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Joining the centennial celebration of Utah's entry into statehood, the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake is marking 1996 as the golden anniversary of the annual extravaganza known as the Parade of Homes.

From the initial home show in 1946 - a comparatively modest affair held at the old Coconut Grove ballroom on Main Street - the show has expanded into a major community event over the decades, moving to various sites around the valley showcasing the latest and best of the home building art.This year's 50th anniversary Parade of Homes is among the largest ever, as a dozen fully decorated homes opened to the public Saturday at South Mountain in Draper for a two-week run through Aug. 25.

The 12 homes were constructed by eight builders, some local and some by the Utah divisions of national home building companies that have entered the Utah market in recent years.

The price of owning one of the Parade's "dream homes" gets higher every year, and the 1996 Parade is no exception. Some quick arithmetic on the homes in the South Mountain show indicates the average base price for the homes - not including the lots or the home show extras - is more than $400,000.

But you don't have to buy one to enjoy looking them over, and some 100,000 people are expected to feast their eyes on the state of the home-building art during the show's two-week run.

The occasion of the HBA's golden anniversary this year caused executive director Spencer B. Greer to reflect on the past five decades of home building in the Salt Lake Valley.

The national HBA, he said, had its beginnings in 1942. Construction had been drastically cut backduring World War II since workers and materials were in short supply. But there was also recognition that the war wouldn't last forever and the returning GIs would need housing.

In Utah, said Greer, many local builders were (and remain) descendants of the crafts-men who built the Salt Lake Temple, the Tabernacle, the original Salt Palace on 900 South, the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the City-County Building and many others. They became the founders of the local HBA and launched the first home show in 1946 as a way to generate public interest in homebuying.

In those postwar years, the industry flourished as Rose Park and Glendale Park offered affordable homes to returning veterans. In 1947, the HBA members built a centennial celebration home north on Virginia Street just east of the Salt Lake Cemetery that was state-of-the-art at the time and remains a beautiful and distinctive home today.

The 1954 home show at 4000 South and Wasatch Boulevard - an area now known as Olympus Cove - was the first to be called the Parade of Homes, recalled Greer, and it was the first to mark the population shift southward to the suburbs.

Those very modern 1954 homes boasted an innovation called "carports" that were conveniently attached to the houses. Previously, garages had been separate and set back from the house, often accessed by a back alley. In 1954, a single carport was considered adequate because few families had more than one car.

Most of the homes in the '54 show had flat or low-pitched roofs, and showgoers oohed and aahed over the ultramodern kitchens - some even boasting a new-fangled device called an automatic dishwasher.

In other areas of the city, the rapid expansion of the suburbs meant Interstate Brickyard found itself in the middle of a residential area at 1100 East and 3300 South, as did the State Prison at 1300 East and 2100 South. And horse property in the foothills area known as "St. Mary's" had to give way to single-family homes.

Greer notes that virtually all of the changes and innovations that have taken place in homebuilding over the years were first seen at various Parade of Homes shows, including family rooms, media rooms, "great" rooms and much more. Families today are 25 percent larger than in 1954, said Greer, and their houses are 40 percent larger.

Greer contends that most of the prominent residential neighborhoods in the valley were launched by a Parade of Homes, and he says the South Mountain planned community is a fitting neighborhood for the golden anniversary Parade. It is noteworthy, he said, that the site is on the bench level of Lake Bonneville at the same elevation as the high bench of Ensign Peak on the north end of the valley.

On July 26, 1847 - next year is the sesquicentennial of the event - Brigham Young and other pioneer leaders climbed Ensign Peak to view the valley from that vantage point. Main Street was laid out that day as the meridian of the new settlement. It was designated 0 East and 0 West. The Salt Lake Temple site was chosen, and South Temple was established as the north-south meridian.

"In 149 years we have filled up the valley," said Greer. "Brigham Young could see South Mountain very clearly back in 1847 - no pollution, just the hot summer haze in the valley - and he declared that the desert would `blossom as a rose.' Homebuilders are proud to have been a part of that vision."

Builders at the South Mountain Parade of Homes include Dipo Construction Co.; John Roe Construction; Dave Lasater Construction; Country Cottages & Homes, showing two homes; Premier Homes, new to Utah; Promax; Holmes Homes, showing three homes; and Pulte Homes, showing two homes.

The show is open daily at 11 a.m. The ticket office closes at 8:30 p.m., but the homes are open until 10 p.m. Adult tickets are $6.50. Children and senior citizens are $4. Coupons for $1 off adult prices can be found in the Deseret News or at 7-Eleven stores. Free parking is available at the site with shuttle buses to the exhibitors' tent.