Midcentury modern World’s Fair ‘Formica House’ on market for $1.6M in the upper Avenues

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No, the house is not made of Formica.

But according to certain house builders of the day, modern 1964 “carefree living” featured Formica inside and out, a laminated plastic mostly known for affordable countertops.

Debuted at the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65 in Queens, the corporate-sponsored housing prototype that a newly listed mid-century modern at 731 E. 17th Avenue models was marketed as the “house that needs almost no maintenance.”

Babs DeLay the principal broker for Urban Utah Homes & Estates listed the property last week at $1.6 million.

“All across the country replicas of the World’s Fair House are being built for public viewing,” states a 1964 News of the Day newsreel about the fair.

While the prototype at the World’s Fair was actually clad in the plastic laminate, no such requirements were mandated to local architects, who were encouraged to design to local conditions and climate.

How much of the space-age laminated plastic, user-friendly material was installed at the design-famous house in the upper Aves?

Certainly not as much as in the prototype, which blasted eyes with color and gloss—even the draperies were designed for easy cleaning.

As the 1964 promo video reported of the kitchen, “every surface can be wiped clean in seconds. The textured patterns are as fresh as spring.”

Courtesy of Pinterest

The architect + the materials

At 731 E 17th Avenue, local transplant architect James Christopher passed on applying it to exterior walls, but reflected in 2014, according to Tribune reporter Kathy Stephenson, that “we were told to use a lot of Formica.” 

Christopher, whose firm Brixen & Christopher designed notable buildings in the area like Snowbird Resort’s Base Facilities, Tram Terminal, Lodge and Inn (as part of a team); Congregation Kol Ami (one of the area’s few Jewish synagogues); the multi-faith chapel at Westminster College (Nunemaker Place); Roland Hall School’s McCarthey Campus; and Red Butte Garden’s visitor center among others, died in 2016 after a long career in private practice and teaching in the school of architecture at the University of Utah.

He also had a hand in Salt Lake City’s first master plan in 1962, called the Second Century Plan, according to his Salt Lake Tribune obituary.

A Navy veteran from the Philadelphia area, in 1956 Christopher took a job at the University of Utah’s architecture school after earning a master’s degree from MIT.

Christopher was contracted to design the 4000 SF home by the firm Williamson & Associates.

“Clean lines, that’s what I was taught, the Salt Lake Tribune quoted him commenting on a paradigm shirt in design mentality and construction materials, from the traditional to the modern.

Salt Lake, when I came here, was a brick town. Really a brick town. And wood, which I was used to using, was a no-no, a cheap alternative. And so wood is not a new material certainly. But our firm helped introduce wood to the public.

JAMES CHRISTOPHER, SLC ARCHITECT

Formica was originally invented by Westinghouse to insulate electrical systems, being affordable, stain- and heat-resistant. Its countertops became a staple in the post-WWII housing boom.

Due to the home’s multiple updates, all Formica is gone, save for a remnant in the laundry room.

The listing

With 3 BR 2 BA upstairs, and a 2 BR 1 BA legal downstairs internal ADU apartment, the home covers over 4000 SF on a .33 acre lot.

Situated on the north side of 17th Avenue, it has a secluded back yard, complete with a large lap pool and garden chess board. Valley views from the house are largely obscured by the downhill house across the street to the south.

The Salt Lake County Assessor has the land valued at $375,800 and the building at $787,300, for a total of $1,163,100.

“The design emphasizes natural light throughout on both levels of the home including roof skylights and an activity terrace just off the kitchen for light from the rear yard.”

The home also includes “Bosch appliances in the kitchen, xeriscaped front yard, and tons of fruit trees.”

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.