Structure to house Social Hall remnants

The foundation and artifacts of the Social Hall, Utah's oldest public building, will soon be returned to the building's original location when a glass enclosure is completed to house the items.

Officials from Zions Securities Corp., the property development arm of the Church, unveiled the design in a press conference Dec. 23. The Church is funding the cost to build the structure.The glass enclosure will cover the original stone foundation unearthed last May on the east side of State Street between South Temple and 100 South and will include a historic gallery. The structure will also be the east access to an underground walkway currently being constructed under State Street.

The old Social Hall foundation was discovered after construction workers, working on the walkway in downtown Salt Lake City, unearthed the south wall of the building. (See Church News, June 15, 1991.)

Open-air steel framework surrounding the glass enclosure will be constructed with the same dimensions of the old Social Hall, originally built in 1852, to represent the actual size of the building. The project is scheduled to be completed next spring.

Because a replica of the Social Hall has already been built (located at Pioneer State Park), company officials – together with the Utah Heritage Foundation – decided not to recreate the old Social Hall, but to design a contemporary tribute to the earlier structure.

Michael Leventhal, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, said the contemporary structure is similar to what was done when the Benjamin Franklin home was discovered in Philadelphia.

"This new building has potential to become as significant to our area as is the Benjamin Franklin home to Philadelphia," he said.

The original stone foundation, which was removed in eight-foot sections, will be returned to its original location and encased in glass so visitors can take a look at the historic items.

Social Hall was one of Salt Lake City's earliest landmarks and was the first theater built west of the Missouri River. It was built under the direction of Brigham Young only five years after the pioneers settled in the Salt Lake Valley.

The two-story structure was dedicated Jan. 1, 1853. The building was built "for uses implied by its name, social and semi-social functions, balls, feasts, amateur theatricals, birthday anniversaries of prominent persons and the like," wrote B.H. Roberts in A Comprehensive History of the Church. According to the Encyclopedic History of the Church by Andrew Jenson, the Social Hall was demolished after its surroundings became a thriving business section and the hall was condemned as unsafe.

The discovery of the foundation became an important discovery for archaeologists. Porcelain door knobs, slate pencils, inkwells, a piece of a slate writing board, bone buttons, arms from a porcelain doll, marbles, a penny from 1913, a lantern lens, a plate from 1852, bottles, tumblers and numerous pieces of glass added to the excitement of the discovery.