A taste of S.L. 100 years ago

Gala at old Hotel Utah rekindles camaraderie

Published: Friday, June 10 2011 11:42 p.m. MDT

Guests enjoy dinner at a gala as part of its 100th birthday celebration of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Friday, June 10, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Return with us now to yesteryear — to a time a century ago when ladies donned fancy, frilly hats and elegant gowns and were escorted by dapper gentlemen in top hats and tails. Soft music formed a backdrop for casual conversation at satin- and lace-covered tables. The camaraderie was complemented by the clink of the finest silverware and the presence of sumptuous food.

This was the scene Friday night at the gala celebrating 100 years of the Hotel Utah/Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Religious, government, business and civic leaders joined with many others who have a special connection with the building that has graced the Salt Lake City skyline since 1911.

As it was at the first dinner held in the hotel, guest speakers for the night included a business leader, the mayor of the city, the governor of the state and the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Scott Anderson, CEO of Zions Bank, talked about being a neighbor on the opposite corner of Main Street from the very beginning. He told of how, when the Kennecott Building that replaced the Templeton Building on that corner was opened in 1960 as the home of Zions Bank and other offices, President David O. McKay spoke of his satisfaction in having watched that building arise from the window of his home in the hotel.

"It is a tribute to the vision and foresight of its leaders that this building not only met the needs for which it was constructed, but still is a central part of our lives," said Anderson.

Mayor Ralph Becker spoke of the "splendiferous ambiance that no other place in the city offers." The celebration of this centennial comes at an apt time, he said. When the building "first emerged, it signified Salt Lake City's coming of age. The city is again on the threshold of a new age, with the rising downtown skyline, new growth and a shared mission between business, civic and religious leaders of peace, unity and cooperation."

Those were the very goals set forth by businessman Samuel Newhouse a century ago, said Becker. "And they promise great things for the future as the city readies to spread its wings to become a great American city in the future."

For Gov. Gary H. Herbert, the building has always been "a gathering place, known for its hospitality here at the crossroads of the West. It's a place where we have always come to learn from each other."

And, on behalf of the 2.8 million people of Utah, he expressed "appreciation to the church for preserving this legendary building. It was not an easy thing to do. But it was the right thing to do."

He also expressed appreciation for the "revival of downtown Salt Lake City," which, he said, is one of the largest construction projects taking place in the country, and being done without using any taxpayer dollars.

President Monson noted that the gala gathering was "the perfect finale to a significant celebration."

This building, he said, has been described as glittering, a beautiful edifice. He can see this building out of his window in the Church Administration Building, and "I am always inspired by what I see," he said.

It is a building that has survived a lot of world conflict as well as the ups and downs of the business world. On March 12, 1987, when Hotel Utah closed, "many tears were shed at the altar that day," he said.

But today, it is even more beautiful, a place of gathering, a place where worship services are held, where church films are shown. "It is as vibrant and essential as it ever was; a constant in our lives."

Musical entertainment at the gala was provided by the barbershop chorus, The Beehive Statesmen, who also captured the flavor of a bygone age with songs such as "The Good Old Days" and "Bless This House."

A birthday party held at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building Thursday captured the light-hearted joy of the celebration. Friday's event was all about the elegance of spirit and blessing of refinement that graces the 100-year-old building still.

EMAIL: carma@desnews.com

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