When the doors of the Salt Lake City-County Building were opened to the public Saturday for the first time since the $30 million restoration project began in 1986, hundreds of Utahns jammed inside.
Some were old enough to remember the days before the 95-year-old building began showing signs of its age and government officials discussed razing what was once dubbed the city's first skyscraper.Others were first-time visitors to the massive sandstone structure, seeing only the beauty of its freshly painted brick-colored walls, marble stairs and elaborately patterned tile floors.
Many were young children, whose cries and shrieks echoed throughout the building as they swung on the brass stair railings or peeked over velvet ropes into offices that will soon be occupied by city officials.
"We've seen everybody," said Christine Morr, one of dozens of Utah Heritage Foundation volunteer tour guides on duty. "After the opening ceremonies, it was wall-to-wall people. We couldn't give tours - no one could move."
Standing next to a detailed drawing of the building's most unique new feature, a series of "shock absorbers" that will allow it to sway without breaking in an earthquake, Morr said by midafternoon the crowd had thinned out.
Still, the building was full of people. A long line wound up to the building's clock tower, discouraging all but the most determined visitors, such as 12-year-old Michael Dobson.
Michael's parents, Earl and Betty Dobson, dropped him off at the bottom of the staircase leading to a winding line that finally ended up at the tower. They compared the wait to the length of time it takes to board a ride at Disneyland.
"At least at Disneyland, you know how long it will take you," laughed Betty Dobson, referring to the signs posted at the California amusement park's rides.
The Dobsons labeled themselves newcomers to Salt Lake, having lived in the city about three years. Mrs. Dobson said the restoration of the City-County Building is to her a good example of the city's pride in its heritage.
"So many cities are tearing down their older buildings or letting them decay until they have to be torn down," she said. "There is a unique blend of the old and new in Salt Lake."
A native Salt Lake couple, David Scown and Susan Sundstrom, had a special reason for taking their 5 year-old son, Simon, to the ceremonies. Scown had replaced some of the windows on the building at the beginning of the project.
"What would you have replaced it with? This is one of the most unique buildings in the city," said Scown, a carpenter. He said trying to recreate the building's historic features in a new structure was "out of the realm of possibilities."
Sundstrom said it is important to "keep some character in the city. You can't tear down every old building and put up glass office towers."
A pair of city employees came Saturday to inspect their new offices, Jodi DeJong, an office technician with the Department of Human Resources, and Carolyn Butz, a purchasing clerk.
"It's really pretty," Butz said of the building. "I just hope it's going to be as functional as it is pretty." She wasn't so sure after seeing how tiny a supply closet was.
DeJong was more optimistic. "It looks nice compared to the last time I saw it, just before it closed. It was really run down. Now, it's a lot more colorful than I thought it would be. It doesn't look old anymore."
Later, after she saw her new office, she was genuinely relieved. "It's lovely," she said. "It's bigger than the space I have now."
One woman who had worked in the building as a member of the Salt Lake County Assessor's Office admitted to being a little disappointed she wouldn't be returning.
While the city rented office space downtown during the restoration, the county relocated to a modern brick complex on 21st South complete with escalators.
"The majority of us like it better down here," said Geneva O'Neal, who toured the building with her granddaughter, 5-year-old Nicole Farrior, and Nicole's great-grandmother, Catherine O'Neal.
Someone whose memory of the building goes back many more years is Norman Hansen, who searched in vain for her name among the lists of schoolchildren who donated money for a new flag pole for the building in 1936.
Hansen did spot the names of several relatives and acquaintances, including her brother, John Christensen, who listed his ambition as an Ensign Elementary School fifth-grader as becoming an electrician, an ambition he fulfilled.