The Gnome Wars of Little Bohemia

When I first moved to Salt Lake City in the mid nineties, it didn’t take me long to find my favorite neighborhood. My friends called it Little Bohemia and it was artsy and modern, and a bit run down. It’s where they had the old art house movie theatre and the best little coffee shop. It’s also where you could get a vegan burrito and shop for vibrators. (Those were separate shops, to be clear.) It had the best record store, where I discovered artists like Morrissey. Obviously, the Smiths were not a new band in 1995, but I grew up in a Mormon enclave that was still obsessed with Doris Day so it seemed pretty revolutionary to me.

Over the years, this neighborhood underwent a common transformation. The weird fun eventually became “cool,” and once it was cool the things that made it weird and fun could no longer afford the rent and moved away in search of a new hidden gem of neighborhoods. The great coffee shop and the art house movie theatre remained. So did the dildo store. But it also got a Starbucks and some bougie office spaces.

The city, in it’s infinite wisdom, decided that it could do it’s part to keep Little Bohemia weird, and threw some money that way. They put colorful bricks in the intersection in a concentric circle pattern and added some kinetic art installations. The community rejected the Starbucks in favor of the local place and that space was taken over by a gelato store. In short, the neighborhood retains some of the quirky weirdness it always had, but has a much more gentrified feel 25+ years after I moved to town.

In the latest chapter on the gentrification, the city has installed a roundabout. It’s is large and they did pop a few plants in the space, but left it rather bare. They did state that there would be an art installation, but that the intended aesthetic was “to be announced.” True to form, the Little Bohemians didn’t wait. And anyway, nature abhors a vacuum, right? (I read that somewhere and I think I know what it means.) They came out and began to fill the sparsely planted circle with garden gnomes.

Soon, the city, in its infinite wisdom, had a meeting about what weird thing they should give the weirdos to make them weirdly happy (but which might also look fun on a travel website or on Instagram) and announced that the sculpture to be installed on the roundabout would be…. a whale. Because where else in land locked Utah can you see a whale?

The Bohemians were displeased. I assume that would have happened no matter what they decided, but they seemed particularly incredulous. The gnomes began to protest over night.

The last time I drove by, the controversial scene had been removed, but I did manage to photo document some of the drama. I know it pales when compared to the other things we are dealing with in the world today, but I hope it provides a brief and welcome distraction.

There were also pro-whale messages.

Then the local businesses got in on the action…

About Rachel Lewis

I am a writer, ceramic artist, knitter, and stepmom. As a playwright, I had six short plays produced in showcases and festivals in Manhattan, Salt Lake City, and Austin. My full-length play, Locking Doors, was presented by Wordsmith Theatre Company in The New Lab Theatre (University of Utah) in 2005. I co-wrote a teleplay titled “Thank God I’m Atheist” which won the 2015 “No God But Funny” contest founded by the Center for Inquiry. My short nonfiction essay, “It’s Coming Down,” was published by the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. My essay "The Red Rock Chronicles" was published in Contemporary West magazine. I currently work in pharmaceuticals professionally and write recreationally, but dream of making the transition to write professionally and do pharmaceuticals recreationally. I am a Utah native and live in Salt Lake City with my family and our Goldendoodle. I am working on a collection of humorous non-fiction essays and a second full-length play. Follow me at: @rachel_lewis_ut (Twitter) @rachel_lewis_ut (Instagram)

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