The Centennial Home (also known as The Home of Tomorrow; 307 Virginia Street), was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyrgith © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Centennial Home, at 307 Virginia Street, was constructed in 1947 on the edge of the Avenues and Federal Heights neighborhoods in Salt Lake City. It is a brick one-and-one-half story Post World War II Modern style house with a low-pitched gable roof. Built on lot number 2 of the Virginia Heights addition, the house was situated on the sloping lot to take advantage of the spectacular mountain views. The Wasatch Range is visible from the front terrace, living room, dining room, kitchen and breakfast area. The Oquirrh Mountains, as well as a view of the downtown valley, is visible from the living room, master bedroom, and the hanging balcony on the rear of the house.
The house was billed as the "Home of Tomorrow" and built to showcase all the newest and most modern building techniques and features of the time. The floor joists of the home, unconventional for the time and even by today's standards, are made with concrete reinforced by steel running the entire length of the joist. On top of the floor joist was poured a concrete slab, approximately 3-1/2" thick, which is reinforced by fine wire mesh.
The exterior of the single-story house is in the Post World War II Modern style with some Minimal Traditional detailing, and has a finished walkout basement. It sits on a sloped lot. The front (east) elevation of the house exhibits a large metal-capped bay window flanked by glass doors. These doors lead out to a patio surrounded by a square tubular railing. There are steps from this patio to a flagstone walkway that curves around to the driveway. The metal cap that covers the bay window is peaked and is centered on the gable end wall. Below the patio is the garage with dual garage doors. While the two-car garage was an innovation at the time, it is too small for many of today's larger vehicles.
The south elevation contains the main entry to the house. Towards the front of this elevation is a picture window that looks out from the kitchen. Beside this is a larger picture window for the dining room. Next to dining room is the entry to the foyer. The main door is original, made of birch, and has a stacked three panel design. The door is flanked by sidelights of obscure glass. West of the entry, the house angles to the southwest at an approximately 45-degree angle. From this point there is a balcony that continues around to a large covered balcony at the rear (west) of the house. This balcony, accessible from the living room and master bedroom, surrounds the living room on three sides with floor to ceiling picture windows.
A gabled roof that extends over the balcony and patio below dominates the west elevation of the structure. A large picture window, similar to that in the living room, looks out from the family room directly below. Another room, used as an office but originally intended as a hobby room, has large windows over-looking the lower patio, as well as a door providing access.
The north elevation of the house has smaller metal windows that provide light to the three bedrooms on the main level. The north facing windows on the lower level of the house are small land high as the house sits into the slope of the hill. There are two glass block openings that let light into the bathrooms on the main level.
The exterior surface walls of the house are of brick with stone accents. The brick is buff-colored with a smooth finish. The masonry work on the house is unique in that the gray mortar was done with horizontal joints that were raked while the vertical joints were left flush with the brick. This was done to give the lines of the house a modern contemporary look. The stone accents of the house are of sandstone cut in random sizes that was mined in Utah at a quarry near Park City. The stone work flanks the walls of the walkway to the front door, as well as surrounds the garage door openings and flanks the retaining walls along the driveway in the front elevation of the house. On the rear of the house there is stonework around the picture window in the lower level family room below the balcony. This stonework is carried over to a retaining wall and steps that provide access to the back yard.
This same stonework was incorporated in the interior of the house around the fireplace in the living room. This stonework surrounds the fireplace and extends from the hearth to the ceiling and includes a planting box on the left hand side. The foyer of the house originally had a planter/wall of the same sandstone, which separated the foyer from the curved stairway to the lower level. This stonework was removed at some point during modifications and is one of the few areas of the interior of the house that has been changed.
The landscaping in the front remains much the same, but the rear was developed with a small pond, terrace, and arbor shortly after construction. Tress and other landscaped vegetation has grown up at the back of the lot. While the area below (southeast) has been developed since construction of the house, it still retains the spectacular views of the valley and mountains beyond. It no longer sits on an isolated lot, but is surrounded by houses built at a later date.
The Centennial Home, a brick one-and-one-half story Post World War II Modern house with a low pitched gable roof, was constructed in 1947 in the Virginia Heights Additions of Salt Lake City, on the edge of the Avenues and Federal Heights neighborhoods. It is significant as a pristine example of upper-middle-class, post World War II housing and as an early example of the use of model homes to sell construction and design services and products. As the house and landscaping have changed little over time, it retains a high degree of architectural integrity. Many of the unique and innovative products used in the home remain today.
Utah's Centennial Celebration
The Centennial Home was built by the Utah Home Builders Association, which was authorized by the Utah Centennial Commission to participate in the Centennial Celebration. This Utah Centennial Commission was established by law in 1939 when the state legislature allotted funds for its creation. It consisted of 16 members, chaired by David O. McKay, and was made up of three committees: executive, publicity and promotion, and finance.
