Magazine article Sunset

Still the Place ... Salt Lake City

Magazine article Sunset

Still the Place ... Salt Lake City

Article excerpt

ITS UNIQUE HISTORY AND BREATHTAKING BACKCOUNTRY MAKE UTAH'S FAST-CHANGING CAPITAL ONE OF THE WEST'S MOST FASCINATING CITIES.

To understand Salt Lake City, you could do worse than visit Temple Square on a Sunday morning. You will not be alone. Young parents push strollers beside visiting dignitaries and camera-draped tourists, all making their way to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's concert. Outside the Tabernacle, a half-dozen smiling young women announce the start of the next Temple Square tour, each lifting a placard to indicate the language she speaks: German, Swedish, French, Chinese. Above them, atop the Mormon Temple's granite spire, the Angel Moroni - all 1,500 gold-leafed pounds of him - blasts his trumpet toward the east, where almost 150 years ago, Brigham Young and his band of Latter-day Saints filed out of the Wasatch Mountains to this, their new home.

It is no ordinary city, the City of the Saints. It occasionally fools you into thinking it is, but something always sets you straight. That view of Moroni, perhaps, or a series of children's books displayed at a local store - Holy Cities of the World: Rome, Jerusalem, Benares, Mecca, Salt Lake City.

Yet change - big change - has come to Salt City. As Utah marks its centennial and Salt Lake approaches the century-and-a-half mark, the city is suddenly hot. New residents are pouring in, and the city has been awarded one of the sporting establishment's most glittering trophies: the 2002 Winter Olympics. The world is discovering what Salt Lake residents have always known. To paraphrase Brigham Young, this is the place, or at least a very special one.

PAST AND PRESENT SALT LAKE

"I had never been west of Chicago," Salt Lake City mayor Deedee Corradini recalls. "I came out here my sophomore year of college. I saw the mountains and canyons and fell in love."

It is a common reaction to an incomparable setting. Salt Lake City spreads at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, which rise to 11,000-foot peaks directly east of the city. To the west, the Great Salt Lake shimmers like a mirage, and the dry Oquirrh Mountains announce the start of the Great Basin. It is a landscape to inspire great historical drama.

Which it did. On July 24. 1847, Brigham Young stood at Emigration Canyon and said, at least in legend, "This is the right place, drive on." It had taken Young and his 142 Latter-day Saints three months and 1,300 miles to reach the Salt Lake Valley. Before that, the Mormons had endured a decade of persecution across the Midwest by non-Mormons enraged over their religious practices, which included polygamy. The Salt Lake Valley was not the original site for the City of Zion - that had been Jackson County, Missouri. But it had the advantage of lying far from lynch mobs.

"Brigham Young had a vision," says Utah historian Allan Kent Powell. "Salt Lake would be the center of a self-contained commonwealth." The valley was arid, but its soil rich: drawing water from the Wasatch, the Mormons made the desert bloom.

Young's legacy remains apparent today. Working from a plan called The Plat of the City of Zion, he mapped a city for the ages. Salt Lake's blocks are a vast 10 acres apiece, and its streets are broad: 132 feet, with 20-foot sidewalks. (The celestial scale has its drawbacks, notes University of Utah architectural historian Peter Goss. "When temperatures hit 100 or so in July, it's a long walk across hot pavement from one block to the next.") Streets are ordered by their distance and direction from Temple Square. Stand at the Brigham Young Monument at Main and South Temple streets - 0 East, 0 West, 0 North, 0 South - and you feel you've arrived at the center of the universe. This was, perhaps, the point.

Salt Lake City is only about half Mormon today, but the church's influence is strong. As a major property owner, it has helped ensure that downtown remains inviting to visitors. So far, Salt Lake hasn't undergone the skyscraper boom of, say, Denver, "possibly to our advantage," notes Goss. But under the church's watchful eye, the area around Temple Square is busy, safe, and pleasant. Music lovers take in the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall, and basketball fans cheer their Utah Jazz at Delta Center. Recent additions to downtown include a vastly expanded Salt Palace Convention Center, the 24-story American Stores building, and two handsome new public spaces: Gallivan Utah Center and City Creek Park.

The drawback to the church's influence is that it can alarm the very visitors Salt Lake City wants to attract. W. Boyd Christensen, church chairman of visitor activities, says some tourists won't even venture inside Temple Square for fear someone will try to convert them (no one will). "There's a hesitancy. People don't know what's inside those walls. We'd like to break those barriers."

The Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau addresses the issue with its "101 Most Asked Questions About Salt Lake." The list includes:

Is polygamy still practiced in the Mormon Church?

