La France apartments, part of a turn-of-the-century boom, await the wrecking ball as the Greek Orthodox Church pushes ahead with development plans. “We also have a moral obligation,” he says, “to ensure that this level of depravity is not allowed to continue.”
Riddled with asbestos and prone to burglaries, a cluster of vacant, century-old townhouses in downtown Salt Lake City are coming to an end.
In a letter to parishioners on Tuesday, the parish council of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Great Salt Lake said it would proceed with the imminent demolition of the La France apartments.
“Due to the deteriorating condition of the vacant apartments and the danger to the parish, its employees and the surrounding community,” the letter states, “the parish council decided it could wait no longer and voted to demolish from France as soon as possible. ”
The La France Apartments, just east of the church’s Holy Trinity Cathedral at 279 S. 300 West, are part of a larger group of church-owned properties included in a massive redevelopment effort of 300 millions of dollars.
George Karahalios, chairman of the parish council, said he wasn’t sure what would replace flats, but it would include some sort of accommodation. He said he did not know when construction would begin on a replacement for the La France apartments.
Karahalios said an asbestos problem was a major factor in the apartments being evacuated last fall. Since then, fencing around the buildings and daily patrols have proven unsuccessful in securing the property.
The congregation’s council said three fires have broken out in homes since they closed and police are clearing intruders on a daily basis.
Karahalios said the buildings had to be demolished because the church didn’t want anyone inside to get hurt.
“We also have a moral obligation,” the council wrote in its letter, “to ensure that this level of depravity is not allowed to continue on parish properties.”
The council held an emergency meeting on Monday and decided to move forward immediately with the dismantling of the units. The city has already issued a permit to raze the buildings, according to the letter.
“The parish will be safer,” the council wrote, “and the redevelopment of the property will be a step closer.”
Asbestos removal from apartments in France is set to begin on April 19, Karahalios said, but it’s unclear how long the process will take. The demolition schedule is also unclear.
For decades, apartments were a popular place for low-income residents. The Greek Orthodox Church purchased them in the mid-20th century, Karahalios said.
The apartments were built in 1905 by the Covey brothers in what was one of the first major developments, if not the first, they undertook. The Coveys were responsible for many of the city’s first apartment buildings.
At the time the townhouses were built, Salt Lake City was growing, according to David Amott, executive director of Preservation Utah.
The design, with some units facing the street and others on the other side of the building, allowed people of different income levels to live in the same location, Amott said. Even in their dilapidated state, he says, the La France apartments add class to the streetscape.
Still, Amott said, he understands the decision to tear them down and build something that will help the Greek Orthodox community preserve its iconic cathedral.
“But I think it’s terribly sad that they’re going,” he said, “because they’ve been, architecturally, so outstanding in Salt Lake for over 100 years.”
Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Please support local journalism.