Published on August 8th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine0
Great strides are being made throughout Utah communities in the restoration and preservation of historical buildings, which pays homage to the genius of past architectural masters and artisan craftsmen.
Forgive Craig Paulsen if it seems a little surrealistic to him that the restoration of the original Spring City school in Sanpete County – a 118-year-old structure affectionately dubbed the‘OldSchool’ –is finally done, after a seemingly endless social and funding process that has stretched over nearly four full decades.
It’s been just over 50 years since the federal government established the Historic Preservation Fund in October 1966, which according to Brad Westwood, Director of the Division of Utah State History and State Historic Preservation Officer, started providing states federal funding for historical projects, while still allowing decisions to be made on a state level.
Historical preservation can be a daunting process,Westwood admits,one that requires analysis and input of key leaders from landmark commissions in each city, town and community in all corners of the state to determine which historic buildings (at least 50 years old) are worthy of being saved.
“We’ve only surveyed 25% of the state, but there are probably 50,000 buildings statewide – small residential, commercial, schools, institutional buildings – that can possibly be renovated and placed on the National Historic Register,” said Westwood. “It’s my goal to get (historical) commissions into rural areas and smaller communities to identify these buildings. We need (educated) people like historians and local writers who can dig in and do research. People love authentic things; they love beautiful things. If you can mix that with good economic development, there are opportunities for all rural communities to have attractive, historic districts and vibrant main streets.”
Spring Cit’s ‘Old School’ Fully Restored
Forgive Craig Paulsen if it seems a little surrealistic to him that the restoration of the original Spring City school in Sanpete County – affectionately dubbed the ‘Old School’ and built in 1899 – is finally done, after a seemingly endless social and funding process that has stretched over nearly four full decades.
The end result has been worth the wait, as the $1.8 million project was dedicated May 26 as the Old School Community Center (OSCC), and will be used as a cultural event center, museum and office space for Spring City Corporation.
“This building has been a huge part of my life…thank heavens it’s done because I’m just about out of energy,” said Paulsen, a long-time contractor and former President of Paulsen Construction of Salt Lake, the GC on the project.
He also happens to be a 43-year resident of Spring City, since moving his family from the suburbs of Salt Lake in 1974 to the tiny farming town (pop. 1,023) 10 miles north of Ephraim. He even served as Mayor during the early 80s and has been a champion in seeing this project achieve full restoration, ever since the local chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers (DUP) – in an 11th-hour attempt to save it – bought the now 118-year- old building for $10 in 1977.
During that first year, Paulsen put on a new roof to mitigate damage to the interior and shored up the failing truss system. Over the next 30 years sporadic work was done on the school to keep it upright. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that significant structural upgrades began to occur, including seismic wall upgrades, a new framing system on the third floor, steel framing in the chimneys and a new roof frame. The exquisite masonry on the building hearkens back to a time of old- world hand craftsmanship, something that just can’t be replicated today.
“It’s been special – I knew the town would grow and that there would be a need for a building like this eventually,” said Paulsen. “It’s had a lot of serious work done to it. You can see the craftsmanship that was put into it originally. There might be a couple brick masons alive who could actually do work like this. These masons were masters. What the old-timers could do with what little material (tools) they had…the quality of the work they did and the ability they had to understand design…it far surpasses the way (contractors) think nowadays.”
The OSCC project is one of many historical restoration/preservation projects the 70-year-old Paulsen has worked on during his career. His grandfather, Paul, immigrated to Utah from Norway and started Paulsen Construction in 1919 (it wasn’t formally registered until 1925) and his father Byron served as the second-generation leader, until Craig transitioned into the role in the late 80s. Craig’s son, John, became the fourth- generation President in 2008.
John was just five years old when the family moved to Spring City, so he knows the ‘Old School’ and the amount of work that has gone into rehabilitating it better than anyone save his father, who he says is earnest in his quest to keep certain aspects of building history alive.
“Craig’s been pro-active with the historical preservation of buildings…and has focused much of his career on restoring unique and historical buildings across the state,” said John. “On the Old School we went through 30 years of stabilization – roof, windows, masonry – just trying to keep the core and shell from deteriorating from the elements.”
A Truly Historic Town
Beyond OSCC, Spring City boasts dozens of historic buildings and homes – Craig Paulsen says he’s restored 50 or so himself, mainly homes, including his own. The town is unique in that it is one of only two in the entire U.S. (the other is Williamsburg, VA) to be on the National Historic Register, having earned that designation in 1980 largely due to vast numbers of buildings with unique Mormon pioneer architecture. Forbes magazine named it one of the America’s prettiest towns in 2010.
“Utah has a real sense about liberty and private property,” said Westwood. “Spring City is a little gem all by itself. In the 1970s when I first came to Spring City, Dr. Tom Carter (Emeritus Professor at the University of Utah School of Architecture who served as Architectural Historian at the Utah Division of State History from 1978-90) was doing surveys and we found these old Scandinavian and English communities.”
Westwood said because of poor local economic conditions in the area since the early 20th century, it caused benign neglect throughout much of the town, which was seen as a real chance to preserve these rich cultural buildings and showcase their intrinsic historical value.
“There were hundreds of buildings made of masonry and adobe and logs, with beautifully finessed joints and corners, and real (old-world) cabinetry. We had this golden opportunity in the 70s and 80s to preserve this. Spring City has been one of the more successful at it using federal funds, tax credits, and having a local engagement,” said Westwood.
For preservation to work well, he added, it is paramount to have a real commitment from community leaders and residents.
“Utah doesn’t have a big museum of history for the whole state – it has a bunch of small (historical sites) everywhere, so the grass roots involvement is essential in preserving buildings.”
Paulsen has long enjoyed working in this market, with past projects including the Devereaux Mansion, the Carriage House, the Field House at the University of Utah, Fort Douglas Officer’s Club and Commander’s Quarters at the U of U (used by the media during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics), and recently a $1.5 million restoration of the Mormon Battalion monument on Capitol Hill.
“He focuses his efforts on historical projects,” John said of Craig. “If it doesn’t have a historical flavor, he’s not interested. He doesn’t like cookie cutter or big box projects.”
John said Paulsen Construction is currently in the midst of the restoration of a rather famous building from the past – turning the family cabin of Robert LeRoy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy) in Circleville into a Piute County museum/VC. The 600 SF structure will be dismantled “log by log, nail by nail” he said, with every piece documented. A concrete foundation/ floor was poured, replicated logs replaced rotting ones, and a rod system tied the structure together. A ribbon cutting ceremony for the $350,000 project will be held Sept. 16.
“If you really like construction, you need to understand the history of where we’ve come from,” said John. “It’s all about traditional building skills.”