Do we have to wear special clothes to visit Historic Temple Square?

What does a Mormon look like?

The simple answers are "no," "no," and "just like you and me!"

The city has, though, another face, perhaps best seen by walking a few of those long blocks southwest from Temple Square. This is Salt Lake's old industrial district: hulking factories and warehouses with ancient advertisements peeling from their red brick walls. The streets are scruffy by Salt Lake standards. But there is also a sense of excitement here. Some of the warehouses have been gutted to house brew pubs, which are filled with Patagonia-clad crowds downing stouts and ales. Other buildings have been converted into artists' studios, galleries, and quirky stores, giving the neighborhood a bohemian buzz. Says Stephen Goldsmith, whose Artspace organization has led the redevelopment of the area, "The homogenization of Utah is something we want to blow apart."

Blown apart it is, and not just here. Since 1990, Utah has added 190,000 new residents, most concentrated along the Wasatch Front. The computer industry is growing, and the University of Utah is garnering an international reputation for medical research. The region regularly stars in those business-magazine articles that promise The Ten Best Places to Live, Work, Invest. And then there is that long-awaited prize, the Winter Olympics. The West seems to shift favored cities every decade or so: Denver in the '80s, Seattle in the early '90s. Now Salt Lake wonders whether its turn has come.

For many leaders and residents, this popularity is a welcome affirmation. Says Mayor Corradini, "I think a lot of people still think of Salt Lake as a backwater with a strange image. Now you get people here and they say, 'Wow.'" Gibbs Smith, head of the publishing house that bears his name, says, "In the 1950s, everybody wanted to get out of here. Now it's amazing how many of those people long to come back, and do come back."

Yet the new attention brings fears, too. Salt Lake residents complain about traffic. Last year, Utah's governor, Mike Leavitt, sponsored a first-ever growth summit, an unheard-of event in a state accustomed to thinking all growth good. For that is the underlying issue. As newcomers move in from Texas and California, Salt Lake City residents ask: What profiteth a city if it gaineth the world but loseth its soul? Smith explains, "In a way, our isolation gave us a lot of our charm." Says Christensen, "There has been a tradition to protect what we have, because we fought so hard for it. And then for so many people to come and enjoy what we fought for..."

These are difficult issues to ponder, but Salt Lake City is good at the difficult issues. In probably the best essay ever written about the place, historian Dale Morgan caught the city's spirit perfectly. There is, he said, something about it - the ordered grid of civilization imposed on the wild landscape - that inspires the long view. "Lonely and magnificent," he wrote, "caught up in the moods of the mountains under which it rises, it is a city forever asking questions not susceptible to answers."

And so it is today. In the shadow of the Wasatch, Moroni blows his trumpet. Now the whole world is listening, and Salt Lake wonders who, and how many, will answer the call.

RELATED ARTICLE: SALT LAKE VISITOR'S GUIDE

* TEMPLE SQUARE

Most church-related attractions are free, and open morning through early evening Mondays through Saturdays, with shorter hours on Sundays. Unless indicated, the area code is 801.

Salt Lake Temple dominates the square, but it is closed to nonmembers, so you may have to be content to admire it from the outside. More accessible is the Mormon Tabernacle, famed for its 11,623-pipe organ, its choir and superb acoustics, and its free 1/2-hour organ recitals at 2 on Sundays, at noon on Mondays through Saturdays (also at 2 during summer months). Mormon Tabernacle Choir concerts begin at 9:30 on Sunday mornings; admission is free, but plan on arriving by 9 or so to get a seat. Or attend a choir rehearsal, held from 8 to 9:30 P.M. most Thursdays. Nearby is the graceful Gothic revival Assembly Hall, the site of summer concerts. For a schedule, call (800) 537-9703. And if you don't mind a bit of enthusiastic but benign proselytizing, you can join one of the church's 45-minute Temple Square tours.

Just west of Temple Square is that genealogical mecca, the Family History Library (35 N. West Temple St.; 240-2331). Next door is the Museum of Church History and Art (45 N. West Temple; 240-3310).

East of Temple Square is the former Hotel Utah, now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (South Temple and Main; 240-4383). Its FamilySearch Center offers computer links to the church's genealogical files. Nearby, Brigham Young's first Salt Lake home, Beehive House (67 E. South Temple; 240-2671), is open for guided tours; Lion House, next door (63 E. South Temple; 363-5466), where Young's wives and children lived, serves lunch from 11 to 2 weekdays and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays in its Pantry Restaurant. Behind these historic homes rises the LDS Church Office Building (50 E. North Temple St.; 240-2452); take a free elevator ride to its 26th-floor observation deck for a 360 [degrees] view.

