458 & 460 North 400 West
By Nelson Knight
The focus of this month’s article is an example of what is referred to as the “double house” type by architectural historians. More commonly known simply as a duplex, the double house comes in a wide variety of styles and layouts. Many historic duplexes looked very similar to single-family houses, with only two doors to distinguish them. A well-rehabbed example of such a building (although technically a triplex) can be found at 554 N. 200 West. Other duplexes were built with one unit atop another, such as the example at 74 W. 200 North. A third variant is the true double house, with two units having separate entrances and porches, but joined by a common wall. The double house was an extremely popular building type in Salt Lake City in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. They provided an opportunity for small investors to get into the real estate market. Duplexes fit well onto the small lots common in Salt Lake City’s first subdivisions. Often, as today, an owner would live in one unit and rent out the other unit, providing a source of income. The separate porches provided residents a sense of their own space and provided a place for residents to socialize and keep cool during the summer.
The Perkins-Thompson house was constructed by David Archer Ellis Thompson for his sister, Alice Thompson, and brother-in-law, John Absalom Perkins. The Thompson family owned the northwest corner of this block, and constructed several other houses on the property. David was a contractor, mason, and bricklayer, and his skills are still evident on the dressed stone foundation and decorative brickwork on this house. Alice and John Perkins, along with their three sons, were the first residents of the house. John Perkins was a blacksmith and teamster for the C.S. Martin Coal Company, and later worked for the J.W. Mellen Sand and Gravel Company on Beck Street.
In 1917 the Perkins sold the house and moved to 556 N. Second West in Capitol Hill. The double house became a rental unit, with a succession of residents. Many of the residents worked for the railroad; the house’s location within walking distance of the Union Pacific Depot and rail yards was no doubt an attraction. Among the residents, the family of J. Henry Keppner is notable for its size. J. Henry, a freight officer for the railroad, lived in the north unit in the 1920s with his wife Cora, three young children, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law.
By 1940, the house was owned and occupied by Liza and Joseph Bulman. Other members of the Bulman family lived in the other unit at various times, along with other renters. Joseph died in 1952, but Liza remained in the house until her death in 1975. She worked as a maid at the Hotel Utah for 18 years.
The building remains a rental duplex. Thanks to recent investment by individual property owners, the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, and the nonprofit developer Neighborhood Housing Services, this neighborhood in Capitol Hill is undergoing a renaissance. Residents are rediscovering the area’s convenience to downtown and easy walk to such attractions as the Gateway, which rose on the site of the old rail yards – the workplace of many former residents. Double houses such as the Perkins-Thompson House contribute to the great character of West Capitol Hill, and hopefully will remain in the neighborhood as it is redeveloped.