SALT LAKE CITY — While the actual 100-year anniversary of the Hotel Utah-turned-Joseph Smith Memorial Building is still two months away, the centennial celebration of downtown's "Grand Dame" at the corner of South Temple and Main streets kicked off with an appetizer of sorts Monday afternoon.
And what better way to serve an appetizer than with a trio of chefs and a cookbook?
A expansive three-day June celebration will commemorate the June 9, 1911, opening of the Hotel Utah, the result of a collaborative effort between local business and ecclesiastical leaders. After 76 years of service, the hotel was closed in 1987, with the 10-story H-shaped building extensively renovated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Reopened in 1993 under its current Joseph Smith Memorial Building name, the edifice now serves as a multi-purpose social center with restaurants, catering and reception facilities as well as home to a variety of LDS Church-related offerings, including a theater a family history research center, chapels and office areas.
In advance of the June celebration, officials from Temple Square Hospitality and Deseret Book whipped up a little taste of things to come, honoring the building's history of fine dining with a three-chef cooking display and the release of "Recipes from the Roof: The 100th anniversary of the Hotel Utah and Joseph Smith Memorial Building."
Chefs Don Sanchez, Val Ayrapetov and Pedro Mauricio — representing the JSMB's restaurants, bakery and catering services — prepared sun-dried tomato bread salad, avocado gazpacho, coconut macaroons and lemon meringue pie parfait that was sampled Monday by guests and patrons of the Deseret Book flagship store on South Temple, a half-block from the celebrated building.
And surrounding their food-preparation table were display boards featuring historic photos and vignettes from the old Hotel Utah — the book contains more photos and stories, along with its nearly 100 recipes.
Temple Square CEO and president Brent Shingleton also previewed some of the events of the June 9-11 anniversary celebration, including fireworks, ice cream and cake, memorabilia displays, a dinner, a gala and a big-band dance.
"We want to make this a big community event," he said.
Not just for the celebration but in the build-up as well, with a dedicated web site — www.hotelutah100.com — allowing users to offer Hotel Utah memorabilia for display or to upload photos and text representing their memories of the historic building.
Shingleton has his own memories of the building, well before working as facilities director when the Joseph Smith Memorial Building opened in '93. He recalls heading down to the Hotel Utah when the 1979 NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament was held in Salt Lake City and staking out the lobby for a glimpse of legends-in-the-making Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
During its seven-plus decades as a hotel, the building hosted U.S. presidents from William Howard Taft to Ronald Reagan, actors from Jimmy Stewart to Katherine Hepburn and musicians from Ella Fitgerald to Liberace. It also served as the residence of LDS Church presidents David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball.
Even before the hotel was built, the corner location was a well-recognized downtown site, where the Bishop's Tithing Office and Deseret News offices were previously located.
Hotel Utah vignettes
When the hotel opened in 1911, a suite cost anywhere from $1.50 to $6 a night.
In 1936, the cost for dinner and dancing in the Empire Room was $2.50 a person.
Cowboy/humorist/actor Will Rogers once was denied entrance to the Empire Room for lacking a coat and a tie. He gained entry after borrowing the needed items from the front desk.
The Crossroads Grill, located in the hotel's lower level, featured a live trout pond that ran down the middle of a large table.
In 1978, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.