Prophets who lived in the Hotel Utah

Published: Thursday, June 9 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A hurried Mitt Romney stuck his bag into the elevator door as it was closing late one night at the Hotel Utah. The doors reopened to reveal LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Camilla.

Embarrassed, Romney introduced himself, and the prophet said, "You look like a Romney."

"Thank you, I guess," Romney said.

"What do you mean, I guess?" President Kimball said.

"Well, we Romneys have such huge jaws."

With a straight face, President Kimball said, "Camilla is a Romney."

Following an awkward pause, and seeing Mitt's uneasiness, President Kimball laughed.

Romney, a future U.S. presidential candidate, along with numerous others, occasionally encountered presidents of the church at the Hotel Utah. Presidents Kimball, David O. McKay and Ezra Taft Benson lived within the elegant walls of the hotel for a time.

The historic Hotel Utah, now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, is one of the most recognizable buildings in Salt Lake City, and it celebrates its 100th anniversary this month.

In 1967 when President McKay was 94, he and his wife, Emma Ray, moved to a spacious apartment in the southeast corner of the eighth floor overlooking South Temple to the south and the church gardens to the east. He moved there to be closer to Temple Square. He died in 1970.

In the mid- to late-1970s, President Kimball and his wife, Camilla, lived in a suite on the 10th floor overlooking the church office and administration building. He died in 1985.

President Benson only lived in the Hotel Utah a short time in the late 1980s before moving to the Eagle Gate apartments.

Several people can recall random and memorable moments when they met the prophets who lived in the Hotel Utah. Here are some of those unique stories.

President David O. McKay

President McKay hosted kings and presidents, as well as business, educational and ecclesiastical leaders on his floor. He also received frequent visits from his grandchildren.

Grandson John McKay said the grandchildren often visited their grandpa in the Hotel Utah. Near the staircase on President McKay's floor was an ice machine that produced large ice cubes, which were a treat at the time. When the kids weren't sucking on the cubes, they climbed up to the 10th floor to drop the mini ice bombs through the banister. They watched with fascination as the cubes dropped 10 stories to the floor below. When the cubes hit the floor, the noise reverberated up the stairwell. No casualties were ever reported.

In those days, it wasn't uncommon for people to ride the elevator with the prophet. An elevator operator remembers when a man and his young son got on the elevator and met President McKay. Eager to impress his son, the man said, "James, this is President David O. McKay, our beloved prophet. This may be your last chance to meet him. He's an old man."

President McKay grinned and said, "Don't be alarmed at my future, son. Very few men die at the age of 96."

Miriam Carter recalls playing in a Hotel Utah hallway with her brother when the elevator opened and out walked President McKay. He walked to the children to say hello and shake their hands. He visited with them for a moment and as he turned to go, their mother informed him that her son had just turned 12 and was going to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. President McKay took the young man's hand, shook it again and said, "Let me be the first to welcome you into the priesthood of God."

Susan Easton Black, a BYU professor, author and lecturer of LDS Church history, has published an account of meeting President McKay in the Hotel Utah when she was a freshman at BYU.

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