lake City’s Lucero Ward (also known as the Mexican Branch) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. After months of research, Kate Hovanes and Anne Oliver, employees of SWCA Environmental Consultants, completed the first draft of the documentation form in early 2021. The nearly 100-page document went through reviews by the Latino advisory committee and State History staff members. The historical outline begins with the first arrival of Spanish-speaking peoples in what became Utah, starting with the Franciscan explorers Dominquez and Escalante in 1776, and ending with the arrival of World War II.
“As I am reading the draft I cannot help thinking that this document should be used in the schools as part of the Utah history,” said Leti Bentley, advisory committee member and founding member of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center. “Very impressive information.”
Cory Jensen, Utah’s National Register coordinator, notes that this extensive document, “is an important concise history of the Latino community that pairs the historical progress of the culture in Utah with extant buildings, sites and other resources that played such an important role in Utah’s past. This will open the door for significant properties to be nominated to and listed in the National Register of Historic Places and receive the recognition they deserve.”
This long quote from the MPDF encapsulates the key points of our understanding of Latino history in Utah during this pre-World War II period:
The lives, struggles, and successes of Latino people both mirrored and shaped broader patterns of history in the state. Spanish-speaking migrants from northern New Mexico and Colorado enabled the creation of the sheepherding industry in southeastern Utah through their expertise in that field. Betabeleros supported the war effort during World War I by providing massive amounts of agricultural labor to sugar beet growers, fundamentally changing the industry in the state. Mexican and Chicano miners broke a strike at Bingham Canyon but then joined the labor force there to become a vital part of the mine’s operations. Traqueros were one of the largest ethnic groups employed by Utah’s various railroads, providing up to 70 percent of the labor at times for track maintenance and construction. While doing so, Latino Utahns carved out lives and communities and created cultural and religious institutions that remain to the present day. Their roles were not often glamorous; they did not hold the same cultural capital as the lives and work of pioneers who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ and wealthy Anglo mine owners. But without its Latino residents, Utah would not exist as it does today. Through their lives, their efforts, and their struggles, Utah’s Latino population shaped the history of the state and defined for themselves a unique balance of culture, religion, and economic enterprise. (Hovanes and Oliver 2021, E-1)
From their extensive research and interactions with the Latino Community, the authors of the contextual study identified key periods of Latino history: Early Exploration & Settlement (1776-1848), The Territorial years (1849-1896), and Opportunity, Growth, and Challenge (1896-1942). Within these periods, identified property types included businesses, churches, company housing, headquarters of social/cultural/political groups, industrial resources, neighborhoods, monuments/murals, agricultural resources, and of course residences.
To Read the Full “Latinx Resources in Utah (1776-1942″) Click Here
Latino Historic Places in Utah
Many of the places identified by the community and the Latino advisory committee post-dated the 1940s, the targeted scope of the documentation form. These places included murals and art installations from the 1970s and onwards, buildings and landscapes of social activism, and other significant community resources. But in this scope, research was able to identify dozens of resources that could be listed to the National Register of HIstoric Places, including sheepherder camps and inscriptions in southeast Utah, and sugar beet factories and laborer landscapes in Box Elder County.
Specifically, research indicated a few places that can be listed now or in the future under this documentation form. Many of the potential properties identified by research, including the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Monticello, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission at 524 West 400 South in Salt Lake City, have been demolished.
Selected Examples of Places Identified for the Latino Community in Utah (1776-1942)
|Monticello Cemetery||Monticello, San Juan County|
|La Sal Livestock Company Ranch||San Juan County|
|Monticello Schoolhouse||Monticello, San Juan County|
|Creston Hotel||25th Street and Wall Avenue, Ogden, Weber County|
|“Little Rock Church” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church)||624 West Lennox Street, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County|
|Manuel’s Mexican Fine Foods||800 South West Temple, Salt Lake City (vicinity), Salt Lake County|
|Residence of Manuel Torres||350 W 700 South, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County|
Lucero or Mexican Ward
One building, the Lucero Ward (or Mexican Branch) meetinghouse, located at 232 W. 800 South, Salt Lake City, now listed to the National Register of Historic Places, exemplifies the wealth of historic places identified through this project.
Constructed between 1948 and 1950, the Lucero Ward is a one-story Spanish Colonial Revival-style building that serviced the Latino community from 1950 to roughly 1981. At that point, congregation sizes were too large for the building, and the property was sold to private owners.
