"The planetarium hadn't had new carpet or paint since before Salt Lake County took it over in 1978," says Ponce Madden, director of community relations for Hansen Planetarium. "The colors were very neutral. It has pretty oak, but it was a bland building. Also the paint was chipped and the carpeting was wearing out.
"We get over 200,000 visitors each year. Fifty thousand are school children. This is a very high-use building."So here they were, the staff of the planetarium, with some problems. They had a historic building to preserve. (In 1980 the building - which was the Salt Lake City Public Library from 1905 to 1964 - was placed on the National Historic Register.)
They had relatively little money for refurbishment. (The allotment was $9,000 for carpet, with a similar amount in labor and other materials to be provided by the county's facilities and maintenance crew). And, since the planetarium's programs are evolving and expanding, they knew there was at least a chance they'd be moved to a bigger building, someday, and the city (the county pays a minimal rent to the city for the building) would find another use for the planetarium.
Bill Sargent was chairman of the planetarium board two years ago when refurbishment first came up. Remembering how helpful the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers had been during the renovation of the Governor's Mansion, he asked the society to help the planetarium.
Designer R. Lee Last volunteered.
Including the hours she spent redesigning as well as time spent by the chapter's president and by various artists, Last figures the planetarium got a $10,000 donation.
After several years in the planning stages the refurbishing is now nearly finished. Patrons will notice the planetarium is prettier. They might not know exactly why.
"It's the crisp, fresh colors," explains Last. Last spent hours in the library, researching the colors used inside public buildings in Salt Lake City at the turn of the century. She came up with forest green, soft rose and French blue.
Against this palette, the building's woodwork glows. "See that Corinthian column on the staircase?" asks Last. "You never used to notice it. It just kind of `popped out' with the rose wall and green carpet behind it."
Because carpets are dyed by computer now - and altering the print is a simple matter of programming the machine to inject different dyes into the pattern - Last was able to design a unique carpet for the planetarium lobby.
She began with a floral pattern, but then subdued the petals - green against the green background - leaving the centers white. Like stars against the night sky. "If you look closely you can still see a faint flower shape around the white," she says.
And if you want to inspect something else the next time you are waiting in the lobby for the star show to start, check to see if the columns look like green marble yet (they should be painted soon). If they do, you will be able to astound those around you with your knowledge of architectural history: Marble and hardwood were hard to come by in the desert, thus many historic Utah buildings are decorated with softwood painted to look like marble.
Such historic details should be taken into account when redesigning old buildings, Last explains.