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Historic Provo

Oral History of I. Dale Despain


FULLER: How long have you lived here in Provo?

DESPAIN: I graduated from BYU in 1936.

FULLER: Did you come to Provo for the first time to go to college?

DESPAIN: I came in 1932.

FULLER: What did you study at BYU?

DESPAIN: I studied geology, biology, landscape architecture and religion.

FULLER: Are you LDS?


FULLER: What was the ward that you attended at BYU like?

DESPAIN: That was before there was a ward. There were social units. I was a member of the Mate social unit. They're no longer in existence. I remember when the wards started at BYU. I was a mission president in the Provo East Stake. That included BYU.

FULLER: What was the relationship between the LDS and non-LDS people in Provo?

DESPAIN: I know some non-LDS people and have known them for many years. We coexist and that's all.

FULLER: How have the divisions of wards affected the community?

DESPAIN: There has been two governments. One is the ecclesiastical government, such as bishops and counselors. The other is the city, state and federal government. The ecclesiastical government had a tremendous effect on this area. It has drawn the ward together. They do many things together. For example, a couple of weeks from now we will have in our ward a get-together out at the park. The kids especially look forward to this association. Now we have neighborhoods in the city. In many respects the neighborhoods are similar to the ecclesiastical wards.

FULLER: In addition, I want to know a little bit about community life and what it's been like to live in this community. What kind of clubs and organizations have you been involved in personally?

DESPAIN: I was a planner for Utah County and Provo City. I started out soon after I graduated from BYU. I have just written my personal history from the earliest I remember up until the present time. I remember many things that happened in Provo. I can enumerate many of them but that would take too long.

FULLER: What made you decide to become a city planner and how did you get into that?

DESPAIN: I took a class by Professor Morris. We studied city planning in that class. At that time, I was not Provo City's planner. I became Provo City's planner in 1945. I worked for the Utah Highway Department for about five years. I was primarily servicing southern Utah. I became well acquainted with it.

I was an engineer with the highway department when they put in the project between the south entrance to Zions Park, down about five and a half miles. A lot of that project is still there. I can go down and see it. That was my first real experience in city planning.

FULLER: What other jobs have you held while living in Provo? What other occupations have you had?

DESPAIN: I don't know of any.

FULLER: How long did you work as a city planner?

DESPAIN: This nation was involved in World War II. When the Japanese invaded I was in Denver working for Dupont. When the war ended we were all out of a job. I called up a friend in Provo that I knew. He said, "Sure, come on down." On Labor Day 1945 I came to Provo. I left my wife and children in Denver to pack up the furniture and come. That's really when I first started as the city planner.

FULLER: How long did you have that job?

DESPAIN: Until I retired in 1978.

FULLER: I want to talk to you a little about the community life in Provo. How has there been a sense of neighborhood among the different communities in Provo? How has that affected the city?

DESPAIN: It has affected it very much. This is the Provo City Neighborhood Program. I didn't do the art work on this. In our conversations you can go through here. Neighborhoods grow and get tired and worn out. Sometimes decay sneaks into unkept parking strips and unpainted buildings. Then an old car sneaks in and then the whole neighborhood begins hurting. Things drop fast after that, including property values. Unless streets and sidewalks are well maintained and landscaping is well kept, old houses are renewed or replaced as they wear out, it will happen. What can each of us do? First things first.

Here is a better neighborhood to live in. Cooperation gets action. This tells about landscaping and how to plant trees and shrubs. It was landscape architecture. The City Planning Commission had Dale Ashworth and I was the main consultant. Richard Young was the artist. Lynn Gronemann and Ben Lewis and C.S. Osmond were on the Planning Commission. I was their consultant.

In my planning activities in Utah County I made a proposal. I knew at the time that it seemed the right thing to do. I suggested it. At that time Provo City didn't have a sewage treatment plant. The sewers were land drains. People don't know it, but nearly all of Provo City from about 700 North has water underneath. The water comes out of Provo and seeps in. The water is taken out of Provo River in canals. There are several canals.

For a long time and probably still, curb and gutter was put in by the city to distribute water to the gardens. Provo used to be named the garden city. That didn't include this area here. All of this has developed since. We moved here from 791 North 1000 East. Now that house belongs to my son.

I have always been interested in Provo. I was born up in Wyoming. My father moved there in 1901. I have always lived right here. This is Robert Henry Despain's history and genealogy. Here is my paternal grandfather. His wife's history is here. There is her picture. Robert was assigned to stay in Nauvoo until the temple work was done.

