“Tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” So reads one Shakespeare quote written in mosaic in Salt Lake City’s Allen Park. Dozens of designs carved into light posts and benches seem to blend with the surrounding woods, dotted with tiny cabins that once made a thriving village. But who made these mosaics and small houses? And what’s with all the bird cages?
The history of Allen Park began in the 1930s when Dr. George Allen and his wife, Ruth, purchased seven acres near Sugarhouse where Emigration Creek crosses 1300 East. Dr. Allen was a physician at the nearby state prison, president of the Salt Lake Zoological Society, and -- with over 300 birds on the property -- an avid bird-lover. In 1949, a visiting reporter from the Salt Lake Telegram wrote “‘It’s out of this world.’ That is the only phrase we can think to describe” Allen Park. The family property along the creek, filled with poems and bird portraits, made a truly peaceful refuge from busy city life. On a few occasions, prisoners who escaped the nearby penitentiary even ran to Allen Park to hide out -- until Ruth caught them.
As the Allen family grew, so did their need for more houses. The Allens eventually managed 30 rental units by the time Dr. Allen died in 1961. At that point, many rentals fell into disrepair and the Allen property was mostly abandoned. As J.R.R. Tolkein’s books gained popularity, the park was nicknamed "Hobbitville" and urban legend told of small people living in its tiny cabins. The Allens' bird refuge thus became a mysterious place full of rumors and vandalism.When the property went up for sale in 2019, many were concerned about the future of Allen Park. Fortunately, the city of Salt Lake bought the refuge for $7.5 million and made it a public park, opening the locked gates for locals to visit. No longer “the Shire” or a place shrouded in mystery, the real story of Allen Park as a bird sanctuary, quirky art park, and family home can finally be shared.
See Austin Facer, “‘There’s nothing like it’: SLC’s legendary Hobbitville, known for mysterious past, has a bright future,” October 19, 2021, ABC4 News; “It's 'out of This World' This Allen Park Drive,” August 12, 1949, Salt Lake Telegram; “Allen Park, aka. “Hobbitville”,” April 3, 2020, Salt Lake County Archives, accessed December 2022; Salt Lake City, "Allen Park," accessed Dec. 22, 2022.