Years-long restoration launches to keep 'Pink House' from fading into Grand Teton National Park history
Ryan Dorgan, Jackson Hole News&Guide photos
JACKSON – When Kate Birmingham looks at the cracked stucco, fading pink exterior walls of one of Mormon Row’s trademark relic residences, it’s easy for her to imagine the home’s history.
John Moulton homesteaded the property, “proving up” the substandard farmland surrounding the structure about the time he met Bartha. She traveled to Mormon Row to act as a midwife to her sister, who was married to John’s brother.
John and Bartha married in 1917 and soon had four children to raise. They belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — how Mormon Row got its name. A century ago, before becoming Grand Teton National Park, the area also was known as the town of Grovont.
The couple raised their family in a tiny homesteader cabin before building the “Pink House” and before the arrival of electricity — a modern convenience that came in the 1950s.
“One of the most compelling stories about the people who lived here is that they really persevered,” said Birmingham, the park’s branch chief of cultural resources. “They lived here year-round, and the crosswinds on Antelope Flats in the winter are pretty brutal.
“It’s a beautiful sea of white snow, but in the interior they have really beautiful floral wallpaper all over the place,” she said. “You can just imagine: They needed the color to keep the monotony at bay and to keep themselves happy through the year.”
Brightening up someone’s day is in fact the story behind the home’s eye-catching hue, according to the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.
“While John’s wife, Bartha, was in the hospital, John wanted to do something special to commemorate her homecoming,” the Historical Society recounts on its website. “He knew that she had wanted to repaint the house, and due to a small mix-up, chose the salmon pink color. When Bartha came home, she despised the color but so loved the sentiment behind it, that it was never changed.”
Birmingham wants the park’s 4 million or so visitors to also have the chance to get to know the history behind the eye-catching abode.
“We’re trying to tell the story a bit more,” she said, “in a sort of minimalist manner.”
Step one is making sure that the Pink House itself doesn’t fade into history, deteriorating and rejoining the pastoral landscape.
To that end the park is going to great lengths to preserve and stabilize the 1.5-story historic home that dates to the late 1930s.
If you took a drive down Antelope Flats Road over the last six weeks, you might have seen that the unoccupied home was lifted off its foundation, having been propped up and then slid to the south by heavy equipment.
“They thought it was just the stucco cracking,” Birmingham said. “Originally, they poured the [cement] root cellar and had an impartial foundation on the rest. So what happened is that there was differential settling — torsion — and that was causing the cracking in the stucco.”
Teton Park staff determined through a 2017 Historic Properties Management Plan that they wanted to keep the historic Pink House around and able to withstand weathering for decades to come.
“The Park Service’s mission is to preserve things for perpetuity,” Birmingham said. “That’s a tall order.”
The Pink House was considered a good candidate for historic preservation because it’s maintained its original doors, windows, cabinetry, wallpaper, flooring and woodwork. There was even a proposal, for a time, to shore up the building well enough so that it could be used again by people, though the park ultimately opted against that.
Contractors labored as Birmingham and Teton Park’s historical architect, Courtney Gunderson, circled a fenced-off perimeter around the Pink House construction zone in mid-June.
They weren’t exactly following Teton County building codes to a T. Instead, they used tactics that differed somewhat from modern construction techniques, having been shaped by the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center.
Repouring a foundation and fixing the most-damaged stucco on the Pink House’s southern-facing wall doesn’t come cheap.
And on the horizon, a full stucco preservation project, roof replacement and rebuilding of the chimney are also planned. It’s the first phase of a larger three-year project underwritten by the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, which is chipping in $3 million.
The National Park Service is also putting up $1.7 million toward a project that reaches into other parts of the Mormon Row Historic District.
Some of that funding will even go toward improving the Moulton Ranch Cabins property, the last remaining privately owned inholding in the historic district. The former owners, Hal and Iola Blake, sold their land and cabins to the Grand Teton National Park Foundation in 2018, though it’s since been folded into the national park. For the last two summers, it’s served as quarters for Park Service seasonal staff.
A big part of the Mormon Row and Pink House restoration is making the history more accessible for visitors.
While Birmingham and Gunderson strolled around in uniform, they got asked typical tourist questions — like where to go to see a moose. But in their day-to-day work, they also get plenty of inquiries about the region’s cultural history.
“It’s definitely a goal of this project, making sure that we convey information that we already know people are asking for,” Birmingham said.
That effort won’t be limited to the standard signage, which is purposely being kept to a minimum. Instead, Teton Park is leaning into location-specific web apps that teach visitors about each building or property. They’re even investigating a new interpretive technology called “landscape laser scanning,” which will simulate what the Mormon Row landscape looked like back in the days of Grovont with a few clicks on a smartphone or computer.
“We can show people what the wallpaper looks like in the Pink House,” Birmingham said, “without having them be there.”