Architecture in Utah

On the second day of this trip, we ran into some spectacular grain elevators in Idaho, a state not renowned for its architecture – sometimes great vernacular buildings just pop up in unexpected places.  It happened again today, in Hanksville, Utah.  Take a close look at this gas station / convenience store.  (You can click on it to blow up the picture.)  DSCF7690

It is the clearest, most iconic illustration I’ve ever seen of the difference between an architecture of mass, and one of frame.  The giant gas station canopy is of steel, while the convenience store is actually located in a cave under that hill.  It is of such primal, elemental clarity that I literally couldn’t believe it at first.  It looks like it could be a thesis project at half the architecture schools in this country (except that it has right angles).

Unfortunately, the owners seem to not have recognized the inherent qualities of this theoretical gem, and the interior does not make the most of its situation:

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I asked if I really was looking at a drop-in suspended ceiling in a cave, and the proprietor said yes.  At least I can say that I’ve seen that, which is weird enough in itself.  Apparently this building is pretty well known – they’ve shot photos for a Mercedes catalogue here, as well as scenes for low-grade horror movies in the back room.  She also said that there’s a Japanese theme hotel that has a photomural of this on the wall of a room.

The other notable building we passed was near the town of Antimony.  Located on a rushing creek.  It looks something like a grain elevator, but I can’t say that I understand it.  Insights would be appreciated.

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10 thoughts on “Architecture in Utah

  1. Dan Rabin

    I was going to guess a mining structure, but after discovering that it’s actually in the neighboring ghost town of Osiris, Utah, I was able to find via Google that it’s the Holt Family Creamery, labeled “Holt Family Mill and Creamery” in one entry. So the concrete cylinders may very well be grain bins of the sort found in grain elevators. One web-page caption says it was abandoned ten years after construction, which is not surprising considering the marginal site.
    The fact that this is a rare hybrid structure type suggests that it’s an evolutionary dead end. A combined dairy and milling operation would only be attractive if the service area couldn’t support both, but it appears not to have supported even one or the other. The railroad never got any closer than Marysvale, over 30 miles away amidst flat, irrigable farmland. Cool relic, but possibly not typical.

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    1. Dan Rabin

      Note: I am mistaken in assuming that the building served as a creamery and granary simultaneously. Peter has found the reference , which states that it was first a creamery, then a granary. Since the next use was abandonment, my assumption that the business was marginal still makes sense.

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    1. Peter Post author

      Yes! Rossi pretended to be Italian, but he was really an ex-pat Mormon from southern Utah! But more seriously, your comment reminds me of a story I heard from Jim Pettinari, a retired colleague. Rossi once visited Eugene, and Pettinari was driving him to his home at the end of the day. As they drove past Hayward Field (the track stadium), Rossi yelled, Stop the car! He got out and ran underneath the old grandstand, a heavy timber gridded structure supporting the seats. Being Italian, he had never seen, nor imagined, such a gigantic building made of wood. He then climbed around under the structure for an hour, absorbing it all. Maybe he had been to Osiris, Utah too?

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  2. Peter Keyes

    Thank you! It is excellent having someone with a better internet connection (and no hungry teenager to feed) to do my research for me. I really like the idea that it is not typical, as it is an evolutionary dead-end. The natural selection model has always struck me as very useful in thinking about building typology.

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    1. Dan Rabin

      Very similar process to biological evolution: propagate what you already have, try new stuff, keep what works. Perhaps this idea is implicit in Christopher Alexander’s analysis of the forces that produce a pattern, but IIRC he doesn’t have a focused account of the dynamic processes. Timeless Ways of Building can stick around in static environments, but not when things are changing, which they usually are. A lot of adorable building types in the developing world have yielded to the availability of corrugated metal (Cue David Byrne in a Cadillac).

      One thing that makes the Holt building funny is the wooden shack hoisted on top of the concrete grain bins. Getting all that cement to Osiris probably wasn’t fun at all, but you just can’t build those things out of wood, which is rodent-gnawable and moisture-permeable. Outside of the bins themselves, the same old wooden crap will do fine. One can almost see the grudging budget of the owner in the shape of the building.

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  3. Jerry Finrow

    Love the gas station, this project is just too good! It shows American genius for making something useful out of something found. The other structure is interesting, I was wondering what they mine here, the concrete cylinders would be storage bins for borax, lime or some other mineral. My guess is that they processed the rock in the wooden structure and stored the product in the cylinders. Clearly whatever was motivating this building did no work out. I have seen buildings a little like this in Northern Idaho in the mining district, but there they were used to process gold or silver…..

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  4. Jerry Finrow

    I think you had the answer to the mill question all along, it is an antimony mine. Antimony is a metal used for various industrial uses and has been mined by people for 3000 years around the world. Not exactly sure what it was used for in this area but there are photos logged (but not shown) on the Utah State historic building file that I presume are this building as they are listed as an antimony mine in antimony. There you go…..

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