In 1947, housing developer Alan Brockbank scoped out a plot of land not too far from the center of Salt Lake City where he would build the Rose Park neighborhood. His goal was to sell small, brick homes at a price that soldiers returning from World War II could afford. Up until that point, Salt Lake’s population had remained largely concentrated in the city center. This was because the infrastructure needed for suburban sprawl had not yet been built. But also, the surrounding areas were largely dedicated to industry and its noxious byproducts.
Following World War II, state investments in road building and water infrastructure allowed the growing urban population to spread out into neighboring areas. Developers started building tracts of single-family homes in the suburbs designed for nuclear families whose breadwinners would commute to work in downtown Salt Lake.
The area that would become Rose Park -- located just northwest of downtown Salt Lake -- was in the vicinity of oil refineries. In fact, Utah Oil and Refining Company dumped toxic sludge into a pit located at Rosewood Park from 1930 to 1957. This unlined pit was five acres in area and went twenty feet into the ground, and contaminated soil and groundwater. The acidic waste produced vapors and odors that poisoned the environs near the new housing development.
In the 1940s, the hazards and health effects of industrial waste were not well understood and did not create the same sense of urgency that would come in later decades. It was not until the 1980s that the state pursued a cleanup of the toxic waste in Rosewood Park. In 1982 the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated the sludge pit as a “Superfund” cleanup site, and for the next twenty years, the agency worked to remedy the toxic waste site.
Alan Brockbank laid out the streets of Rose Park to resemble a rose when viewed from above. Street names such as American Beauty and Lafayette reinforced the flowery theme. But behind the romantic concept of a rose-filled park was the uncomfortable truth about the tradeoffs that come with affordable housing in a growing city.
See Linda Sillitoe, “Claiming the Crossroads, 1950–1970” in A History of Salt Lake County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Salt Lake County Commission, 1996); Kim Raff, “Rose Park blossomed after World War II,”Salt Lake Tribune, May 9, 2013; Jared Page, “Former site of sludge pit looking rosy,”Deseret News, September 1, 2008; United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Superfund Site: Rose Park Sludge Pit,” accessed December 5, 2022.