“Spotlight on 25th: The Street That Never Slept,” a historical exhibit featuring the myths and legends surrounding the heart of historical Ogden, opened Friday at Ogden’s Union Station.
The fruits of a collaborative effort to document the turbulent times surrounding Ogden’s 25th Street after World War II, the exhibit raises awareness of the stories and legends once lost in obscurity.
Much of these legends were never committed to paper. As part of this project, several Weber State University history students conducted research and gathered more than 50 interviews. Their work formed the historical backbone of the exhibit.
“There’s no way that our staff could have gone out and done that many interviews in this time frame,” said Melissa Johnson, Special Collections
coordinator for WSU’s Stewart Library. “It’s a pretty significant contribution that those students have made.”
25th Street was known worldwide in its heyday.
Other students gathered old photos of businesses on 25th Street. Then they went out and photographed those same locations in the present day, showing the changes the street has been through.
“People just knew this street,” Johnson said. “It was a central hub, and it was really central to this community’s identity.”
Johnson spearheaded much of the efforts to produce this exhibit. In focusing on this specific street, visitors get a glimpse of the unwritten history of Ogden.
After World War II, many legends about the street started popping up. Tales of opium dens, tunnels underneath the street and secret dealings spread across the community. Many of these are rumors, though most have at least a grain of truth to them.
“Everybody thinks of the tunnels,” Johnson said. “There are plenty of people who will tell you that there are tunnels, and they’ve seen them.”
Johnson added that many people claimed they could cross the street in these underground tunnels, some going so far as to say they could go from Union Station on Wall Avenue to the historic Ben Lomond Hotel on Washington Boulevard through this network of tunnels.
From Johnson’s research, she believes there was a grain of truth to the legend, because some basement
s were connected, and there could have even been a small network going at one point.
“I don’t think you could cross the street underground,” she said. “I definitely don’t think that you could make it the full length from Wall to Washington underground.”
Kwani Winder, owner of Gallery 25 on 25th Street, said she loves this historic feel.The exhibit highlights the historic feel of 25th Street, a feel that has largely been preserved through Ogden City’s reconstruction efforts that began in the ’90s.
“It’s a very neat feel that you don’t get often in cities,” Winder said. “Ogden has been able to make this street a great place to be.”
It wasn’t always that way. The street went into a large decline in the ’70s and ’80s, becoming a skid row, according to Johnson.
Beth Bell, owner of the 25th Street shop Green the World, remembers those days.
“There was a time you didn’t come on this street,” she said. “We called it a red-light district. Whether it was or not, I don’t know, but it was just an area you didn’t go to.”
Today, the street sees new life.
“Before I was here, I was in Riverdale, by all the big-box stores,” Bell said. “Here people are out walking, so it’s a lot more boutique-friendly . . . It’s just kind of a better area.”
A Faculty Collaboration Award from the Hemingway Faculty Development Trust funded “Spotlight on 25th.” The program has also received funding from the Utah Humanities Council and Utah State History. Without their support, Johnson said, this exhibit may not have been possible.