Salt Lake City, Utah. Mormon and More.

Posted on October 28, 2015


We’re vintage hotel collectors – among other things – and love to visit them in our travels, and stay the night if we can.

We’ve had varying degrees of success when it comes to condition and comfort, but the architecture, ornamentation and history are usually worth a few minor problems. And, these great old buildings are always a welcome relief from the blah-ness of the typical offerings along the Interstate.

Because old hotels were once the pride of the community in which they are located, you can learn a lot about the culture of the place just by looking at them. And, because they are usually right in the heart of downtown, they inevitably lead us to other interesting sites.

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Image from Wikipedia

Our visit to Salt Lake City gave us an opportunity to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but I won’t go into all that – you can look it up – though it was interesting.

It also gave us a chance to visit the lovely old Hotel Utah, right next to the famous Temple Square in the heart of the city.

While re-named the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and no longer welcoming overnight guests, it is still in service to the public as the location of the famed LDS genealogy search center, and a 500-seat theater showing a film about Joseph Smith.

The 35 acres in and around Temple Square dominates downtown, but according to a Salt Lake City statistical website, today less than 50% of the city’s residents identify themselves as Mormon.

However, spending time there might lead you to question that figure. The outward signs of Mormonism are everywhere – men in dark suits with white shirts, women in dresses and skirts, all very stylishly but conservatively dressed.

There are no bars, coffee shops are kept well under cover, and there’s little evidence of alternative lifestyles or cultures, all in keeping with Mormon beliefs.

While everything seems very controlled and well managed, the history of Salt Lake City is full of clashes between Mormons and non-Mormons within the business community. However, in most instances – past and present – the two factions have been able to cooperate for the common good.

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Such was the case with the construction of the Hotel Utah, built as a joint effort by the business and ecclesiastical leaders of the community in an effort to rally everyone around a common goal – the construction of a world-class hotel.

The project was a success for all concerned.

Land was donated by the LDS Church, and shares in the venture were sold to anyone interested. After two years of construction and a $2 million price tag, the hotel opened in June of 1911.

Five hundred of Utah’s finest – MorIMG_2294 (2)mon and non-Mormon alike – turned out for its opening, all duly impressed with the building’s spectacular architecture and grand ornamentation.

The Mormons in attendance no doubt credited divine inspiration for the building’s success, and perhaps they were right. The period articles I’ve read about the hotel’s construction never seem to mention the architect’s name.

IMG_2296Through the years the Hotel Utah played host to the famous and infamous, including presidents, stars of stage and screen and foreign notables.  But as the years rolled by, times changed, and the grand old building lost its appeal for modern travelers.  After struggling for some time, it was finally closed in 1987.

The LDS Church soon took over the building, restored it back to its former glory and made subtle renovations to update it for modern use, It re-opened it in 1993. The lobby, restaurants and 10th floor observation area are now both open to the casual wanderer.

The Salt Lake Tabernacle is an ascoustical marvel with 11,000 organ pipes, most of them hidden around the auditorium. Our Cambodian docent was great, but a bit camera-shy.

The Tabernacle is an acoustical marvel with 11,000 organ pipes, most of them hidden around the auditorium. Our Cambodian docent was great, but a bit camera-shy.

We enjoyed our time in Salt Lake City. Temple Square is an impressive place offering much more than just a religious experience, though the female LDS docents stationed almost literally on every corner do their best to deliver a message.

Exhibits, art, gardens, parks, and the largest genealogy library of its kind in the world, makes this a place we’d like to visit again.


The Temple as viewed from the 10th floor observatory of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. the Temple is not open to the general public, but we did learn it took 40 years to construct, and to quote Joseph Smith, “Every stone is a sermon”.

The buildings themselves within the Temple Square complex are an architectural delight, and the details of their construction are simply amazing, whether they were divinely inspired or not.

Posted in: Travel - Utah