Exploring the legend of “Hobbitville” and its long history
Jul 7, 2023, 2:18 PM | Updated: 2:35 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Most Utahns have probably heard of Hobbitville. It’s an urban legend born from the rich and unusual history of Allen Park and its namesake, Dr. George Allen.
Among the trees and houses that line 1300 East in Sugar House is an easily overlooked sign, marking the entrance to Allen Park.
The name conjures an image of your typical park, with grass and basketball courts and playgrounds.
Instead, walking into Allen Park, you’re immediately met by the sight of a large wooden cabin. It looks like it should be in the Cottonwoods, not in the middle of Salt Lake City. To either side of you are large stones, engraved with lines like, “Too low they build, who build beneath the stars.”
That’s just the beginning.
In 1931, Dr. George Allen and his wife Ruth purchased a property in Sugar House at 1328 Allen Park Dr. The park spans almost two blocks and sits across from Westminster College.
Allen was an animal lover, with a passion for exotic birds. As Allen added cages and roosts, the park became a bird sanctuary.
Allen Park also reportedly housed other exotic animals like a chimp, elephant and reindeer. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dr. Allen helped establish both the Tracy Aviary and Utah’s Hogle Zoo, both of which are still open today.
The exotic birds that captured Allen’s heart are gone now — mostly. Bright and loud peacocks still live in the park, acting as a — somewhat literal — echo of what it once was.
The park’s peculiar animal residents weren’t the only thing that made it stand out.
Building a community
In the 1940s, Allen started adding homes to the property as a way to supplement his income.
True to his character, Allen didn’t build rows of identical homes inside the park. Instead, he relocated homes that had been built elsewhere and set them on new foundations.
Those homes provided housing to people from all walks of life, like artists, students, and professors.
There are 16 homes in the park, and no two of them are alike.
One home, named the “Mary Rose” after Allen’s daughter, has a large stone fireplace on the outside.
Another house has green shutters that stand out against the white building. Bright, orange flowers cover the front of the house.
As the area around it was developed, the park remained tucked away. Eventually, Allen Park became a private community.
On Sundays, the park opened up to the public. A sign placed at the entrance read, “Visitors welcome.”
Visitors could tour the park’s unconventional layout and enjoy the natural beauty including Emigration Creek, which cuts through the property.
And alongside the houses and natural sights, cement towers and brightly colored signs pepper the park, each imparting words of wisdom to the reader.
Signage in the park refers to these signs as mosaic poems, as many of them feature birds inset into the stones along with lines of poetry.
Origins of “Hobbitville”
The mismatched homes, wise stones, and rustic feel of the park all lent themselves to the fuel that fired the urban legend.
One home in the park, a log cabin, sits across Emigration Creek partially hidden in the tree line. To get to it, you have to cross a wooden bridge.
At the threshold before the bridge lays a stone. It features a mosaic bird and this engraving: “Nature never wears a mean appearance.” To its right, a stone pillar features a line from Omar Khayyam, a poet and mathematician. It reads, “The leaves of life keep falling one by one.”
Another building in the park, near the entrance, is much smaller than the cabin. The brick, gazebo-like building looks like it’s straight out of a fantasy.
With the colorful, unique buildings, the poetry engraved in stone, and the birds, it’s no wonder this unique enclave was given the moniker “Hobbitville.”
Local legend said hobbit-like creatures lived in the Hobbitville homes, happily smoking their pipes within the confines of Allen Park.
Allen Park and Hobbitville today
Dr. George Allen died in 1961, and by the 70s his birds were gone. The park and Hobbitville fell into disrepair, but still, the community remained.
Ruth died in 1985 and her grandaughter took over. After her grandaughter’s death, the park went to her husband. Overwhelmed, he hired a company to manage the property. The last of the Allen Park residents were evicted in 2019.
After the evictions, locals worried the park would be destroyed in favor of a new housing development.
But a grassroots campaign to preserve the park proved successful, and Salt Lake City bought the property for $7.5 million in early 2020.
By October of the same year, Allen Park reopened to the public.
🦚Allen Park🦚 will open to the public THIS SUNDAY! I’m so excited for you to see this unique space, which will be preserved for the public for future generations. #utpol https://t.co/q0G3dBk81c pic.twitter.com/Xv78Ckkdsr
— Mayor Erin Mendenhall (@slcmayor) October 1, 2020
In June of 2023, the city announced it was exploring what’s next for the park. Residents can participate in a survey to give input on what they’d like to see done to the park.
For now, the houses and decorations in the park remain fenced off. After buying the park in 2020, the city said it plans to restore the park to its former glory.
Until then, visitors can take a slightly distanced look at Dr. Allen’s legacy.