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Shifting shape: Salt Lake City is a living metropolis

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, March 28 2011 5:41 p.m. MDT

The ZCMI facade is reinstalled at the City Creek Center, top. For more than a century and a half, downtown Salt Lake City has had a constantly changing character and profile. Below, the city's current skyline is captured as seen at twilight from Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake

Ray Boren

Editor's note: Imagine the "State of Deseret." Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers who founded Great Salt Lake City did just that 160-plus years ago. Their vision encompassed a vast swath of today's American West. Modern Utah was at its center, but the territory stretched from Colorado's Rocky Mountains to the Pacific port of San Diego. Imagine revisiting the people, places and history of that provisional state. That will be our goal in an ongoing series. Join us in "Rediscovering Deseret."

Wander the heart of Salt Lake City right now and you may decide that the common uniform involves not a dark suit, white shirt or blouse and often a tie, but rather a hard hat, steel-toed boots and a construction-orange vest.

For men and women.

Architects, sociologists, city planners and everyday people strolling the sidewalks all have observed that cities are like living organisms: Our metropolises are born, grow, thrive, fall ill, rejuvenate and even die — or gradually morph to live on and on.

With the new, LDS Church-sparked City Creek Center assuming its final profile and due to open in one year, Utah's capital seems the epitome of just such a vibrant creature. Which is nothing new if your lifespan, like Salt Lake City's, includes parts of three dynamic centuries.

That is emphasized by the 58 sites the Utah Heritage Foundation selected a decade ago for numbered historic markers and an accompanying "Historic Downtown Salt Lake City Walking Tour" brochure and map, available at visitor centers and online, in a slightly different form, at utahheritagefoundation.com.

Salt Lake City's shape shifting is so persistent that a few of the 58 markers are missing in action, notes Brett Garner, the foundation's office and membership director. They were removed for construction or remodeling projects; some have been restored to their sidewalk spots, others were not.

Researched, created and put in place in time for Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympic Games, people seem to have enjoyed the markers, Garner says. "They've worked very well. We get calls all the time, and most of it is for more information.

"And that's why were going to do a new book."

Alison Flanders, the foundation's public outreach director, says she and volunteers are in the process of reformatting the downtown walking tour, which will increase the number of sites to 67.

"It will be a pocket book, as a walking tour guide or a resource for the historic buildings downtown," she says.

Due to be published toward the end of 2011, the updated and reconceived guide will be filled with facts, stories and historic photos, Flanders says.

Walking the Utah Heritage Foundation's entire numbered route in one epic downtown walkabout might not be to everyone's taste — and could take hours, especially if you're inclined to stop and read all of the informational placard stands and gaze at architectural décor.

But it can be both enlightening and pleasurable to break the Utah Heritage Foundation tour into shorter strolls — say Main Street alone, or the Exchange Place commercial menagerie, or Market Place and Pierpont Avenue, or several other bite-sized possibilities.

The mapped and marked locations are mid-downtown, so certain significant locations, such as the LDS Church's statuary-sprinkled Temple Square campus (except its edges) and the old Union Pacific and Denver & Rio Grande railroad terminals, are not included — though they are certainly contiguous, rife with historical placards of their own and well worth visiting if you wish to add them to your itinerary.

So, consider picking up a brochure and map at a visitor center, or check out directions and routes available on the Web, and explore downtown Salt Lake City at your own pace. Here is some of what you'll see:

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