I am the author of all of this. One hundred fifty years ago in April he came to Provo. He was one of the forty that came to Provo. Higbee was the leader, but he didn't stay long. Provo looked like a fort. At the Berg Mortuary there is a painting of how the fort was built. It was in April and they had to get their crops in despite the trouble with the Indians at that time. They called it the fort field. The field was 225 acres. At that time the 225 acres looked a lot like this. It was half a mile here and three quarters of a mile here. That makes 225 acres. They divided that among the families. He was one of them. Sariah Cunningham was his wife. They stayed here and settled. They were a part of that very beginning of Provo 150 years ago this year.

He stayed here two years, then he was called to go down to San Bernardino. In those days, you have to remember that this was under a colonization program of Brigham Young. He was very well acquainted with Brigham Young. The colonization of this whole country was under Brigham Young. You may have heard of the state of Deseret. But Brigham Young's colonization program extended from Mexico to Canada. People were called to go there like they are called on a mission. Only it was the colonization program to which they were called. Cedar City and St. George and particularly in Arizona and Phoenix and Mesa, and Cardston were all part of the colonization program.

They were called to go to Cardston. The Romney's were called to go to Mexico. I've been to the colonies. I've been to Cardston and I've been through the temple. I know where Casa Grande is. I've been there.

FULLER: So you have a long family history here in Provo.

DESPAIN: I didn't know that until 1978. I started in 1976. I retired in 1978 and I got busy with this. You have to read this to read my history and my family's history.

FULLER: Can you tell me a little bit about the changes in the community that you've seen.

DESPAIN: This address here is 1175 East 930 North. The one over there is 1174. It's an even number. This is an odd number. We used to have, before I came here, First North and Second North. Now it's 100 North and 200 North. With that, you can tell this door is within about ten feet. All of this county is that way. It's called the Lyman numbering system.

Richard R. Lyman was an apostle and engineer years ago. He came out with this program. He was also a polygamist and he got excommunicated. This is his contribution all over Utah. We got it from him.

FULLER: What kind of growth have you seen in Provo over your life time?

DESPAIN: Utah County had 2,000 when I started in 1945. In Orem a fellow by the name of Jolley was the mayor. Orem was named after Walter C. Orem who had an electric line that went to Salt Lake and down to Payson. You could buy a ticket and go on the electric line. They don't have that anymore. That was abandoned in 1946. I was here. I knew what was going on. It came from Payson up through Springville, Spanish Fork, Provo, and then west from Provo.

Prior to that time there was a railroad. The railroad went from the intersection of Center Street and then north. That's the way we got to Provo Resort. There was the Castella Resort in Spanish Fork. It's gone now.

In those days, kids would go to resorts, even the Great Salt Lake. I've been in the water. You can't sink. Now if you get it in your eyes, that hurts. I've been there. Blackrock was Salt Lake's resort. There was buildings. The lake came up and the resorts went under. That lake has gone up and down. So has Utah Lake. We learned to compromise a little. All of this happened before my time. I never knew it.

I came to Provo to live in 1932. Four years later in 1936 I graduated. I came down with my family to be the Provo city planner. When I went to school I came down for a quarter and I registered. At the end of the quarter, I was going to go home. I went up Provo Canyon. At that time Deer Creek was not in. I went to Heber. The road splits when it goes up Daniels Canyon to Vernal. The other road goes the other way and goes up to Park City. Things have changed since those days. Charleston was up there.

Before that time I was a planner in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I took a job. They needed somebody there who knew zoning. They had tried previously. The city manager at the time was the former city planner. He had trouble getting zones. He was the city manager when I went down to Albuquerque.

Our youngest daughter lived there. Her husband is the principal at Lehi High School. I started here as a consultant. I moved down and I was Utah County and Provo City's planner.

FULLER: Being the city planner, what interaction did you have with some of the celebrations and parades and holidays?

DESPAIN: They went on. I was really not involved.

FULLER: What can you tell me about those events?

DESPAIN: They existed. You've heard of the Stadium of Fire. It began down here in the park. The land where Kiwanis Park is was owned by a man. The Clarks were here and had some thing to do with it. I've been a member of the Kiwanis for a long time. I joined in Albuquerque when I was down there. The chairman said he thought it would be a good thing if I was to join the Kiwanis club in Albuquerque. Since then I've been a member of Kiwanis. I was so involved with planning that I almost had to drop out. Somewhere I've got to quit.

