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

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.

Historic youngster

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