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Layton: A vibrant city built on two “Hills”

Article Published 02/11/2015

Modern Layton City is a community that has truly been built on two “Hills” – Hill Air Force Base and the Layton Hills Mall --  to become Davis County’s largest town, as well as a regional shopping hub.
-First there was “Hill Field.”
According to the “History of Hill Air Force Base,” by the Ogden Air logistics History Office, there was an intense competition in the 1930s between Salt Lake and Ogden for location of the new “Army Air Force Base” (precursor to the United States Air Force).
Northern Utah, as an air base in the Intermountain area, had been rated a suitable location for an air mail terminal back in 1934, during the U.S. Army’s failed Air Mail experiment.
However, in the end, it was geography, not lobbying that tilted in favor of the Ogden area. Weber Canyon, “the largest hole in the Wasatch Front,” was a very attractive natural asset. The winds kept the canyon’s mouth and area mostly free of fog and early airplane pilots had followed the canyon as a landmark, that also boasted high visibility.
The former “Sand ridge,” a plateau north of Layton City, was selected as the best location for an air base.
The U.S. Congress approved $8 million in July of 1939 to establish the Ogden Air Depot. Six months later, in December, the War Department selected the name “Hill Field,” in honor of the late Major Ployer Hill, who had perished in an experimental aircraft accident in 1935.
An official groundbreaking was held on Jan. 12, 1940 and the facility was built and expanded from there.
Surprisingly, the main gate to Hill, the “South Gate” (also ironically on a high hill/plateau in the area) emptied into Layton, not Ogden.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, many additional aircraft were transferred to Hill from the west coast, for additional protection.
It was the presence of Hill Air Force Base that weaned Layton from an agricultural base into a more urban setting. Layton’s population soared by 435 percent, from 646 in 1940, to 3,457 in 1950, mainly because of Hill.
New housing also boomed in Layton because of Hill. The Layton Trailer Park, with 300 units opened in 1942; Sahara Village, with 400 units came by 1944; Hillcrest Village, on the west corner of today’s South Gate, opened in 1942 and could house 2,500 residents.
Layton also experienced a business boom in 1946, following World War II, with its expanded population.
By 1947, the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force and Hill was renamed Hill Air Force Base.
While Hill’s workforce was some 22,000 in 1943, it was reduced to just over 3,000 in 1946, following World War II’s end. Yet, new contracts, responsibilities and the Korean War increased employment steadily after that.
Hill had 11,864 military and civilian personnel in 1954; by 1966 the total was 18,436 and by 1986 it was 21,775, all as Utah’s largest single employer – all on the doorstep of Layton City.
According to the latest Hill AFB economic impact statement, there are now 25,563 total personnel within Hill Air Force Base, including 5,525 military, 3,767 military dependents and 12,545 civilians. Hill AFB has an annual federal payroll of $1.24 billion and annual expenditures of $832 million. Annually, Hill AFB creates approximately $1.24 billion in jobs created with a total of $3.31 billion in total annual economic impact.
-The Layton Hills Mall is Layton’s other significant “hill.”
“Work set to begin on Layton Hills Mall” was an Aug. 4, 1978 headline in the Davis County Clipper.
The Mall was then described as a mammoth indoor shopping center with some surrounding businesses, conveniently next to I-15. It opened after more than two years of construction.
Some of the land eventually developed into the Layton Hills Mall used to be the old 20-acre Layton Trailer Park.
The Layton Hills Mall opened in the spring of 1980 and was renovated in 1996.
Today it has more than 100 stores, with three anchor tenants and more than 576,000-square-feet of retail floor space.
The Layton Hills Mall, though not on an actual “hill,” has over the decades attracted many more businesses to Layton. “Restaurant Row,” Layton’s famed cluster of eateries, grew out of the Mall’s success. Layton had only two “sit down” restaurants in 1983,” but thanks to the Mall it boasts dozens and dozens today.
In addition to the Mall, Smith’s Food and Drug constructed its regional offices, plus dough/dairy plants and a distribution warehouse in Layton in the late 1970s in Layton.
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