Granite Mill celebrates 100 years

Published: Saturday, Dec. 22 2007 12:05 a.m. MST

W. Gary Sandberg, center, with sons Chris, left, and Sandy, is president of Granite Mill.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Enlarge photo»

What a difference 100 years make.

Back when Granite Mill opened in 1907, an old steam engine with belts and pulleys drove the shop's original line shaft. The company even used water power at one point to run the woodworking machines.

Now all it takes is the flip of a switch, and magically everything works.

"It was phenomenal. Their ingenuity to make things happen back then was remarkable," Granite Mill president W. Gary Sandberg said. "We now are able to accomplish in minutes what would have taken hours or even weeks to do back then."

The Salt Lake family-operated business celebrated its 100-year anniversary Friday.

Frederick Sandberg, a Swedish immigrant, founded Granite Mill and Fixture Co. in 1907 to provide much-needed jobs to other immigrants from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It was his way of paying it forward, since Sandberg was given the same opportunity when he arrived in Salt Lake City at age 19, his grandson W. Gary Sandberg said.

Frederick Sandberg honed his craft as a finish carpenter at the Salt Lake Temple, where he built the spiral staircase. Everything was done by hand back then.

"Can you imagine what it would be like to take rough-hewn wood and turn it into planks and boards and turn it into these delicate, intricate moldings that are used and part of the interior of that temple?" his grandson said.

Since then, Granite Mill has gone on to furnish 50 temples for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including temples in New York, Nauvoo, Ghana and Manti, Sandberg said.

It was a rough road to 100 years. After a year in operation, the original mill in Sugar House burned down. And running a family-owned business through the Depression was no easy task, Sandberg said.

"Every time I see the show 'It's a Wonderful Life,' it hits home to me. An old company like this goes through ups and downs," Sandberg said. "We're not a General Motors, but we have been able to employ skilled craftspeople from that time frame up until now, never miss a payroll, never miss a deadline or completion of a job.

"Sometimes, it's just perseverance."

Today approximately 105 employees work at Granite Mill, many of them third- and fourth-generation workers.

Although work is much faster with today's technology, Granite Mill workers still hand-carve several items.

Right now, the mill is busy restoring and replicating benches, display cases and brochure racks for the Utah State Capitol. The state spent more than $200 million in renovations, including the Granite Mill items, and the building is scheduled to be rededicated on Jan. 4.

The company also does historic restorations and did the woodwork on the Governor's Mansion, the Salt Lake City-County Building and the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

Other projects include the LDS Church Conference Center, Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Scott M. Matheson Federal Courthouse.


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com

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