As Weber County native Val Holley tells it in his 2013 book 25th Street Confidential: Drama, Decadence, and Dissipation along Ogden’s Rowdiest Road, Utah’s second city almost didn’t survive its infancy. During the Utah War of 1857–1858, the Mormon leadership considered implementing a scorched earth policy and burning all their communities north of Salt Lake City. Luckily for Ogdenites both past and present, that didn’t happen.
A mere decade later, in 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads converged just 40 miles northwest of Ogden on Promontory Summit. By June of 1870, Ogden’s Union Station had become the de facto meeting point of the two railroads, much to Salt Lake City and Brigham Young’s chagrin. And so begins our story: “The shortest route to town from the railroad depot came to be known as 5th Street and, after 1889, 25th Street. Unique among Utah’s byways, boulevards and territorial turnpikes, 25th Street was the red carpet to Ogden and its wealth of diversions, libations and anonymous encounters” (25th Street Confidential, p. 3).
Val Holley traces the fortunes of 25th Street’s saloons, cathouses, and gambling dens over three distinct heydays: 1880–1905, the Wild West years; 1917–1933, Prohibition; 1935–1949, post-Prohibition (also called the Peery Era, after five-term Ogden mayor and good friend to 25th Street, Harman W. Peery). The larger-than-life characters who owned, frequented, or sought to close down the 25th Street haunts come sharply into focus—bit players and big shots alike, with colorful handles such as Belle London, Hog-Faced Mag and the Reverend Noble Strong Elderkin.
By the time Jack Kerouac passed through Ogden’s “crazy bum street” (high praise indeed from the King of the Beats) in the 1950s, the railroad was already losing ground to the popularity of the automobile, and to a lesser extent the airplane. 25th Street was destined for decades of neglect (though not without eventual, if respectable, rebirth). Nonetheless, keeping in mind that Kerouac once dismissed Salt Lake as a squeaky-clean “city of sprinklers,” 25th Street Confidential may give rise to a strange and unexpected condition within Salt Lake readers: Ogden envy. Just sayin’.
Tony Guerrero is a Librarian at the Sprague Branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library. To find 25th Street Confidential and similar books within the library's catalog, or for more info on The City Library's programs and services, visit slcpl.org.