The purpose of the commission was to set up and organize a Centennial Celebration to show Utah to the world while commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Brigham Young, who at the time was President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church), and the pioneers at the Salt Lake Valley July 24, 1847. The celebration was a demonstration of the cultural achievements of the people through education, music, drama, song and pageantry and also included sponsorship of many parades, sports events, art exhibits, musical and theatrical events and various exhibitions. Every county and town in Utah had special events scheduled to celebrate the centennial during the entire year of 1947. The celebration kicked off on January 1, 1947, by a centennial float that Utah entered in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California.
The Utah Home Builders Association (UHBA) was authorized to participate in the festivities by building a model home to showcase all that was new and modern in design, color, equipment, and convenience. The project was supposed to symbolize the spirit of progress and development that had occurred in the previous 100 years. The UHBA is a non-profit organization that was chartered in 1942 and which encourages and fosters proper building standards for residential contractor members and networks them with suppliers and manufacturers of building products and materials. The Centennial Home project was unique in that a group of home builders, who were usually in competition among themselves, worked together to make the construction of this house possible. The UHBA decided to participate in this project to showcase and promote the most modern conveniences and building techniques that had been developed up until that time. The hope was that visitors would become future customers of the member contractors and want to incorporate the products and ideas into their homes.
While classified today as being Post World War II Modern in style, the house was constructed to embody a specific style. Rather it was built to embody "all that is new and modern in design, color, equipment and convenience, and to symbolize the spirit of progress, industry, and development." The elements of the house that put it into current classification include the horizontal plan, low-pitched roof, projecting lattice sunshade, wide chimney, large picture widows, and long horizontal blocks of sandstone implemented in the walls. It is interesting to note that despite the modern lines of the house, the bay window off the kitchen on the front (east) of the house has a definite Colonial Revival flair.
The newest construction and mechanical systems were used in the house. One of the unique features of the house is the steel reinforced concrete floor joists system. The heating and cooling system of the house was revolutionary for the time, in that the heating was done by gas-fired furnaces that were thermostatically controlled and zoned. Forced air heat came through decorative grill openings that extended along the bottom of walls. This new feature eliminated the need for exposed ductwork. The same system is still in use today and the grills remain intact. Lighting for the home was the most modern for its time in the United States. It was designed by experts who employed recessed fluorescent units in order to allow the eyes to comfortably adjust in any area of the house. Seven telephone outlets were installed with the planned telephone system that included the latest in gadgetry, an intercommunication system. This system allowed communication with the outside entrances and between rooms, which was a step-saver and a good example of showing how modern science brought convenience to the new era of home building. The master control unit of this system was located in the built-in radio phonograph cabinet of the living room. This system and the cabinet and shelving in the living room have been removed.
The Centennial Home also contained the latest and most modern electrical appliances available. The kitchen, which was totally electric, had a refrigerator, with freezer compartment, range, dishwasher, and disposal. The laundry room also provided a glimpse of how technology had changed the home life over the last 100 years. It contained the Bendix Automatic Laundry, comprised of three separate units, the "Deluxe Bendix Washer", the "Deluxe Bendix Dryer", and the new "Bendix Deluxe Ironer," which were all electric, totally automatic, and very advanced for the time. While the kitchen was remodeled in the 1980s, and none of the original appliances remain, the extensive tour booklet documents them thoroughly.
The architect chosen to design the Centennial Home was William E. Nelson. Mr. Nelson was a Utah native and an affiliate member of the Utah Home Builders Association. He received his degree at the Chicago Technical College and served as president of the Utah Chapter of Architects Institute of America. He designed many fine residences in Salt Lake City, St. George, Vernal and other parts of Utah. Mr. Nelson was assisted by LeRoy W. Johnson and Richard C. Wood. The UHBA selected two of their directors, who had built many homes in the area, to oversee construction for the project. They were Elbert G. Adamson, the director in charge of construction, and A. P. Neilson, builder in charge of the project. Mr. Adamson was the first vice president of the UHBA and Mr. Neilson was chairman of the Centennial Home Committee. As with the Parade of Homes tours of today, the interior decoration of the home was integral to its success. Marion Cornwall of Bennett Glass and Paint Company was chosen to direct the interior decoration of the house. Miss Cornwall, daughter of J. Spender Cornwall, was also a Utah native, educated at the University of Utah and Parson's School of Design in New York City. She was assisted on this project by Julia Cane, Lorraine Bullen and Dorothy VanCott, all Salt Lake City natives and on the staff of Bennett Glass and Paint.
Many local subcontractors and suppliers from the area were used for the construction and development of the house. The major participants are listed below.
