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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

It seems that one evening the humorist approached the Empire Room for dinner … but was refused entry. Will Rogers! He was not wearing a coat and tie. Rogers borrowed them from the front desk, a display placard noted, and "returned to the Empire Room to dine in style."

The wartime '40s

Although World War I adversely affected the hotel, the same was not true of World War II. Except for difficulties caused by fluctuating manpower, due to military volunteers and call-ups, and some supply shortages, Hotel Utah was busier than ever.

"The Hotel" notes that Salt Lake City was a travel and rail crossroads between Denver and the West Coast during the war. Several Utah inland bases were either established or expanded during the 1940s, including Hill Field (later Hill Air Force Base); Defense Depot Ogden; Clearfield Naval Supply Depot; Wendover Field and the Wendover Bombing and Gunnery Range; and Tooele Ordnance Depot (later Tooele Army Depot).

Still, the war did bring hard times, unjustly so in too-many cases. Japanese — immigrants and U.S. citizens alike — were interned in camps, some at Topaz near Delta. Those with German and Italian names, too, were looked upon with suspicion.

In 1942 the Salt Lake Telegram, an evening newspaper, decided to publish a series of stories about Americans born in countries with which the United States was then at war — and Italian-American Tony Furano was one of them.

His granddaughter, Joanne Milner, is a former Utah legislator and Salt Lake City Council member who is now Mayor Ralph Becker's education partnership coordinator. In her late teens, she became fascinated with her genealogy, and with family stories in particular. This was during the 1970s "Roots" phenomenon, sparked by writer Alex Haley, who Milner met while working at Deseret Book.

"I was getting books out, and he's signing them. He says, 'So, Joanne, what's your story? What about your family? Where are they from?'"

Her grandfather became a focus of Milner's resulting inquiry.

Antonio Furano was born in 1896 in Savuto Di Cleto, Cosenza, in Calabria — near the toe of Italy's peninsular boot. In 1913, at age 17, he came to America, where his father and older brother were working in coal mines near Helper, sending money home. His father eventually returned to Italy. Both he and his brother, refugees of the terrible 1918 influenza epidemic, were wandering the West when his brother died of the disease in San Francisco.

Tony returned to Salt Lake City and wrangled a job as a chicken butcher at the Hotel Utah, Milner learned. He was "more of an artist than a miner," the Telegram reporter wrote in 1942. In 1919 Furano had "traded the pick and shovel for the mixing bowl and skillet."

"He found he had the sense of taste," his grandddaughter says. "It's like an artist: It's a gift." And in his cooking, it wasn't a cup of this and a cup of that, Milner observes. Furano was filling vast kettles to serve scores of people, and seasoning to taste.

The trained culinary artisans he worked for — such as Chef Nick Theodore, Chef Jack Kohler and Chef Gerard Bueneman — recognized this. "He was taught by the masters," and rose from the ranks to become Hotel Utah's king of sauces, its "saucier," Milner says. Brueneman said of Furano, "He seasoned his soups with herbs, true, but he added devotion and pride."

He also had become an American citizen.

"We have no ties to Italy," Furano told the reporter in 1942, in a brief story accompanied by a photo of his wife, Matilda, and four children, including young Giovanna, Milner's mother. "I'm glad we're here and not over there. … America is my country — it has been since I came over here, and Italy means nothing to me — I'm 100 per cent American."

Opulent '50s and '60s

At least, that's what Arrington and Swinton call this era in their history.

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