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Joseph Smith Memorial Building: Thanks for the memories

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 2:09 p.m. MDT

Hotel Utah's beehive, photographed in 1964. (Deseret News archives) Hotel Utah's beehive, photographed in 1964. (Deseret News archives)

A beautiful, white building opened in 1911, towering over the dirt streets of Salt Lake City and would become Utah’s most prominent and famous hotel.

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is turning 100 years old and is celebrating by letting the public share personal memories of the building.

Through the building’s celebration website, experiences and pictures have been shared that date back to 1911 when Hotel Utah first opened. Neil Wilkinson, chairman of the celebration committee, said the building has so much history that needs to be shared and enjoyed.

“We’re just trying to put together a celebration of this grand old building,” he said.

Wilkinson said the hotel has a personal side for everyone. The experiences being shared are full of first steps of little children, embarrassing moments from workers and sweet experiences of meeting prophets and apostles.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (Temple Square Hospitality) This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (Temple Square Hospitality)

While Hotel Utah was open, it became known as “the Hotel” and hosted famous celebrities and politicians.

“It stood as the premier hotel and every president from William Howard Taft to Ronald Reagan stayed here,” Wilkinson said.

The anniversary will be celebrated this June, which marks 100 years. Wilkinson said the committee is borrowing memorabilia and tokens of those with experiences from the last 10 decades. These items will be displayed in honor of the anniversary and will be in the memorial building from June to September.

“Our job is to help facilitate a way for the public to get involved,” Wilkinson said. “We want them to share so everyone can enjoy it for years to come.”

The Hotel Utah, now known as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, is shown as it was under construction in 1910. (Deseret News archives) The Hotel Utah, now known as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, is shown as it was under construction in 1910. (Deseret News archives)

Roger Barker, a previous employee in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, said while cleaning an old room in the building, he found old items from the hotel and wouldn’t allow them to be thrown out. Barker is lending those items to be showcased in the anniversary display.

“People can get an idea of what it was like to just go into one of the hotel rooms,” Barker said.

The celebration’s website also said the hotel hosted famous celebrities such as Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and John Glenn. The Hotel Utah closed in 1987, but the memories of the famous hotel live on.

“Anyone who you talk to is very interested in the Hotel Utah,” Wilkinson said. “Especially anyone who is a little older and from Utah has a memory of the Hotel Utah.”

The building was re-opened in 1993 as the new Joseph Smith Memorial Building, but some still remember the grandeur of the hotel.

The Hotel Utah, now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, was a gathering place for members of the Church to stay and visit when attending General Conference from 1911 until its renovation.  (Deseret News archives) The Hotel Utah, now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, was a gathering place for members of the Church to stay and visit when attending General Conference from 1911 until its renovation. (Deseret News archives)

“When it was changed from the Hotel Utah to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building there was a bit of disconnect with those who knew it as the Hotel Utah,” Wilkinson said.

Looking back today, the change has allowed the building to remain a focal point in Salt Lake City.

“The Joseph Smith Memorial Building has been a wonderful success and in hindsight it has been the right thing,” Wilkinson said.

Shared memories tell of meeting husbands, having weddings and dances and serving family history missions in the building.

“I proposed to my wife on the top floor of the Joseph Smith Building overlooking the Salt Lake Temple,” wrote Brandon Marchant, contributor to the website. “I’ll never forget getting down on my trembling knee and popping the big question.”

Original architectural design and beauty of the Hotel Utah was maintained in a $3.1 million modernization program that had been recently completed when this photo was taken in June 1967. (Deseret News archives) Original architectural design and beauty of the Hotel Utah was maintained in a $3.1 million modernization program that had been recently completed when this photo was taken in June 1967. (Deseret News archives)

To share remembrance items and stories, pictures, receipts and quick thoughts, visit hotelutah100.com for information.

Miriam Shumway writes for the BYU newspaper, the Daily Universe.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company