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Historic Eagle Gate a prominent Salt Lake landmark

Published: Monday, March 29 2010 12:18 a.m. MDT

The Eagle Gate used to be the entrance to the Lion House and the Beehive House, as seen at the turn of the century.

Deseret News Archives

SALT LAKE CITY — For more than 150 years, the Eagle Gate has been one of downtown Salt Lake City's most prominent landmarks.

Built in 1859 to mark the entrance to Brigham Young's farmland as well as City Creek Canyon, the monument has been altered four times — as State Street became a public thoroughfare and later was widened, first to accommodate electric street cars and then to handle the growing automobile traffic in downtown Salt Lake.

Travelers haven't had to pay a toll to pass through the Eagle Gate to City Creek Canyon since 1882, when State Street opened to the public. And while the gate has been taken down at times, it has always been replaced close to its original location on State Street and South Temple.

As LDS Church President David O. McKay noted in 1963, when the current gate was dedicated: "Over the years many attempts have been made to remove the old eagle and its perch in the interest of progress, better traffic control and for esthetic reasons, but they came to naught and the gate has remained as a famous landmark."

Deseret News photographers and others have taken pictures of the gate as it has been transformed, along with the buildings once enclosed by the fence the gate served — the Lion House, the Beehive House and the old Tithing Office.

Photo researcher Ron Fox has searched the newspaper archives for many of these photos, which can now be seen on the newspaper Web site at deseretnews.com.

The original gate was designed by Truman O. Angell, the architect who designed the Salt Lake Temple, and Hiram B. Clawson. The original eagle was carved by Ralph Ramsay and William Spring from five blocks of wood. Tradition says the model for the monument was an eagle that had been killed in City Creek Canyon.

The original monument had 16-foot-wide outstretched wings and rested on curved wooden arches that used a 9-foot-high cobblestone pillars as their anchor. The eagle sat on a beehive and a star mount.

The original 22-foot-wide opening was adequate for a wagon to pass into Young's 50-acre fenced compound, and allowed one-way traffic when the road became public in 1882.

But in 1891 the gates were removed and the street was widened to two lanes.

According to a story in the April 18, 1960, Deseret News, the change provided an opportunity to refurbish the monument.

"The eagle was taken down and shipped to Chicago where it was repaired and electroplated in copper," the story reads. "The supporting arms of huge wooden beams — reinforced with iron pipe — were lengthened and new sandstone pillars were carved and replaced the old stone ones that same year."

The Eagle Gate was refurbished again in 1947 for the state's Centennial Celebration, and plans were under way for a major widening in 1960 when a truck with a flatbed trailer carrying a tractor struck one of the pillars, knocking the monument off its foundation.

The gate was taken down again, and it was obvious the eagle was deteriorating. The decision was made to replace it.

For three years there was no Eagle Gate.

Architect George Cannon Young, a descendant of Brigham Young, designed a new frame to support a new Eagle Gate. Artist Grant R. Fairbanks, assisted by his brothers David and Justin, made a replica of the original bird out of bronze with a 20-foot wingspan and 10-foot-long body.

The new gate — the one we see today — was dedicated Nov. 1, 1963 by President McKay, who prayed: "May the new Eagle, with outspread wings perched on its new beehive, the old wall in its new trench, and every part of the new steel structure receive Thy divine approval and future protection."

The original eagle was donated to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers and can be seen on display in their museum at 300 N. Main.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com

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