Juan Ramon Martinez, baptized into the LDS Church in New Mexico, came to Salt Lake City in 1920 to begin the first Spanish-language missionary work in the city and hold meetings in Spanish. From this point, the numbers of Spanish converts to the LDS Church increased beyond its small early meetinghouses, and by 1939 there was a desire to fundraise for a new Ward.
Once built, the Lucero Ward was a unique part of LDS Church and Utah architecture, as it was one of only a handful of buildings constructed in a Spanish Revival style. Beyond its role as a religious space, the ward served as a community center for Salt Lake’s growing Latino community from the 1950s to the 1970s. For example, the Lucero Ward along with the Cumorah Branch in Midvale, “is credited with teaching an entire generation to appreciate and perform folkloric dances from different regions in Mexico and Latin America” (Curry & Daniels 2021:10; from Edison 1992:42).
Today, the old Lucero Ward is lovingly cared for by its new owners, Alfred and Cindy Meneses, who operate “Miss Billie’s Kid Kampus” day care from within this beautiful historic building. Listing of the building offers the owners potential tax incentives and grant opportunities for future work needed at the Lucero Ward, a major benefit to the effort of adding it to the National Register of Historic Places.
To Read the Full “Lucero Ward National Register of HIstoric Places Nomination” Click Here
Usually scholars add acknowledgements at the end of papers and presentations, but we wanted to extend a huge thank you to the time and commitment of the Latino Advisory Committee. Without their engagement this project would have been vastly different in scope, meaning, and importance.
- Leticia Bentley, founding member of Moab Valley Multicultural Center
- Maria Garciaz, CEO of NeighborWorks Salt Lake
- Gloria Gonzalez-Cook, board member of Artes de México en Utah
- Chris “Xris” Macias, director of Dream Center at University of Utah and co-chair of theChicana/o Scholarship Fund
- Fernando Montano, director of Diversity and Inclusion at Snow College
- Robert Rendon, senior vice president and community development director at Zions Bank
Preserving Utah’s Latino history: What’s next?
Staff understand that there is still much to learn about the historically marginalized Latino communities in Utah, and fundamentally to fully collaborate on what “historic preservation” means in the 21st century for all people.
The Latino Historic Context and listing of the Lucero Ward is a small first step to recognizing the contributions of Utah’s Latino community to state history. In 2022, State History and its partners will be applying for additional funding to expand the historic context from the current ending point in 1942 to at least 1980. From advisory committee feedback, State History feels that this expansion will identify dozens of additional resources that could be listed to the National Register of Historic Places, to raise awareness of these significant parts of Latino history and hopefully prevent further loss of these important sites.
This listing by itself does not prevent demolition of these resources, so as a diverse community, we must identify and find creative ways to protect, commemorate, and celebrate these places for the next generation.
As noted by Sara Bronin: “As we raise awareness of emblematic and threatened sites left out of the national narrative, we should rethink how we determine whose history is protected to begin with.” (The Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2020).
Further, Utah SHPO staff hopes to use this project-focused effort to create a more fundamental and universal relationship with the Latino community in Utah. There are many programs at State History that can benefit from this new partnership, but more importantly have the community help us better deliver our existing programming to a diverse audience and customer base. Traditionally, State History’s programs have not uniformly engaged with a diverse group of Utahns, though many of these services are for the benefit of all Utahns. National History Day, the Utah Historical Society, Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, Library & Collections, and the future Museum of Utah have a place for all.
This material was produced with assistance from the Underrepresented Community Grant Program from the Historic Preservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.
Bronin, Sara. 2020 “How to fix a National Register of Historic Places that reflects mostly white history”. Los Angeles Times, December 15. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-12-15/historic-preservation-chicano-moratorium-national-register
Curry, Hannah and Megan Daniels. 2021 Mexican Branch LDS Meetinghouse, National Register of Historic Places Nomination. Prepared for the Utah Division of State History, per grant from the National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grant Program. Prepared by SWCA Environmental Consultants, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Edison, Carol. 1992 “Hispanic folk and ethnic arts in Utah”. In Hecho en Utah: A Cultural History of Utah’s Spanish-Speaking Communities, pp. 29–42. Utah Arts Council, Salt Lake City.
Hovanes, Kate and Anne Oliver. 2021 Historic Latinx Resources in Utah, 1776 to 1942, Multiple Property Documentation Form, National Register of Historic Places. Prepared for the Utah Division of State History, per grant from the National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grant Program. Prepared by SWCA Environmental Consultants, Salt Lake City, Utah.