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Demolition of Alpine adobe home delayed in bid to save structure

SHARE Demolition of Alpine adobe home delayed in bid to save structure

If walls could talk, decades of Todd Strong's family history could be gleaned from the layers of decorative paper pasted inside the 144-year-old adobe house near the center of the still-rustic Utah County town named after the Swiss Alps.

The home, which was part of the 10-acre fort erected by pioneers in 1853 for protection during a war with a tribe of American Indians, may be the only one of its kind - built within the walls of a mud-packed Mormon citadel - still standing in Utah.But Alpine history buffs had a scare when the domicile - referred to interchangeably as the Watkins and Strong house - recently faced demolition for a parking expansion at a nearby church.

Owners Steve and Debbie Devey, who bought the home from a family member three years ago, said they intended to close a contract last Friday with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The deal has since been delayed by church officials in apparent response to interest in preserving the house.

Strong, whose grandparents owned the house for 60 years, understands the need for more parking at the chapel. He was worried, though, about the consequences of paving over family ties and a piece of Alpine heritage for a place to station cars.

"When I learned the intent of the church was to purchase the land and level the house my concern was to raise awareness. I would hate to see it torn down and have someone say, `I had no idea,' " Strong said.

The State Historical Society's Roger Roper said although the house is not on the state's historical register, it may be the only structure in existence from a chapter in Utah's history when Brigham Young, as governor of Deseret in 1850, admonished Saints to settle in forts.

"The first question is whether it's a historic site. I agree that it is," Roper said. "I can't think of any other house in the state that was part of a fort and still standing. To have the house still standing is quite unique."

Neighbor Joe Heiner said he patterned some of his own home after the American west handiwork at 49 E. 100 North. He finds it difficult to believe a stark reminder of the pioneer struggle would be threatened just one year after the commemoration of the Mormon trek westward.

Ralph Strong, who was born in the home, said church members would be hard-pressed to be able to park eight cars on the ground where the house stands.

"If there is a way to preserve it, I would like to see it," he said.

Strong, Heiner and a handful of other residents asked the City Council last week to help preserve the house. There are few options for city officials, however. Alpine doesn't have an ordinance that will prohibit an owner from tearing down a house, said City Attorney David Church.

The owners could be told to obtain a permit through a city historical committee, he said, but a permit would likely be granted because there is no legal reason to deny the request.

One option, he said, would be to condemn the property through imminent domain powers. But the city would have to pay the owners fair market value for the land and house.

"If you are serious about it, someone would have to buy it," Church said. "Otherwise, we'll have lots of hearings and meetings, and they'll end up with their permit."

Moving the house to another location for display isn't a likely option. Roper said the house would be nearly impossible to move from its current location without incurring some structural damage.

"Adobe houses don't move well," he said.

Not a single person expressed interest in preserving the house after it was placed on the market in February, Debbie Devey said. She and her husband, who called the historical society to make sure the house wasn't on the list before putting it up for sale, like the location but need more than a one bedroom house for a family.

A lot of elbow grease and money went into repairs of the house - not an easy task when considering the frame was built with mud and logs in the mid-1800s.

Mayor Don Watkins, who said he has found no genealogical tie to the family that built the house, said the council wants the community to propose a solution.