FULLER: How long has the Stadium of Fire been going on? You said it started at Kiwanis park, when was that?

DESPAIN: This is the biggest park in the city with twenty acres. Here is the story of Provo, Utah by John Clifton. Here it is. All you have to do is read this. This came out much later. He is the author. It is very interesting. You ought to read this.

FULLER: I wanted to ask you about some of the changes in the business in Provo since you've been here. Where were some of the places that you used to shop when you originally moved to Provo?

DESPAIN: Firmages and Taylors. When I came back from Albuquerque, Dixon, Taylor and Russell was a store.

FULLER: Where was that located?

DESPAIN: Third West. I've seen the central businesses in Provo grow and flourish and go down. Now this same thing is here. This was a neighborhood. This happens to businesses.

FULLER: They get worn out.

DESPAIN: Now here is what happens. These populations grow. Geneva Steel was built by the Defense Department. 1947 came along and the war was over and they wanted to get rid of it. There were two people that bid for it. One was U.S. Steel and the other was Colorado Fuel and Iron in Pueblo, Colorado. A fellow by the name of Clayton Jenkins was the manager here of the chamber of commerce. He was very instrumental in getting U.S. Steel. I knew him very well.

During the war they put on wage and price controls to prevent inflation from escalating. They were still in effect in 1947 but for just a year. Then they lifted those. Inflation just skyrocketed almost overnight. It made so much of a difference.

Orem had a population of 4,900. I have seen it grow.

FULLER: What has the impact of the development of malls and shopping centers had on the community?

DESPAIN: Very much. I remember a meeting we had in the old city building. The city building used to be where the fountain is right now. The fountain on the corner was where the city building was. The city building was a post office. When I came here Mark Anderson was the mayor. George Collard was a mayor. He was the mayor at that time.

The railroads had changed almost overnight from coal fire to diesel engines. They would lay down the smoke. That happened in 1946. A lot of things happened in 1946. The Orem Line went out of business. Orem Boulevard was the Orem Line. Walter C. Orem was the guy that promoted it. Cars began to come in. Cars got to the point where people could drive up to Salt Lake.

That was before the freeway. Many times I'd drive up there and walk State Street. It's still there. It's like El Camino in California. It went all the way through the city. It was the King's Road or the highway. I've been there.

FULLER: I want to talk to you about some national events and the impact or the way that people reacted to them in Provo.

DESPAIN: Hitler started in 1933. One thing after another worked out in his favor. I had Hitler's book called "Mein Kampf", My Struggle. He had an idea that the jews were responsible for everything. The Merchant of Venice was a Jew. That was written by Shakespeare.

There has been anti-semitism from year one. It was way back before Christ's time. You had to know what was going on before Christ in history. I've traced it through Roman times and Christ's time. It was one form of government. During the life of Christ it changed. After Caligula and Claudius and up through the Christians, the whole world has changed in that time. One thing leads to another. I think much more than I talk.

You need to read the Koran. That's the Muslim's holy book. When you read the Koran you learn about what's going on over in Kosovo. You understand it. Bosnia and other countries are involved in civil wars.

FULLER: What was the reaction to the Korean War here in Provo?

DESPAIN: That happened. McArthur was the general that was in charge of the exodus. We were in an awful depression. It started in 1929. I was there. I know what happened when the Depression started. It was speculating in the stock market. The stock market crashed. They built it up and it crashed. Then we had Herbert Hoover. We got into the Depression.

That president at one time took office in March. I have lived through the Depression. I know what we went through. FDR had programs. He never was able to walk. He couldn't stand. He had polio. They don't have polio anymore because of the Salk vaccine.

FULLER: What kind of impact did FDR's policies have on Provo as a community?

DESPAIN: It had an impact on Provo because of the Works Programs Administration, WPA. When I was down in Zion's Park, I supervised the construction of curbs and gutters. I was an engineer for the Highway Department. I think when I'm talking to you on one subject, my mind goes.

FULLER: When the Korean War started, what did people in Provo think about the war? Were they in support of it?

DESPAIN: I was not here. I was not in Provo at that time. MASH is a show about that war. There is a lot of that in MASH that's true. It's based on fact. The reason it's so popular and it runs over and over again is that there's a funny twist to it.

FULLER: What about the Cold War? How did people in Provo react to the Cold War and what was going on in the fight between the United States and the Soviet Union?

