Sunday , August 20, 2017 - 5:00 AM
FARMINGTON — This past spring, when Larry Haugen sold eight acres of prime Farmington real estate to a land developer, word on the street was that the Haugen Body & Repair owner had instantly gone “from mechanic to millionaire.”
But Haugen insists he was already the millionaire mechanic.
“I’ve always been a millionaire, owning that property,” the Farmington native said. “It’s a prime piece of land. There was never a lot of money in the bank, but we were land barons.”
Haugen Body & Repair has long been a fixture in the sleepy community of Farmington — ever since Haugen’s father, William, opened the small, one-bay auto repair shop on Main Street in the early 1950s. Haugen was raised in a little pink house in front of the shop.
The family later expanded the business, building a new four-bay shop out back; Haugen took over the business in 1980.
Over the years, whenever adjoining land came up for sale, Haugen says the family snatched it up.
“We bought eight pieces of property right there for our large chunk,” he said. “That’s how we did it.”
On April 28, more than six decades after it opened, Haugen Body & Repair closed for good. The 65-year-old Haugen sold the shop’s land to Symphony Homes, which since demolished the buildings in preparation for building upscale single-family houses.
Todd Johnson, sales manager for the North Salt Lake-based Symphony Homes, said the company is planning about 20 houses on the site. They hope to begin vertical construction as early as next May or June.
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“We had to pay old Larry a lot,” Johnson said. “Land is hard to get right now.”
Haugen says the developers spent years courting him.
“I turned Symphony down I don’t know how many times, and told them to sharpen their pencil,” he said. “They finally came up with an offer that was palatable.”
Johnson describes his company as “an upscale builder of nicer homes.” The houses in the new Farmington development will start at about $700,000 and fetch as much as $1.7 million, according to the home builder.
Farmington resident Tom Owens is a longtime neighbor of the old Haugen Body & Repair. Twenty years ago, Owens learned the Richards Grist Mill — a historic rock building located on seven wooded acres just east of Farmington Pond — was up for auction.
“I was living in a top-floor condo in American Towers (in downtown Salt Lake City), with no yard, no weeds and no irrigating,” Owens said. “I threw down a couple of Scotches, went to the auction and ended up owning it. I’ve been a slave to it ever since.”
The mill was in bad shape when Owens bought it, but he’s since completely restored it.
Owens says many neighbors were glad to see the auto repair shop finally gone.
“It’s been a real source of conflict for every city administration for the last 50 years,” he said. “All the way back to when Congressman Jim Hansen was on the city council. He was one of the first people to get sideways with the Haugens.”
Haugen Body & Repair was really five businesses in one, according to the owner — a body shop, an auto repair shop, a used-car dealership, a wrecker service, and a salvage yard. It was this last one that caused the most grief for neighbors and the city, according to Owens. At one time he had 300 vehicles among the trees behind the shop — it was a rusty eyesore to many, Haugen guessed.
“Car repair was not clean, welding was not clean, construction was not clean,” he said. “Anything that was a ‘dirty’ business, they were trying to get rid of.”
Neighbors Haugen and Owens developed a love-hate relationship over the years. Owens helped get Haugen elected to the city council in 1996, where the latter spent a dozen years.
But then, a decade ago, Owens led the opposition against Haugen’s attempts to build high-density duplexes on his property.
“We were going to put in twin homes for seniors,” Haugen said. “It would have been 30 buildings — 60 units — and we wanted a smattering of younger folks in there to help the older folks. The city wouldn’t go for it.”
Then, about seven years ago, Farmington approved a plan for Haugen to build single-family homes on his property. However, when the economy soured, that plan fell through. The city approval was about to expire when Symphony Homes stepped in and purchased the land.
There was a fear among residents that Haugen would push through high-density housing, Dave Petersen, community development director for Farmington, said.
“It had three zonings on the property,” he said, “and that was the huge fear factor. What are we going to get behind ‘Door Number Two’ when Larry retires?”
Petersen says the Symphony Homes project is a planned unit development, and that developers are trying to mirror what was done across the street at The Grove at Farmington Creek, a gated community of upscale, custom homes.
Owens says he’s not particularly pleased with what’s getting built on the old Haugen property, but he also knows it could be much worse.
“My place is in a beautiful setting,” Owens said, “but now I get to look at the backs of two McMansions.”
The men appear to have a mutual respect, though.
“I like Tom. I respect Tom,” Haugen said. “But when he doesn’t want something to happen, he’ll step on you so hard you can’t see straight.”
And Owens says that despite their occasional differences he’s happy for Haugen.
“I’m glad for Larry, actually,” Owens said. “He spent his entire life in that grease pit down there.”
‘Nothing came easy’
Haugen lives in the historic ivy-covered Truman and Ortentia Leonard home, just two blocks from the old shop. The Leonards were the first couple married in the LDS Nauvoo Temple, and after their death the house was purchased by LDS apostle John W. Taylor.
Haugen and his wife, Julia, bought the home in 1984, and restored it from much of the mud and water damage caused during the 1983 floods. Haugen and his wife raised two sons there; she died two years ago after a battle with heart failure, kidney failure and cancer. Today, Haugen lives in the home with the couple’s 13-year-old mutt of a dog, Kaede.
So then, after a lifetime in the auto repair business, what’s the plan for retirement? Haugen says he’ll keep his used-car dealership — although it’s moving to West Haven where he’s had an offer to use a building there for free. Most of the cars will be sold online, he said.
Haugen also plans on building a garage to the west of his Farmington home to restore a few classic vehicles he owns.
Haugen knows that others call him a colorful character, but he thinks the more important thing to remember is that he’s had to fight for everything he has.
“Between my mom and dad and I, we’ve fought for our existence since the 1950s,” Haugen said. “Nothing came easy. They think everything I touch turns to gold, but I’ve lost my shirt more than once. You just roll the dice, and play the cards.”
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.
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