Lanti Jesse Eldred was born February 25, 1970 on a farm near Gardner, Illinois. He was orphaned at the age of 12 and went to live with an uncle and his family. He finished his second year of high school and then set out on his own, sustaining himself by doing odd jobs. When he was 22 years old, L.J. and another man bought a merry-go-round and traveled with it from Illinois to California, where he organized a carnival.
While in California, he married his first wife, Lottie Hopkins. The San Francisco fire made their business unprofitable so he and Lottie took the carnival up the coast and finally to Utah. They settled in Provo in 1906.
In 1908, L.J. and Lottie purchased a home in Provo at 68 North 100 West. They bought a Ferris wheel and continued to operate the carnival business, along with skating rinks in Provo and Spanish Fork. In 1914 they purchased the Mozart Dance Hall (located at 100 South 100 West) and renamed it Utahna. They retired from the carnival business in 1931 but continued to operate Utahna where they shared their love of dancing with the community. Lottie died in November, 1939 and eight years later, on October 27, 1947, L.J. married Mildred, an old friend from Illinois. L.J. and Mildred lived the rest of their years in the home on 100 West.
The Eldred home on 100 West
In 1951, L.J. and Mildred donated their Utahna dance hall to the City of Provo for the benefit of the community. It became known as the Eldred Recreation Center. When the site of the center was wanted for a new post office, they agreed to the demolition of the building with the stipulation that the value of their donation ($75,000 at the time and $1.13 million in 2021 dollars) be used for the construction of a new center. That contribution, along with $49,000 ($742,000 in 2021 dollars) contributed by the John Beesley family, provided the financial foundation for construction of the Eldred Center on 500 North.
L.J. and Mildred Eldred
Over the years, the Eldred's went about doing good for many, asking nothing in return. They presented many gifts to various organizations and individuals including (but not limited to):
An iron lung and resuscitator for the Utah Valley Hospital
A donation of $500 cash to be used for anyone needing hospital care who could not afford it.
An iron lung for the Rock Springs, Wyoming hospital.
A $100 donation to the Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake.
A loud speaker for the Fourth Ward church.
Cemetery headstones for acquaintances that could not afford them. Families were surprised to see headstones already installed and paid for by L.J.
Down payments for several young couples, allowing them to purchase their first home.
Several rent checks were returned uncashed with receipts marked paid.
The first Provo police car, equipped with a two-way radio.
A 1955 Cadillac automobile to be used to establish an ambulance service.
Their greatest single gift came in 1955 when L.J. and Mildred donated their entire estate of $350,000 ($3.4 million in 2021 money) to establish the Eldred Sunset Manor Foundation. The foundation would serve as a catalyst for construction of the Eldred Sunset Manor, a hospital for the aged and chronically ill. Although the life estate was never used in construction of the hospital, it was the spark that made the project happen. The Eldred Sunset Foundation continues to exist today and provides grant funding for projects and services in cities throughout Utah County.
The Eldred's died in the hospital they founded - L.J. in 1963 and Mildred in 1964. The 1965 dedication for the Eldred Center contained the following tribute:
"What greater love can be shown a community than to give it his life estate? These monuments will endure for generations. Words are inadequate to describe this kind of love and the good that will result from these gifts."
Ironically, the Eldred Center was demolished in 2013 to make way for construction of the new Provo City Recreation Center. The center includes a wing for senior services.
The Eldred Sunset Manor was sold to Utah County in 1969. The hospital was renovated and became the Utah County Jail. In the mid-1990's Utah County moved the jail into a new building in Spanish Fork. Provo City purchased the old building in 1997. The building was used during construction of iProvo and for a film set. Other than that, it had remained vacant. Due to vandalism and the presence of asbestos, the building was in bad shape. It was demolished in September 2017 and the land sold to a developer for a residential project.