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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

Disappearing act

ZCMI's antique cast-iron facade is "No. 1" on the Utah Heritage Foundation's walking tour brochure map (No. 2 on the Web version's Main Street tour). However, due to City Creek Center construction, both the facade and its historic marker vanished from 50 S. Main St. The "architectural sculpture," as the online guide describes it, was first raised in 1876 and extended in 1880 and 1901. Though construction fencing remains in place, the elegant facade is mostly back up. Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, long advertised as "America's first department store," was founded in 1868 as the Mormon church's answer to the arrival of non-Mormon merchants and their expensive goods. ZCMI was absorbed in 1999 by the May Co. and then Macy's, yet the "Z" has returned to the upper facades as the City Creek Center rebirth continues. The "C," "M" and "I," logic says, should follow. Other heritage foundation markers are MIA as well: outside the renovated O.C. Tanner (map stop 7, once Salt Lake City's Main Library and then Hansen Planetarium), the Walker Bank building (stop 22, now Far West Bank) and elsewhere along the route.

Before the railroad (Zion Bank)

There are older, residential buildings downtown, such as Brigham Young's Beehive House and Lion House on South Temple (brochure markers 4 and 5, respectively), not to mention a log home beside the Genealogy Library on West Temple. But the white, terra-cotta-faced Zion's First National Bank Building at 102 S. Main (tour stop 16) is the oldest remaining commercial structure – and the only one that predates the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. It began its long life as the Eagle Emporium, a store built by William Jennings, Utah's first millionaire. The impressive street clock out front was erected in 1873, according to the foundation, and, believe it or not, was originally powered by a water wheel.

Mormon Salt Lake City

Immediately after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Mormon pioneers selected a temple site and laid out an orderly city with wide streets and 135 10-acre blocks, each divided into 1.25-acre lots, modeled "loosely on Joseph Smith's 'Plat of the City of Zion,'" John S. McCormick wrote in "Salt Lake City: The Gathering Place." Pioneer leader Brigham Young soon thereafter built the stucco Beehive House, topped by its signature beehive, the pioneers' symbol for "industry." For decades, the house served as his "residence, office and reception area for official visitors," says the marker at tour stop 5. "At the time the house was built, Young was both president of the LDS Church and Utah's territorial governor." Other leaders and pioneers built homes nearby, and larger farm fields extended beyond today's 900 South, McCormick notes. This was the original vision for what was then called Great Salt Lake City, and became the focus of the Mormon community before non-Mormon enterprises took hold.

The railroad era

When the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met at Utah's Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869, Salt Lake City and the American West were in for big changes. Utah's "pioneer days" ended. Immigrants, merchants, miners and those just passing through had a much easier, and quicker, way to travel. New spur lines were built north and south. The Broadway Hotel at 222 W. 300 South, which still boasts a now-rare portico over the sidewalk, is "one of the dozen hotels built in downtown Salt Lake City shortly after the completion of the city's two major rail depots," for the Union Pacific and D&RG terminals, notes the marker at tour stop 46.

Non-Mormon Salt Lake City

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