Hotel Utah, 100 years of history

From the Hotel Utah to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 7 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

In conversation, Sibley breaks it all down into increments of decades — which isn't a bad way to go about it.

Before the hotel

For most of the 19th century and until 1909, the Deseret News occupied the corner of Main and South Temple streets, where the Hotel Utah now towers.

The LDS Church's Deseret Store and tithing offices were on the first floor, and the News staff and printing plant occupied the second and third floors of the adobe-brick building, Wendell J. Ashton wrote in "Voice of the West," his 1950 centennial history of the newspaper. Surrounding the complex was a high cobblestone wall, plastered with poster advertisements.

One common misconception about the hotel is that it was built and always owned by the LDS Church alone. In fact, the idea for the grand edifice arose in 1909 after industrialist Samuel Newhouse, who was not a Mormon, urged rapprochement between the city's usually warring Mormon and non-Mormon business factions.

Days later, according to "The Hotel," a citizens group composed of Jews, Protestants and Mormons came together, proposed the hotel and took the idea to LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith. He was enthusiastic, and quickly approved the exciting plan.

The church would be the majority investor, but others would have shares as well. These ranged from mining entrepreneur Daniel C. Jackling of the Utah Copper Co. (who would eventually live in a luxurious seven-room apartment in the hotel) to Newhouse himself (who was planning his own high-rise hotel on 400 South, an area in which he also built the era's near-twin Boston and Newhouse skyscrapers).

For the building's location, the initiators wanted the important crossroads site on Main Street and South Temple, east of Temple Square. President Smith said OK to that, too, envisioning a " 'splendid edifice' ten stories high," Arrington and Swinton wrote in "The Hotel."

As detailed in leather-bound minute books in the possession of Neil Wilkinson, Temple Square Hospitality's marketing director, the Utah Hotel Co. was subsequently organized, with $1.5 million in initial capital. "The duration of this corporation shall be one hundred (100) years," the minutes decreed. Joseph F. Smith was named the first president, a post subsequently held by generations of LDS Church leaders. The managing Hotel Utah Operating Co. followed in early 1911.

Construction work began lickety-split.


With few delays — but including two ultimately ineffectual bombings by radical steelworkers — the handsome Hotel Utah was born, and on June 9, 1911, the Deseret Evening News reported:

"The Hotel Utah opened its doors strictly on time, in accordance with the announcement made for months past, at eight o'clock this morning. From that hour till ten, the dining room was occupied by the regular guests which have been registering the last few days. While groups of workmen are still in evidence in various parts of the house, notably in the big grill room below, which will not be ready for some days yet, and on other parts of the interior, the big hostelry can be said to be fully ready to receive its guests, and from now on it will take a leading part in the commercial and social life of the community."

Mr. Marcus Harris, "the well-known St. Louis wool merchant," was the first guest to sign in. Dramatic actress Ethel Barrymore had rooms reserved.

The next day the newspaper led its social and culture section with two pages about the grand opening, under the heralding headline, "The Magnificent Hotel Utah."

The main story described the edifice as "a veritable palace from the dome with its myriad electric lights to the cellar, where is the most wonderful kitchen in the world.

"The dazzling white exterior of the structure and its artistic decorations (of) terra cotta relief give a general idea of the magnificence of the interior, where art and quiet richness abound."

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