Talking to a longtime valley resident the other day, I learned that the lawn of the Logan LDS Tabernacle was a popular smoking spot and hangout for teenagers in the 1970s and ’80s.
“It went on for years,” she said. “Kids would go back and forth between there and Dick’s Cafe to play video games. I don’t think anybody ever told them to disperse or anything.”
It’s hard to imagine the same thing going on in Logan today. Kids smoking on the tabernacle grounds right there for the whole town to see? For one thing, the police would not tolerate it. Nowadays, those kids would be facing a juvenile court judge before they could take their second puff. Church authorities probably wouldn’t like the whole scene much either.
The past three decades have ushered in much more conservative times in Logan, or at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten as a Logan move-in who has heard many stories like this and seen other evidence about how things used to be here.
By “more conservative” I don’t necessarily mean politically conservative. That’s another subject. I’m talking about social conditions — the way people act in public, the things people do for entertainment, etc.
Of course, with activities like smoking and drunken driving, our whole nation has seen an enormous shift in attitude and law enforcement since the 1970s, certainly for the better. But still, there are many other aspects of Logan life that appear to have moderated over the years seemingly independent of national trends.
As with the tabernacle smoking, I was shocked to learn one day that a tavern known as the Cactus Club, which once occupied part of the building that is now the Logan Public Library, used to have topless dancers — at lunchtime no less. This was in the mid-1970s.
That’s nothing like the Logan I’ve come to know since moving here in 1995. Even though alcohol laws have been liberalized in that time, this town could hardly be described as rowdy or bawdy by any measure. By and large, the 21st century Logan populace is very subdued. People dress conservatively, they wear practical shoes, they talk quietly (except at Aggie basketball games), they generally drive the speed limit and the sidewalks downtown are rolled up early every night.
Another key change is reflected in a dramatic drop in the number of large rock concerts staged locally. Looking through microfilm of old editions of The Herald Journal, I’ve noticed that Logan in the 1970s was a regular stop on the tours of many big-name rock groups and solo performers. These days such events are extremely rare.
Utah State University in that era was known as a party school, a reputation sealed when Playboy magazine included it on a list of “Top 10 party schools” in the nation.
One of USU’s famous partiers was Jack Ford, son of then-President Gerald Ford, who was known to attend college festivities with Secret Security agents in tow and was once spoofed in a local editorial cartoon as a pot smoker. I can’t say if he actually was or not.
A 1975 Campus Life newspaper brought into our office the other day contained this telling announcement in the events calendar: “Sex, drugs and alcohol will be featured this weekend with the second annual National Tequila Day, November 8.”
Wow, in Logan? Really? I had to turn the old newspaper back to the front page and make sure it really was what it was.
What happened to change all this in the intervening years?
As I’ve heard it told, and correct me if I’m wrong, Utah State brought in a certain administrator in the 1980s who made it his mission — or was given the mission — to clean up the school’s image.
The rock concerts soon became a thing of the past, and new policies were initiated to reduce the large annual influx of out-of-state students — the core of the party crowd. Adding momentum to that trend was an unrelated event in Provo: Brigham Young University established an enrollment cap, which led to more Utah high school graduates attending USU, the majority of them LDS.
By the end of the ’80s, the USU student body was virtually nothing like the crowd that Stephen Stills sang “Love the One You’re With” to in a big 1972 concert. And the city of Logan saw an accompanying shift in character and tone.
Isn’t it interesting how such a large social change could occur in such a short period of time? I can think of no other examples like this in the Intermountain West other than in those towns that have seen big boom-and-bust cycles due to energy development or sudden discovery by the super rich looking for mountain property.
I would have liked being in Logan back then, especially as a younger person. In searching the Internet for anecdotal material on USU’s past, I found one alumnus who blogged that she loved attending the university during those exciting times, even though she personally stayed away from the party scene.
Still, I doubt too many locals are disappointed with the way things have turned out. The quiet life seems to suit Logan well.