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

The two decades "had a different culture," says Sibley. Hotel Utah had become a destination for shoppers. Utahns from smaller towns, say Spanish Fork or American Fork, would head to "the big city" at Christmas time to go shopping. They would rent a room for a day.

"They could meet there, take a nap, eat supper," the BYU documentary maker says. "Some would stay overnight. They would have the department stores send packages to their rooms."

Because of its midtown location, Hotel Utah was also popular with those attending the LDS Church's general conference sessions twice each year.

The hotel was changing with the times, although like much of the nation it was slow, and occasionally inconsistent, in accepting black guests. Concert contralto Marian Anderson was given a room, but had to use a freight elevator; fellow singer Harry Belafonte found it necessary to go to the Newhouse, although it previously had the same policies, according to a Utah State Historical Society website about blacks in Utah history.

In 1958 Utah Hotel Co. opened the 150-unit Hotel Utah Motor Lodge nearby on North Temple and West Temple streets, with amenities such as a modern swimming pool, an exhibit area, an auditorium and a restaurant.

In the old days, Hotel Utah's open-air Roof Garden had awnings, pots and planters "and the smell of freshly watered plants," Stegner wrote in "Recapitulation." In 1961 it transformed into the enclosed, year-round Sky Room restaurant. The temple grounds, then as now, were arrayed below, where one could dine and look out the window "while the sky began its phases from gray to red, red to purple, purple to saffron," he wrote.

The modernization continued in 1967. "New chandeliers, new furniture, new carpets, new draperies, new lighting," fresh new colors — and air conditioning everywhere, crowed an advertisement in the Deseret News.

Bigger and better

Ted Gallegos and the Hotel Utah both saw their worlds get just a little bit bigger in the 1970s.

The hotel grew, quite literally, by one-third. An expansion that began in 1974 extended east and west wings on the building's north end, adding 160 new guest rooms, a grand ballroom, a spacious exhibit area, smaller meeting rooms and another restaurant.

Everything possible was done to make the changes look seamless on the outside, with new glazed white brick and terra cotta facing replicating their gleaming predecessors from 1911, "just like a dentist matches the enamel on your teeth," consultant and former resident manager Phyllis L. Steorts told a reporter.

The hotel's publicity theme for the project: "Getting better with age."

In January 1978 "the grande dame" was named to the National Register of Historic Places, for, as the state-prepared nomination form says, its uniqueness, "architectural beauty, historic location, and tradition make it the best known hotel in Utah."

Gallegos, of course, is the teen who finagled an introduction to ex-Beatle George Harrison. His story involves art, planning and inspiration, not unlike that of the Hotel Utah itself.

In November 1974, as the hotel expansion was getting under way, Harrison came to town for a concert at the Salt Palace with friends Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar and Billy Preston, Gallegos recalls. The young Utahn noticed an intriguing new image of Harrison in a full-page newpaper ad.

"The picture was in the ad: long hair, a straw hat. I thought, wow, this is unique, and thought I should draw that," Gallegos says in a room in his Saratoga Springs house. The room, a mini-museum, brims with Beatles-related objects: Richenbacker, Gretsch and Hofner guitars and instruments; a drum set; amplifiers. The young artist had also become a musician, over the years. And this is in addition to the Beatle-related records, CDs, trading cards, photographs and figurines he has collected.

He had a month before the concert, "so I did this drawing," pointing to a larger-than-life pencil drawing — dimensions: 31 by 40 inches on mat board. George Harrison in black and white, with long hair and a straw hat.

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