DESPAIN: You have to go back in history some more. There were two parties in Russia. One was the Minskivic and the other was Bolshevik. Minskivic was different. Bolshevik was the real powerful one. Stalin rigged the vote. He was absolutely ruthless. Stalin in Russia and Mao Edong in China. Mao was a communist. He defeated them. He started out in one province. Chiang Kia-shek forced the nationalists to go to Taiwan. It used to be called Formosa.

FULLER: When there was a battle that was going on, the ideological battle between the United States and Russia, what were people in Provo thinking about the buildup of arms and the threats of communism?

DESPAIN: The world could have been a very different place, if something had gone wrong during the cold war. If that had turned into a hot war, it would be different. Oppenheimer invented the atomic bomb. The nuclear bomb was invented also. Russia got the nuclear bomb from spies.

FULLER: McCarthy was searching out spies in the government and in society. He started to attack the U.S. Army and there were senate hearings and it turned out that he had been lying about all the names that he had.

DESPAIN: A.E. Watkins stopped him. I knew him when he was here.

FULLER: When McCarthy first started his campaign, were they supportive of it, or were they skeptical?

DESPAIN: They didn't know. There was so much confusion at that time. There was a program here in the United States. I prepared a plan for the evacuation. I got a copy of it. It never went into effect. The sum total of it was all Utah, Colorado and so on would exit into the desert and scatter out. There was no way for a nuclear bomb to hit us.

FULLER: There was a lot of fear in Provo.

DESPAIN: Everybody wanted to dig a basement for their protection. They were afraid of Russia.

FULLER: Moving to the Vietnam War era, I know that throughout the United States there was a lot of animosity and opposition to the war. What about here in Provo? Was there opposition or support?

DESPAIN: By and large it was supported.

FULLER: Why do you think they were so supportive when the rest of the nation wasn't as supportive?

DESPAIN: I don't know. Colin Powell was a part of the war. He's still around. In 1976 the Shah of Iran took over from Molshivek. The reason he did that was Khomeni came back into power again. The Shah was forced out.

FULLER: Also during the 1970s there was a controversy in Washington D.C. known as Watergate. What was the reaction here in Provo to Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal?

DESPAIN: They didn't know. As far as the public was concerned, they had been confused for a long time. They had talked about it. All they knew was controversy and that's all. You have to go back through Nixon and Kennedy. Think not what your country can do for you. Think what you can do for your country. That spread. It was a lie from the beginning. But it sure caught on. He was assassinated. They never did figure out whether there was a conspiracy or not. They caught the guy that shot him from long distance. Then his wife married Onassis.

There was so much confusion. They didn't know what to think. They listened to this and that. If you had been alive, you would have been confused. I was confused. I didn't know.

I was involved in the Manhattan Project, but I didn't know it at the time. That's a whole different subject.

FULLER: I think we have answers to all the questions about Provo City for today.

DESPAIN: Let me summarize. My great grandfather had a lot to do with the settling of Provo City. Then he was called to go down to San Bernardino. He never did come back to Provo City. For years Brigham Young had people come from Council Bluffs. There was Johnston's Army. He was mustered out in San Diego. There were five hundred of them. They only got into one battle. That was the Battle of the Bulge. When he was mustered out he didn't go up there to Sutter's Mill. He came over home. He thought his wife was still back in Council Bluffs. You should read her story. She was seventeen years of age. That was his wife. They were married in Nauvoo then came west.

Now they're beginning to discover these things. This is interesting. My son owns a ranch. They're running cattle. He has a cattle ranch down there. He went back to Vermont where they have contests and auctions and bought a couple and brought them over here.

My son went on a mission to Denmark and met a person, by the name of Sonya. She was interested in the church. When he got back they must have corresponded. Today if they want to talk about something they'll talk about it. Dale came in and talked about this Danish girl. That girl is our daughter-in-law. She is smart. She is just like my youngest daughter.

FULLER: Thank you so much for your time and letting me talk to you about these things.

DESPAIN: We just love it here. We lived there.

Nikita Kruschev's son is now a U.S. citizen since just last month.

I've had fun talking to you. The Lyman numbering system gave us this address.

FULLER: Thank you so much for your time.

DESPAIN: I don't think the people of Provo understand. Orem used to be in Provo too. At one time Orem city limits extended clear down to 1340 North. That was during my time. I remember that. I was a planner in Orem and Provo. It didn't make sense for Orem sewer to drain that hill. The sewer always has to go downhill. It wasn't natural. The lines were drawn so that 20th North was about Center Street.

FULLER: Thank you for sharing all this.

Interviewee: I. Dale Despain
Interviewer: Marcia Fuller
July 16, 1999

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