Another mixed-use high rise development is in the works for Salt Lake City, poised to break ground on 880 W 200 South in the quaint, quiet Poplar Grove neighborhood nestled in Salt Lake City’s West Side. The development plans to level the historic Westside Drugstore, threatening to uproot one of Utah’s most prized rose collections.
The plants were established and maintained until a few years ago by longtime Poplar Grove residents Bob Bauer and Mary Woodhead. In addition to the time and energy the couple invested, this historical property has deep 120-year-old roots in the West Side community.
On October 17, 1900, Charles D. Harding was issued a building permit for a store and double cottage on the corner of 800 west (now 900 west) and 200 South. Throughout the next 100 years, the property went through a series of owners, most of whom not only maintained a business, but also made it their home. It served many functions, including a drug store, grocery store, pharmacy with a legendary soda fountain, drive-in diner, and photography studio. Its history has been about gathering.
Bob and Mary purchased the old Westside Drugstore in 1995, making it their home from 1996 until Bob’s death in 2017. Bob had rented the store as a photography studio for several years when the owner approached the couple, gauging their interest in purchasing the property. If they could match the bid already presented, the property would be theirs. With some maneuvering, they were able to purchase it.
Gardening was an important part of their lives, so it was only natural to develop the plot to its fullest potential. What started as a vegetable garden, grape vines, berries and a few unique rose bushes grew into an oasis of more than 400 distinct rose varieties. Bob recognized them all by name.
He tenderly lists rose names throughout a 2014 YouTube video as he walks through a vibrant collection: Aloha, Trumpeter, Blue Girl, All Ablaze, Flower Girl, Ougust Renior, Lava Glute, Climbing Rainbows End, Rambod Dixon, Party Time, Sundance, Barbara Striasand, Modern Magic, Eureka, Perfect Moment. “More than anything,” said his wife Mary, “he liked roses with different forms and with fragrance.”
The hobby grew into a lifestyle as Mary and Bob traveled. They cultivated strong friendships with other rose enthusiasts, who sometimes gifted Bob with a certain variety. Bob was an active member of the Utah Rose Society, serving on its board at times. He wrote several articles for the society, from which he received a bronze medal for his service on behalf of rose education. Bob was able to merge his two passions – roses and photography – by photographing roses for nurseries in California and Oregon, and for the magazine published by the American Rose Society. “To be honest, he was a bit obsessed...in a good way,” said Mary.
After Bob passed away from cancer in 2017, Mary sold the property to visionaries who had tentative plans to turn it into a restaurant, utilizing the rose garden and continuing the care to which Bob devoted much of his life.
It was not to be. The property sold yet again to a developer with vastly different plans. When Mary sold it, the idea of organically repurposing the space as another gathering place for people in the neighborhood “was a really nice thought. But,” Mary admits, “I know the economy is hard...it’s not surprising to see a plan for more intensive use. And in these times, housing is important.”
This turn of events lends itself to important questions about what the West Side community wants for its future. Will the legacy of gathering continue? Will West Side residents find a gathering place in the businesses that will eventually inhabit the ground floor? Will the 205 units within the buildings’ walls offer affordable options? What will be done to cultivate growth while also respecting heritage and diversity? What will be done to preserve the rich, fertile history of the northeast corner of 900 South 200 West ?
“For me,” says Mary, “it’s heartbreaking to think of the garden being gone, but it’s not the same without Bob and it was fabulous while it was his baby.”
In an effort to preserve a prominent part of Poplar Grove neighborhood history, gardeners of all skill levels are invited to give Bob and Mary’s roses new homes throughout the community by participating in Operation Rescue Roses.
The event will take place October 23 and 24. With the developers’ permission and assistance, members of the Salt Lake City community will have access to the property to gather rose cuttings and rose plants of every imaginable variety to be transplanted, providing them the opportunity of new life and growth.
While transplanting roses is hard work, many in the community feel it is well worth the effort. Prior to the event, volunteers will prep the roses through trimming, deep watering, and preparing new homes for the roses in advance. Social media, west-side community councils, and the tight-knit rose community of Utah will publicize the event. Interested individuals and families will be educated in utilizing cuttings and transplants from this beloved and extensive rose collection to give them a comfortable new home where they can thrive.