* AROUND TOWN

Downtown's major north-south streets are Main and State. Sam Weller's Book Store (254 S. Main; 328-2586) is one of the West's best. Gallivan Utah Center (36 East 200 South; 532-0459) is a new public plaza that offers regular noontime concerts through summer. Exchange Place's ornate office buildings, clustered between Main and State, served as Salt Lake's non-Mormon business district in the early part of this century.

The 1915 Renaissance revival State Capitol (on Capitol Hill; 538-3000) is well worth a walkthrough. Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum (300 N. Main; 538-1050) offers an interesting clutter of pioneer history exhibits.

Salt Lake's industrial district - west of the central business district between 200 and 400 West - is rapidly being renovated into a neighborhood of brew pubs and artists' studios. Gallery strolls are offered on the third Friday of every month; for information, call Salt Lake City Arts Council at 596-5000. The Utah State Historical Society (300 S. Rio Grande St.; 533-3500), housed in the old Denver-Rio Grande depot, has good exhibits on state history. To the north, the Second Empire Devereaux House (334 W. South Temple; 596-0990) now holds a Chart House Restaurant.

Cultural landmarks elsewhere downtown include two historic theaters. The Italian Renaissance Capitol Theatre (50 West 200 South; 323-6800) has been restored to house Ballet West, the Utah Opera Company, and a couple of dance companies. The former Orpheum is now the church's Promised Valley Playhouse (132 S. State; 364-5696). Newer venues include sleek Maurice Abravanel Hall (123 W. South Temple; 533-6683), home to the Utah Symphony. Next door stands the Salt Lake Art Center (20 S. West Temple; 328-4201), which features contemporary art.

If you'd rather not walk all those long blocks around town, you have your choice of two trolley tours. The free, church-sponsored Pioneer Trolley runs around Temple Square from Beehive House to the Museum of Church History and Art. During the summer, the Utah Transit Authority's Centennial Discovery Trolley (287-4636) runs from the square to the University of Utah and other points of interest.

Nonstudents have plenty of good reasons to visit the handsome university, which overlooks the city. Jurassic Utah was a dinosaur playground, and Utah Museum of Natural History (Presidents Circle on the university campus; 581-6927) has an excellent collection of old bones.

* SALT LAKE LODGINGS

The big chain hotels - Marriott, Hilton, Doubletree - are all south and west of Temple Square. Downtown also holds two historic hotels. The church-owned The Inn at Temple Square (71 W. South Temple; 800/843-4668; from $79) lies across the street from the Temple. Don't expect to be able to buy a drink here, but room rates include a substantial breakfast. Salt Lake's oldest hostelry is the nicely restored Peery Hotel (110 West 300 South; 521-4300; from $89) on the fringes of the old industrial district.

Bed-and-breakfast choices include the posh Brigham Street Inn (1135 E. South Temple; 364-4461; from $115), built when this stretch of South Temple was Salt Lake's most distinguished address. Also appealing are the Anton Boxrud Bed and Breakfast (57 South 600 East; 363-8035; from $69) and the 1903 Saltair Bed and Breakfast (164 South 900 East; 800/733-8184; from $70).

* SALT LAKE CITY EATS

The Metropolitan (173 W. Broadway; 364-3472) is so understated you won't even find a sign over the entrance to this refurbished warehouse downtown. It's the place to go if you're in the mood for wood-fired pheasant with pheasant ravioli ($25). For an extra $30, add a few slivers of imported white truffles.

Despite its staid reputation, Salt Lake is now home to several great microbreweries, including Fuggles (375 West 200 South; 363-7000). Under two massive skylights that open in good weather, brick ovens fill the spacious dining room with the smell of rotisserie chicken and baking bread. Try the local ales and the white-chocolate bread pudding. Prices are moderate.

Don't leave Salt Lake without trying at least one of the four restaurants run by Gastronomy. You'll find good seafood at the Market Street Grill (48 W. Market St.; 322-4668). The grill's home is the old New York Hotel, designed in 1906 by the architect of the Utah State Capitol. Prices for seafood entrees range from $14 to $40. Make sure you order Gastronomy's famous Chocolate Decadence.

If you like Vietnamese food, check out the 197 menu choices at Care Trang (818 S. Main; 539-1638). Order the Hai Ke To Yen (Treasures in Love Nest) for $8.95.

Tiny Fresco Italian Cafe (1513 South 1500 East; 486-1300), tucked behind The King's English Book Shop, offers great Italian food - on a trellis-covered patio in summer. Try the tortelloni alia Bolognese ($15.95).

