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Deseret Morning News archives
In July 1978, architect Gerrit Timmerman Jr. watches progress on the Crossroads Plaza project, which opened to shoppers Aug. 2, 1980.

"Magnificent new covered shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City ... A virtual 'American Retail Revolution"' and "probably the most exciting commercial environment in any American city."

That's how the proposed ZCMI Center — a "super mall" and the largest downtown mall in America at the time — was being billed in the early 1970s as demolition began to prepare for that project.

As downtown Salt Lake City readies for another remake of that same area, plus the Crossroads Plaza to the west, this is a brief look back at how those landmark projects of the 1970s were envisioned.

It was about 35 years ago when demolition was under way to clear land for the new ZCMI Center. Start of the Crossroads project was approximately 28 years ago.

"A retail and commercial center at the crossroads of the west" was how the Crossroads Plaza was hyped in 1978.

That $100-million development remade seven acres and about 70 percent of the block. The project was also called "impressive evidence of the vitality and promise of Salt Lake's downtown business district" in a Deseret News editorial of April 1977.

Zion Securities Corporation, the commercial real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, promoted the air-conditioned and covered nature of the $50 million proposed ZCMI Center mall on an eight-acre site.

"Designed as a single mega structure," "Wide arcades bring foot traffic in from all 4 streets" and "prestige location" were some of the new facility's bragging rights.

The "central court" at the 775,000-square-foot ZCMI Center first opened 31 years ago on July 17, 1975. This mall had spent 10 years in the planning process alone.

The existing buildings on all four corners of the ZCMI project were preserved in that 660-foot-by-660-foot block. The largest demolition project in Utah's history involved tearing down the old ZCMI parking terrace to make room for the ZCMI Center. That included 150 pounds of gelatine-mixed explosives to topple the 300-foot-tall smokestack on the property.

The ZCMI Center was scheduled to open in the fall of 1974, then delayed to early 1975 but ended up nearly a year behind schedule. Contributing to the delay was a 1972 plumbers' strike.

Other controversies dogged the construction of the Crossroads Plaza for several years, including questions that were raised about the strength of the steel being used, protests by other downtown property owners and the revocation of an engineer's license for incompetence and negligence.

However, construction was under way by 1978. The Crossroads Plaza officially opened its doors to shoppers 26 years ago, on Aug. 2, 1980.

"The Crossroads Mall: It flies, all right" was a Deseret News headline on Oct. 21, 1981, as the facility was 90 percent leased at the time.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com