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:
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
Mormon pioneers actually first settled in territory claimed by Mexico. The end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 brought them, and what was to become Utah, back into the United States. Salt Lake City was not destined to remain a strictly Mormon community. By the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th, non-Mormons (or Gentiles) dominated mining and much of the city's commercial activity. Samuel Newhouse was among those involved in a tug-of-war, to move the business hub away from Mormon-oriented north Main Street to the area between 300 and 400 South Main. Newhouse, markers note, donated land for the Commercial Club at 32 Exchange Place (stop 33, one of the city's most beautiful and least visible terra-cotta-decorated masterpieces) and the Salt Lake Mining and Stock Exchange at 39 Exchange Place (tour stop 34). He raised the sturdy, near-twin Boston and Newhouse office buildings on Main Street (stop 35). He also built the Newhouse Hotel nearby on 400 South, though that landmark was spectacularly toppled by a planned blast and dismantled in 1983.
Scraping the sky
"Skyscraper" is a relative — and relatively new — term, especially in our day, when earthbound towers around the world are even nearer the clouds. But when the McCornick Block went up a breathtaking seven stories on the corner at 74 S. Main in 1893, it began a new era downtown, for it "towered over its smaller neighbors," which rose only two to four floors, according to the marker at tour stop 15. Although not as flashy as some later structures, intricate floral filigree decorates the 100 South entry of what is now called the Crandall Building.
Gone but not forgotten
Not all of the Utah Heritage Foundation tour stops tout structures that still stand before us. A prime example: site 8, at 35 S. State. Today a historic plaque and a glass-enclosed entry (which leads to an underground path beneath busy State Street to and from the new City Creek Center) represent the location of the pioneer Social Hall, built in 1852 and torn down in 1922. "The simple adobe building was evidence of the strong tradition of theater in the Mormon culture," the foundation's sign says. Inside is a mini-museum about the hall's earliest uses and part of the original foundation. Social Hall was surpassed in 1862 by the elegant Salt Lake Theatre (tour stop 9, at 98 S. State). This building also was demolished, supplanted today by the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Building, but remembered by an ornate marker set into the newer building's wall.
On the move
It would probably be difficult to find a building that has had a more moving odyssey than Odd Fellows Hall (tour stop 40, 39 Market St.). Literally. The 110-year-old brick structure isn't even at the same location it was just a few years ago: It is across the street! The Richardsonian Romanesque commercial structure was built for one of the social, charitable and insurance fraternal organizations popular in the 19th century, the foundation's marker notes. Expansion of the Frank E. Moss Federal Court Building (Salt Lake City's former main post office, map stop 38), now under way, required the lot the "I.O.O.F" occupied. Federal contractors girded the building and in November 2009 slowly moved it next to another historic site (No. 41), today's New Yorker. That popular restaurant, its brick exterior recently repainted a light green, was originally built as the luxurious New York Hotel in 1906.
Details, details, details
One of the primary attributes of the foundation's tour stop markers is the architectural lesson they provide. They point out the many styles employed in their designs, and specifically direct readers to details like carvings of faces and creatures mythical and real on the Salt Lake City & County Building (stop 30) and the easy-to-miss terra-cotta facade of the Felt Building (stop 39, at 341 S. State). You might also want to keep your eye out for interesting, eye-level monuments downtown, such as those saluting the Pony Express (one is inset in the vacant Salt Lake Tribune Building at 143 S. Main; another is on the sidewalk nearby) and Salt Lake City's first church Sunday school (on the northeast corner of intersection at 200 West and 300 South streets). Look down, too. Grates around curbside trees hail the Salt Lake Valley's important canyons. Antique manhole covers remember Ma Bell. More recent manhole covers commemorate the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. And outside the Utah One Center on 200 South and Main, artwork set into the sidewalk sparkles with inset glass and reproductions of old photographs. They're worth a look.
Not all of downtown Salt Lake City's buildings are a century or more old. 1955's First Security Bank Building (tour stop 37, at 405 S. Main), now home of the Ken Garff auto dealership empire and a Wells Fargo Bank, "was the first major addition to Salt Lake City's skyline in nearly 30 years," following the Great Depression and World War II, its marker states. "With a skin of glass and porcelain-coated steel panels hanging on its steel frame," it is notable as Utah's first major modern building and was seen as "a sign of renewed prosperity" for Salt Lake City.Comment on this story
Additional articles in the Rediscovering Deseret series: