When I was a kid, my mother used to drive us down from Bingham Canyon for Sunday services at the Greek Orthodox church at 300 South and 300 West. Like many others, we parked somewhere along Pioneer Park and walked the 100 inconvenient yards to church. In time, the Greeks would take a cue from other land-grubbers in town and tear down the sausage factory next to the Hellenic Memorial Building to make room for a festival site and to create a parking lot revenue stream for the parish. Although I must have walked along or through Pioneer Park at least 100 times chasing brothers and gawking at the choo-choo, I haven’t so much as bent a blade of grass in that hellhole of a park in the past three decades. Well, maybe once while eating a Tony Caputo sandwich. And maybe once more to check out the Farmer’s Market.
In fairness, Pioneer Park may not have always been a hellhole. My childhood memories of it are not unpleasant, but as far as parks go, even back then it couldn’t hold a candle to Copperton Park. But once the 400 South viaduct was constructed, Pioneer Park was doomed to obscurity and misuse—make that drug use. Only now that the viaduct has been demolished can Salt Lakers even remotely envision what was and what might be. What was, is a landmark park ostensibly dedicated to the Mormon pioneers who made their first camp there back in 1847. What might be is a centerpiece for a West Side development and gentrification of the surrounding neighborhood.
Perhaps forecasting the future, those early Mormon pioneers pretty much packed and moved on the very next day. Yet to this day, whenever anyone foments ideas as to what to do with the park and the environment around it, someone comes forth declaring Pioneer Park some kind of hallowed ground and plans for the future fizzle like shares of Martha Stewart stock. In its current use, Pioneer Park is of little practical use, but some folks cling to the idea that Pioneer Park is special. The only thing that makes Pioneer Park special is that it’s the only square block in Salt Lake City without a parking lot on it.
Recently, Mayor Rocky Anderson proposed Pioneer Park as the repository site for the Hoberman Arch used at the Medals Plaza during the Games, and adjoining it with a medium-sized music and cultural amphitheater. That would fill the hole left when Earl Holding tore down the Terrace Ballroom to make room for a parking lot—and would theoretically fill the park with new visitors and anchor redevelopment of the area. Anderson’s professional detractors disagree. And sensing that since Pioneer Park has hobbled more than one city administration already, they don’t need a plan at all. They just have to naysay.
I say, raze the park, put up a friggin’ statue of a Dutch Oven and start over.