Today's checkouts the last for Salt Lake inn

As demolition nears, popular hostel-hotel stirs fond memories

Published: Sunday, Oct. 29 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Josh and Stacy Nelson and their daughter, Lexy, dine Saturday at the inn's Passages. The Nelsons had their wedding breakfast there.

August Miller, Deseret Morning News

The Inn at Temple Square has housed wedding-night romance, fed the likes of Gladys Knight and Angela Lansbury and given scores of people employment at a job they loved.

When the last guest checks out today, the inn will close forever.

After 75 years at 71 W. South Temple, the inn is set to be the first building demolished as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes way for City Creek Center, a mixed-use shopping, retail and office development aimed at revitalizing the blocks currently occupied by the languishing Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center.

The inn opened in 1931 as the Hotel Temple Square, but it wasn't until it was renovated 16 years ago and reopened as the Inn at Temple Square that it became popular as a "home away from home," said Neil Wilkinson, director of marketing for Temple Square Hospitality Corp., which runs the inn.

Prior to the renovation, the Hotel Temple Square was "kind of a hostel-hotel," with 200 small rooms that were "easy for a nice, quick stay," Wilkinson said. But the inn, converted into a more Victorian style with only 90 rooms, became more of an experience than just a place to stay.

"It's been a very popular place for a little getaway," he said. "A lot of guests like to go to the inn and feel at home there."

Among the reasons for the inn's popularity is its proximity to the LDS Church's Temple Square and the Salt Lake Temple there. Wilkinson himself regularly stayed at the inn with his wife on their wedding anniversaries, preferring one of the rooms with a view of the temple, where the couple was married 26 years ago.

Brandon Strong and his wife, Sonya, were also married in the Salt Lake Temple in September 2004, and they spent the first two nights of their honeymoon at the inn. The couple now live in Seoul, South Korea, where they teach English.

"Staying at the inn seemed like a nice touch, because it was so close" to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where the couple had their wedding-night dinner, "and it had class," Brandon Strong wrote in a recent e-mail to the Deseret Morning News. "After dinner, we went on a carriage ride, which ended by taking us to the inn. It was a wonderful way to end a beautiful day."

But the inn isn't just loved by its guests. Dianne Jordison, who has worked at the inn's restaurant Passages for 16 years, planned to retire after clocking out for the last time Friday. "I can't see myself working anywhere else," she said.

Working at Passages, she has fed a variety of celebrities, including musicians Jon Bon Jovi and Gladys Knight and actors Angela Lansbury, John Ritter, Raquel Welch and Karl Malden, not to mention a host of ballet dancers, opera singers and others performing at nearby venues.

"It's a beautiful corner," she said of the inn's spot where West Temple and South Temple meet. "Lots of memories."

Calls to preserve the inn have been overshadowed by a more concerted effort to stop the planned demolition of the historic First Security/Deseret Bank building, which the church and its development partners are now reconsidering. But the inn has also had its proponents.

A number of readers e-mailing the News after the church announced its plans questioned the need to raze the inn — most while praising the City Creek Center concept itself.

"The latest plans for the City Creek Center are far superior to previous attempts," Salt Lake City resident Chad Wasden wrote. "However, since the primary goal of this project is to protect the ambiance around Temple Square, it is ironic to raze the very structures that help create it."

And Weston Clark, also of Salt Lake City, wrote, "Something that makes downtown so unique is its historic value. After all, how else do we separate ourselves from the suburbs?"

Church representatives could not be reached to comment for this story, but when the plans were announced, they said the inn was never meant to stay around for long in the first place.

And barring any unforeseen problems, the building won't be around much longer. Orion Goff, in the city's permit department, said the church seems on track to be ready to tear down the inn on its target date of Nov. 13.

The church has applied for its demolition permit for the building, and Goff said it has been approved by four of the six agencies whose permission is required.

The looming demolition has led hundreds of people to try to book one last stay.

"From the hour of the announcement (of the City Creek Center plans), the phones were ringing off the hook," Wilkinson said. The hotel has been filled to capacity since, and some would-be guests had to be turned away.

Once the inn is gone, everything inside that can be sold will be. The inn's employees will go to work at other hotels in the area, thanks to job-relocation assistance provided by Temple Square Hospitality. But one thing will remain.

"Memories, at least, we get to keep," Wilkinson said.


E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com

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