Cajun meets Jiffy Lube at Bubba's (4291 South 900 East; 268-3374), worth the drive from downtown if you like heaping plates of good food served in what looks like a jazzed-up former gas station. Menu standards include a meat loaf dinner with pecan shortbread for $7.99.

* FOR MORE INFORMATION

Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau (180 S. West Temple; 521-2868) offers a huge selection of brochures and maps. The Utah Travel Council (Council Hall, Capitol Hill; 538-1030) is likewise helpful. A good guidebook is Mark Angus's Salt Lake City Underfoot (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1993; $10.95), available at area bookstores.

RELATED ARTICLE: SNELGROVE: PATRON SAINT OF ICE CREAM

One treasured Salt Lake legend is that the city consumes more ice cream per capita than any other place in America - the reasoning being that denied caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, Latter-day Saints sublimate with butterfat.

In fact, statistics backing up the claim are hard to come by. But if it is true, the reason is Snelgrove. Since 1929, this Salt Lake institution has supplied frozen pleasure to Utahans - and to VIPs like Franklin Roosevelt, who served the ice cream at White House Thanksgiving dinners.

The Snelgrove family sold the business in the 1980s. But the ice cream, still produced from the original recipes, is widely available at Salt Lake supermarkets and ice cream parlors. The mother parlor, at 2100 South 850 East, is the most impressive. Outside, a giant ice cream cone revolves enticingly. Inside, the atmosphere is as antiseptic as a hospital operating room, as if in acknowledgment that a Snelgrove English butter toffee sundae - Canadian vanilla ice cream buried in a talus slope of toffee - needs no competition from mere decor,

RELATED ARTICLE: OUT-OF-TOWN DAY TRIPS

* PARK CITY

Call it Salt Lake City's high-altitude alter ego. Park City sits only 30 miles from Salt Lake, but it was, and is, a different world. In Salt Lake, Brigham Young forbade gold and silver mining. Park City settlers made a fortune from it. Salt Lake tended toward the staid and pious. Park City supported one of the West's most notorious red-light districts.

Today, Park City provides a splash of hedonism not found anywhere else in Utah. Famous as a winter resort - it will host numerous events in the 2002 Winter Olympics - the city is now becoming a year-round haven for affluent out-of-staters. The result? A mining town where gold cards glint more than gold nuggets, where $700,000 trophy homes assault the sensibilities of cost-conscious Utahans. But it is still a marvelous place to spend a summer weekend.

The town's newest attraction harks back to its mining days. The Park City Silver Mine Adventure occupies the once-rich Ontario Mine. After encountering Disneyesque animated miners, you descend in a miners' elevator 1,500 feet into the mountains, then board a mine train to rumble through underground tunnels. The mine is off State Highway 224, 1 1/2 miles south of Park City. Tickets cost $12.95, $9.95 ages 4 through 12 and 55 and over; call 655-7444.

Another attraction looks to Park City's future as a Winter Olympics venue. This September, at Utah Winter Sports Park, you will be able to watch luge and bobsled training. The park lies north of town at Bear Hollow, off State 224; call 649-5447.

For three decades now, Park City has supported an active arts community, whose command central is Kimball Art Center (638 Park Ave.; 649-8882); here you can admire current exhibits and pick up a guide to local galleries.

Dining options are rich. Park City locals like to start off the day with strong coffee and rich baked goods at Morning Ray Cafe (268 Main St.; 649-5686). Wasatch Brew Pub (250 Main; 645-9500) is Park City's own microbrewery. For cuisine on the pricey and elegant side, head to Deer Valley's Stein Eriksen Lodge and the Forest Room or Glitretind Restaurant (both 534-0563).

For hotel, condo, and other lodging suggestions, as well as information on summer music and arts festivals, visit Park City Visitor Information Center/Museum at 528 Main; call (800) 453-1360.

* THE GREAT SALT LAKE

Antelope Island State Park. This is by far the best place to experience the lake. At 28,000 acres the largest of the lake's 10 islands, Antelope provides wetland habitat for numerous bird species, as well as an upland habitat for the antelope and buffalo herds that were relocated here. The island's human history is venerable: the 148-year-old Garr ranch house is Utah's oldest Anglo-built structure on its original foundation. You can tour the island by car, hike its 16 miles of trails, or swim and camp at a 12-site campground and group camping area. Rangers host living-history programs.

To reach the park from Salt Lake City, take Interstate 15 north 30 miles to exit 335 in Layton; continue west on State 108 and 127 to the park. Admission costs $6 per car. For more information, call 773-2941.

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