Davis County commuters speeding down Beck Stret have for the past two years encountered some incongruous eye candy on their trip into town: a statue of a brooding sphinx.
The sphinx, recumbent on top of Western Architectural Services' modest headquarters at 1817 N. Beck St., may appear antithetic to the area's gravel pits and blue-collar businesses. But it perfectly represents Western Architectural's primary mission: making statues and architectural moldings and details for Las Vegas casinos."We do anything we call `foo-foo' on the exterior or interior of the building - statues, ceilings, moldings," said Western Architectural owner Tracy Jones. "Foo-foo is what gives (the building) its kick - what makes it appeal to the public."
The sphinx on top of Jones' building was a model for the 110-foot-tall sphinx greeting visitors to Las Vegas' new Luxor hotel/casino, which opened in 1993. In addition to the sphinx, Western Architectural workers designed and built an accompanying 140-foot-high obelisk, engraved with genuine Egyptian hieroglyphics, and various other statues and architectural details for the Luxor.
"We didn't know what to do with (the sphinx model), so we just threw it up on the roof and now it's a good way to tell people where we are," Jones said.
Given his principal customers, it is a bit surprising that Jones' company also designed and built various portions of the Mount Timpanogos LDS Temple, due to open next summer. The firm's contributions include the 12 oxen holding up the baptismal font and the temple's most prominent feature: the 13-foot-high gold-leafed statue of the angel Moroni.
About 20,000 people witnessed Western Architecture's creation being raised to the top of the temple's 190-foot spire last July.
"We decided there is kind of a correlation there," Jones said regarding his disparate customers. "They both pay their bills."
Las Vegas casinos are widely known to be outrageously profitable, so the amount of Jones' bill doesn't matter much so long as his work is good.
"They need things on time and quality products much more than they care about the price," Jones said.
Even though the Luxor is only 2 years old, its owner, Circus Circus, is already planning $300 million in renovations to spiff it up. What with remodeling existing structures and building new buildings, the Circus Circus corporation is looking at something between $3 billion and $4 billion in construction costs over the next few years.
Jones' 15,000-square-foot shop is a hive of activity right now, with his 40 staffers scrambling to do work ordered for Circus Circus' new Monte Carlo hotel/casino (Monte Carlo is the name, not the place). Decorative moldings, prototype statues and curvy, leafy column tops abound in the shop, which reeks with the pungent odor of hot fiberglass.
Western Architectural makes its products from fiberglass, gypsum, concrete and even plain old styrofoam, which Jones says can last up to 50 years even as an exterior feature. The head of the Luxor sphinx and the obelisk, for example, are made of foam with a special coating on top.
(Most exterior building features, such as moldings, are built to look solid but are actually hollow.)
Jones, 43, is a Salt Lake native who graduated from East High and attended the University of Utah majoring in sociology. He planned to be a high school counselor. But three years into college, Jones joined a construction crew building the ZCMI Center downtown, decided he had found his calling and quit college.
"It was fun - being out there with the guys, getting dirty," he said.
He later joined his dad in his one-man sales firm, representing manufacturers of casino statues and architectural features. Five years ago, he began making the things himself. The mom-and-pop (or more accurately, pop-and-son) operation rapidly grew to a $5 million-per-year business, and Jones has outgrown three different shop locations. He is now readying a 20,000-square-foot facility in Draper where he will soon move his headquarters. He does work for about half the Las Vegas casinos, as well as some in Reno.
"We all think he's wonderful down here," said Monte Carlo project manger Jan Daniels. "Whatever we want, he can do."
Next year is shaping up to be a $7 million year for Western Architeectural, but Jones would like to stabilize the company at about $5 million per year.
"That's a good size," he said. "(The business) has grown very quickly - maybe a little too much."
Jones is anticipating a comfortable retirment in two years, at which time his 23-year-old son, Shane, will likely take over the business.
"Then maybe I'll be that high school counselor," he said with a laugh.