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Sugar House Journal

Growing up in Sugar House 1940-50

Oct 05, 2017 16h38 ● By Natalie Mollinet

The old Marlo Theater where Chipotle Mexican Grill is now located on 2100 South. The photo was taken in 1947. (Used by permission/Utah State Historical Society)

It’s strange to picture Sugar House without I-80, Sugar House Park and Highland High School. But Carma (Fellows) Toronto remembers that time. She grew up in the Sugar House area through the 1950s and raised her kids here. 

“Sugar House was our entertainment center,” Toronto said. Every Saturday morning, her mother would give her and her 12-year-old sister a quarter to walk to the Marlo Theater, which is now Chipotle Mexican Grill on 2100 South and 1011 East. “This was during the Second World War…we’d see cereal stories and then they’d have a movie that was some sort of kid story or cartoon.” 

When the movie was over, they would buy a candy bar at the theater and head to Fairmont Park with a group of kids. Fairmont wasn’t the way it is today. There were two lakes and most of the area was wooded without a playground and skate park. 

“There were baseball diamonds and soccer fields just off of 900 East,” Toronto said, “but the back of the park was all wilderness and we’d play in the water…” 

She said that her mother never worried about her and her sister walking around Sugar House alone. She felt it was a safe area because of all the police officers in the area who worked at the prison just up the street. 

Both of Toronto’s parents were immigrants—her mother from Holland, her father from England. Since she was born during The Great Depression, she said she never knew different than living on her father’s meager wages. She said her father made $145 a month and that their house payment was $70 so they didn’t take out-of-state vacations.  When they did take summer trips, it was either to Lagoon or Mirror Lake. Those trips to Mirror Lake took hours she recalled. Interstate 80 and I-15 were only two-way streets. The interstate wouldn’t system wouldn’t start being constructed until after World War II when President Eisenhower started the Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. 

“In those days, we’d journey in our small 1935 Ford and my brother and I would be lying on top of all the stuff with about six inches between our noses and the car’s ceiling,” she said.

 When Toronto entered junior high, she attended Irving School in Sugar House and doesn’t remember a girl wearing pants to school. Girls either wore dresses or skirts and for her, most of her clothes were handmade by her mother. 

“Clothing was much more expensive, that’s why my mom sewed,” Toronto said. “Cloth was cheaper, you could get a yard of cotton for 98 cents. It’s really strange to see my grandkids with piles of clothes and now they can buy a T-shirt on sale for two bucks.” 

She added that she only had two pairs of shoes at a time—one good pair and a pair of work shoes. If she or her siblings wanted a special piece of clothing or some ice cream, they had to earn the money for it. Her older sister had gotten a job at an ice cream parlor and made money that way, and her older brother did yard work. She took on the occasional babysitting job. 

At Christmas time, her family would drive to State Street and about 1300 South to select a tree from a woman who brought them in from Montana. The woman was kind of enough to let Toronto and her siblings have their only little trees to put in their bedrooms. 

“She didn’t even make us pay for the little ones,” Toronto recalled. “That tradition of having small trees in the children’s bedrooms has passed down to my grandchildren.” 

When it came to gifts during the holidays, she said that each of her siblings would get one big gift—the girls mainly got dolls and her brother got a toy train or a car. 

After or before presents—depending on when their father had to work—their dad would make them a breakfast called Finnan haddie, which is fish cooked in milk that you put on toast and pour the remaining milk over. 

“It was terrible,” Toronto laughed, “but my mom and dad thought it was a delicacy, so we all acted like it was wonderful because we had it only once a year.” 

After breakfast, neighborhood families visited each other to see what presents they got and hand out homemade cookies and candy. Everyone was in the same financial situation, so no one felt better than anyone else and there was no jealousy, she said. 

Toronto graduated from South High School because Highland hadn’t been built yet, but all her children attend Highland High School. After she got married in 1950, she and her husband moved to a home on Parley’s Canyon Boulevard across from The Country Club Golf Course. Her husband worked at the hospital and if he got home early, he’d watch the kids while she took a break to see a movie at the Southeast Theater by the library. 

“It gave me a chance to get away from the kids and see something else,” Toronto said. “We couldn’t afford to both go out at the same time and hire a sitter so if he ever got home by 9 p.m., that was my big outing.” 

She would also take her kids to Sprague Library every week to pick out books, which the girls loved to do more than the boys. Instead, her boys would run across the street to the golf course and get chased by the warden. She didn’t find this out until they were older. 

Despite their mischief, she always felt her children had a safe childhood in Sugar House. “I look back and I saw, the Lord has blessed me,” Toronto said about growing up and raising her kids in Sugar House.