Alder Sales Corporation, Building Specialties
L. Lynn Alien, Mason Contractor
Anderson Lumber Company, Lumber
Artistic Lighting Studio, Fireplace Fixtures
Ashton Heating and Air Conditioning Co., provided the "Zone Heating" with General Electric Furnaces
Bennett Glass and Paint Company, Glass and Paint
Bloomquist Sales Co., Appliances
Otto Buehner and Company, Concrete Joists
Buehner Cinder Block Company, furnished 3,000 Cinder Blocks
Chapman Plumbing and Heating Company, Plumbing — installed Copper Tubing and Brass Fittings
F.M. Conely, Sprinkling System
Construction Specialties Company, Steel Windows manufactured by Hope's Windows, Inc.
Contracting Corporation, Grading
Oliver G. Coxe, Cement Contractor
Crane Company, Plumbing Fixtures
Culligan Soft Water Service, Water Softener
Ralph Davis, Plastering
Deseret Lumber Company, supplied the Knotty-pine for the Recreation Room
Bryan Ewell, excavator
Flint Distributing Company, furnished the Automatic Home Laundry Equipment
W.P. Fuller and Company, Picture Windows, "Twindow"
General Electric Supply Corp., Lighting
Granite Mill and Fixture Company, Millwork
Karl B. Hale, Oak Block Laying
Wilford Hansen, Stone Work
Intermountain Electrical Association, Lighting and Wiring Counsel
Interstate Brick Company, supplied 11,500 Face Brick and 6,750 Backing Blocks
Morrison-Merrill and Company, provided Rock Lathe, Insulex Glass Blocks and other Supplies
Elisa Morris and Sons Company, Tile
Mountain Fuel Supply Company, Water Heater
Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, Telephone Wiring and Planning
Nu-Art Lighting and Manufacturing Co., Fluorescent Lighting specially equipped
Prudential Federal Savings and Loan Association, Construction Financing
Eric W. Skog, Painting and Paperhanging
Byron T. Smith Electric Company, provided the Electrical Wiring
T.C. Stayner Company, Hardware
Utah Sand and Gravel Company, Ready-Mix Concrete
Utah Lumber Company, Zonolite Insulation
Utah Power and Light, Power
Westinghouse Electric Company, Range and Refrigerator
ZCMI, Floor Coverings, Drapes, Furnishings
The home was opened to the public on July 27, 1947, and remained open through the end of September. More than 18,000 people toured the house during this time to see what 100 years of progress in home building had brought about. The home, priced at $67,750, was initially marketed by McConaughy Investment Co., Realtor.
The original owner of the home was Arvel Wells Morrison, a noted civic leader of the area. Mr. Morrison was the head of Morrison Auto Supply Co., a company headquartered in Salt Lake City with branches in Provo and Ogden, Utah. He also was a director of the National Automotive Supplies Association and a director of the Union Trust Co. banking facility. Mr. Morrison was also active in the exploration and financing of oil fields in Utah and Colorado. He lived in the Centennial Home until his death on April 28, 1951. His widow, Gretta, remained in the house another seven years until July 1958 when she sold the house to W. Hughes Brockbank and his wife, Fawn. Mr. Brockbank owned Magic Chemical Company, a janitorial supply firm. They resided in the house for over ten years until selling it in February of 1969.
Although model homes have been a part of the real estate and construction professions since the late nineteenth century in Utah, these primarily smaller houses were situated in subdivisions and intended to sell similar houses in the same locale. The Centennial Home was unique in that it was a single home of which the intention was to showcase the most up-to-date materials, construction techniques, and decor. It was also meant to commemorate the centennial of the settlement of Utah. The significance of the house is based on its unique purpose and also on its high rate of architectural and historical integrity.
Unless otherwise indicated, all information is from the tour booklet "Centennial Home" published by the Utah Home Builders Association, July 1947.
Utah Magazine. January 1947.
Shepherd, Linda (Office Manager, Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake). Interview conducted by Mark Corbin. April 23, 2001.
Obituary, Salt Lake Tribune, April 30, 1951, 13.
R. L. Polk Directories, Salt Lake City, 1947-1959. Published by R. L. Polk & Co.
"Biography of a Home." Deseret News, Saturday August 9, 1947, 2.
Centennial Home. "The Home of Tomorrow." Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Homes, Incorporated, 1947
"Centennial House Waits Public Viewing Sunday." Salt Lake Tribune, Saturday, July 26, 1947, 24.
R. L Polk Directories, Salt Lake City, 1947-1959. Published by R. L. Polk & Co.
Salt Lake County Title Abstracts and Plat Records. Available at the Salt Lake County Recorder's Office.
Salt Lake Tribune, Obituaries, August 17, 1947 and April 30, 1951.
Shepherd, Linda (Office Manager -Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake). Interview conducted by Mark Corbin. April 23, 2001.
Utah Magazine. Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Publishing Company, January 1947.