In the late 1800s before the city laid the cornerstone for its new government center, Washington Square was the subject of complaints from genteel neighbors shocked by crude language heard on the empty lot.
Baseball on the square was temporarily banned, and more than 100 citizens lodged a formal complaint with the Salt Lake City Council when the profanity grew even more prolific.Indeed, in the late 1800s Washington Square was often the wrong kind of talk of the town.
But then came the City-County Building.
And beginning April 28, Salt Lake City will begin a three-day celebration of the newly-renovated building that has stood, sometimes not so gracefully, for 95 years on Washington Square.
The renovation, which began in 1986 after years of debate over what to do with the crumbling building, will restore it nearly to its original status when it is completed for $900,000, six times initial estimates, in 1894.
Original construction got off to a false start in 1890 when the city stopped $20,000 in foundation work at 100 E. First South on a City Hall designed by one C.E. Apponyi, who didn't provide thorough construction plans for the project.
A year later, city and county officials opted to build the City-County Building at an entirely new location-Washington Square. On July 25 the next year, officials dedicated the building's cornerstone.
This time, architects Henry Monheim, George Washington Bird and William T. Proudfoot designed the structure in Richardsonian Romanesque style, a design unheard of in the Mountain West.
By late 1894, the City-County Building was nearly complete with 800 windows, 40 fireplaces, some 100 glass chandeliers and dozens of figures carved in the building's Kyune sandstone, quarried in Carbon County.
Among the faces carved in stone that looked from above the main entrance of the building onto State Street were those of 20 pioneer women who settled the valley and the first mayor of Salt Lake City, Jedediah Morgan Grant.
Four days after Christmas that year, Mayor Baskin and other officials gathered in City Council Chambers, "festooned with choicest flowers, spreading palms and pines," according to a local newspaper, for the dedication.
As each speaker rose to pay tribute to the building, a common theme emerged: 451 Washington Square would be a vehicle for carrying the city, and what was still at that time only the territory of Utah, into a promising future.
Judge Jacob D. Blair, chairman of the county court, said the building would be a "signal for a new boom in Salt Lake" as the valley's history was born and nurtured within its sandstone walls.
The state's Constitutional convention met there in 1895, and Utah's first Legislature convened in the building. Joe Hill, Labor radical turned folk hero, was convicted in a courtroom at the City-County Building.
Judge David Dee, an expert on the building, can provide more of the building's history. An ardent defender of its renovation, Dee was the last to leave when it was closed in 1986.
"When you came into the building, the only name on the reader was mine," said Dee, who will chair opening ceremonies this month.
During jury selection in the Dee court in the late '70s, the judge filled spare moments by giving prospective jurors lessons in the City-County Building history.
During the crash of 1891, for example, entirely new construction crews were hired each week to work on the building, to spread around what little money could be made in the valley then, said Dee.
The years wore on the exterior of the old sandstone building and its ornate interior. As early as 1900, the Utah Geological and Mineralogical Survey identified severe cracks in the treasurer's office.
In 1934 the Hansel Valley earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.1, shook plaster from ceilings, unsettled brick capstone and sent 2 1/2 tons of mechanical clock works crashing through the clock tower floor.
Then in October 1983, the Challis, Idaho, quake topped the Richter scale at 6.9, killing two school children there and shaking the Salt Lake Valley.
"It was a big quake," said Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, "and the City-County Building suffered some damage...the building had to be evacuated."
Although city employees were able to move back into the building, the quake-and perhaps more so, the city's insurance company's reaction to it-convinced city officials something had to be done.
In the early 1980s, when Ted Wilson was mayor, the debate centered around building a new City Hall or completely renovating the City County Building.
DePaulis was then director of public works, and, having been assigned by Wilson to assess tasks of renovating the building, recalled how initial interest in saving the building began to gain momentum.
"People were attracted to the building...and the more you got involved in the building, the more attracted you got to it, it was truly an incredible building," he said.
According to DePaulis, in the 1800s the "city's first skyscraper" was built to transform the city from a prarie town into a dynamic, sophisticated Western city."
"I think what you saw was the city making a massive statement to the people: We truly are a mainstream town," DePaulis said.
The city's 19th-century founders went to great lengths to give that statement clarity, modeling the building after City Hall in London, England, turning the building into what DePaulis calls a treasure, to which he dedicated himself.
"The commitment I made was to take something that was such a treasure in the past and make that building have a future." he said.
Council members voted 5-2 to fund the renovation project. And voters in a referendum passed 4-1 a financing package for the renovation, but many citizens complain of having no real say over the decision to save the building.
Recalling the renovation's start in 1986, City Councilwoman Sydney Fonnesbeck, who was first acquainted with the City-County Building while dating its night watchman in the 1960s, said it was an investment in time.
"I could have let it go," Fonnesbeck said when the question of saving the building became controversial.
"But I'm a real believer that the real fabric of a city is made up of the past, present and future," she said.
The most significant provider of that future is the collection of 450 base isolators in the building's sub-basement to protect against earthquake damage. The building could actually sway one foot undamaged in a temblor.
Renovation progressed with a watchful eye towards historical detail. Three meeting rooms and the council chambers will be restored to near original condition, said Phil Hansen, head of the restoration for DePaulis.
"When we're spending this kind of money to keep the building in the community, it's important to make a full commitment and show everyone the extraordinary effort the pioneers went to," said Phil Erickson, head of the restoration project for DePaulis.
That eye for detail will be further focused when the community gathers April 28 to celebrate the building's reopening. Judge Dee, for example, will join Patricia Van Derek to commemorate their posing decades ago as models for a statue.
And at the ceremony, the public officials and other notables may echo the theme of a promising future in Judge Blair's 1894 dedication speech.
Indeed, for Dee, "the building is the focal point of the city's rejuvination," as it is for DePaulis.
"It's a symbol of where we've been. We need to give it a future and consequently give the city a future," he said.