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PIONEER HALL GETTING ATTENTION IT DESERVES

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Pioneer Hall hasn't always been a building of note. The small sandstone and granite building at 1140 W. 7800 South has housed animals and an auto-mechanic shop, but it never garnered any real attention from its neighbors.

But Kris Wilde, a recent University of Utah graduate with a degree in architectural studies, thought the building deserved to be noticed. Three months of research and work paid off this year when the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.And, as Wilde discovered, the pioneer settlers who built the building thought it was pretty significant, too. When the West Jordan Ward formed in 1858, Bishop Archibald Gardner quickly realized a new building would be needed for the growing ward. The log cabin that housed services was not going to cut it.

Gardner, a prominent figure in West Jordan history himself, enlisted the aid of architect Elias Morris, a man now noted for his work on the Salt Lake Temple and the Salt Lake City-County Building. By 1861, a cornerstone for the new West Jordan Ward meetinghouse was laid.

Six years later, the building was dedicated on Aug. 11, 1867. The dedication was celebrated by the whole community, and many regarded the building as the finest church building west of the Missouri River.

The church was soon filled with church meetings, social events and school classes. But, as the area continued to grow, a new meetinghouse was needed. In 1913, a larger church house was built down the road, and the building now known as Pioneer Hall fell into disrepair.

After standing empty for several years, the building housed an occasional cow or pig and was also used for automobile repairs.

In 1937, the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers leased the grounds and restored the building. West Jordan purchased the building and leased it to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers in a 99-year contract.

Faye Eldredge, a member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, said the group "thoroughly enjoys the building, even though the acoustics aren't that good."

The building now houses meetings and an occasional wedding or party.

Eldredge said West Jordan tried to break the lease a few years ago, but the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers wouldn't hear of it. "We felt it belonged with us until the end of our lease," she said. "We're trying to keep alive the memory of our ancestors and what they did for us."

Eldredge said preserving buildings like Pioneer Hall "helps us remember where we come from."

Wilde agrees. "It's important to preserve older buildings that give us a sense of place and time. It allows us to explore where we came from and where we've come to."

Wilde's studies at the U. centered on historical architecture, and he has become an ardent supporter of preserving Utah's history.

"In other places there's more of a concern for preservation," he said. "Like with the BYU Academy in Provo. They want to tear down this beautiful building . . . you wouldn't hear of such a thing on the East Coast. It's too easy to tear buildings down here."

Listing a building on the National Register of Historic Places doesn't necessarily protect it from demolition. A private owner can tear the building down at will. But, Wilde said, the listing "helps bring awareness."

Wilde was surprised when he found out Pioneer Hall wasn't already listed. He grew up in the area and was familiar with the building, but always assumed that it was recognized as a historical building.

"There's just not enough awareness of how to get a building on the register," he said. To be listed on the register, a building must meet one of four criteria: It must be linked to a significant event, a significant person, a significant architectural style or a significant archaeological find.

Pioneer Hall, said Wilde, met all four criteria. The building is associated with the settling of West Jordan and notable pioneers such as Archibald Gardner and Elias Morris. Wilde believes excavation of the site would reveal several pioneer tools or items of social and religious significance.

"It's just got a lot of history in it," he said. "And that's what the register is about: preserving history."