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Ravell Call, Deseret News
The ZCMI facade is being put back into place as the storefront for Macy's in downtown Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — At least twice a day, Carlton Christensen makes the block-and-a-half walk between the Regent Street parking structure and his office at Zions Bank on the corner of Main Street and South Temple.

Along the way, the Salt Lake City councilman passes the site of countless childhood memories. Talking about them brings emotion to his deep voice.

Amid the dozen or so downtown construction projects under way as part of City Creek Center, a Main Street mainstay is starting to re-emerge.

The historic ZCMI facade is being put back into place as the storefront for Macy's, an anchor of the 20-acre retail, residential and office development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"For me, it's a personal thing," Christensen said of the ZCMI facade, a staple of downtown since the 1870s. "My father worked for ZCMI for about 26 years before he died."

Christensen recalls spending his days working with his father, stocking shelves and working the old freight elevator "that you had to move by pulling on the cable to start it."

"Having the facade come back and be restored in an integrated fashion is exciting for me," he said. "It's a huge element in my growing-up years."

Crews have been reassembling the facade since July, though it likely will be early next year before it's complete, said Dale Bills, spokesman for City Creek Reserve Inc., a development arm of the LDS Church.

"The steel framework on the east side of Main Street is complete, and technicians are now attaching restored elements of the original facade," Bills said.

Several of the facade's familiar pillars already are in place, and the rest of the cast-iron front will go up "concurrently with construction of the core and shell of the Macy's store," Bills said.

The three-story ZCMI facade was carefully disassembled in fall 2007 and was put into storage so the old Macy's building could be demolished. The new store is being built about 25 feet to the north at approximately 15 S. Main.

The facade was part of the original Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, which was founded in March 1868.

"I think (reusing the historic facade) is a smart move by Macy's," Christensen said. "This is America's first department store. … You look at all the department stores nationwide and how those have evolved, and to have the first one here in Salt Lake … is an important element that's now part of their heritage."

The original ZCMI facade was constructed in three phases in 1876, 1880 and 1901, according to city planning documents. The structure to be reinstalled is both a remnant of that facade and a re-creation from the 1970s, when the ZCMI Center was built.

The May Co. purchased the store in 1999 and converted it into a Meier & Frank. In 2006, Federated Department Stores bought May Co., and Utah's Meier & Frank stores — including the downtown location — became Macy's.

Salt Lake City's Historic Landmark Commission had to sign off on the proposed reuse of the ZCMI facade because it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Though the facade will be a familiar site, the new store it will decorate will have a different look than the previous Macy's. The new building will be the same height as the facade, leaving the decorative peak atop the facade to stand alone as it did in 1910 — unlike the most recent reconstruction in the 1970s.

The 150,000-square-foot Macy's store is on schedule for a March 2012 opening.

e-mail: jpage@desnews.com