The Hotel Utah was once an anchor of downtown Salt Lake City — a storied inn built at the beginning of the 20th century that hosted every president from William Howard Taft through Ronald Reagan, along with countless entertainers, athletes and celebrities.
The Church-owned establishment served the Beehive State's capital city well for more than seven decades. "But hotels, like people grow old," said President Gordon B. Hinckley. "They grow a little wobbly, they grow a little decrepit — I can testify to this."
So in 1987, the Church closed the Hotel Utah — located just east of Temple Square on Main Street — and spent the next several years reconstructing and retrofitting the 10-story building. When work finished in 1993, the building was dedicated by President Hinckley and renamed the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Over the past decade, millions have visited the building to enjoy a meal, attend a wedding reception or take in a Church-produced movie such as "Legacy" and "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd." Still others have used the building to worship during Sunday sacrament services or dig into their past at the Family Search Center.
President Hinckley commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during a June 27 luncheon held in a ballroom inside the building. Several Church leaders including President Thomas S. Monson attended, along with business and civic leaders such as Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.
During his comments, the Church leader spoke of the Hotel Utah's rich history and its eventual decline as new, modernized hotels began cropping up in downtown Salt Lake City. The Church's decision to discontinue the building's use as a hotel brought sharp criticism from some who had sentimental attachments to the venerable building, President Hinckley said.
"We literally received hundreds of letters, we had protestors who marched up and down and in front," President Hinckley said. "But we went ahead with our program and we have no regrets concerning that."
President Hinckley said it would have been less expensive to simply raze the old structure and build anew. But the decision was made to reconstruct and remodel, "building a new building, in effect, within the old building."
To the relief of many, the former hotel's granite and white terra-cotta exterior was preserved, while the interior was transformed into a majestic and spacious hall used for Church offices, restaurants, banquet halls, meeting rooms and the 500-seat, giant-screen Legacy Theater. President Hinckley said the decision to name the building after the Church's founder came with the recognition that there was nothing of significance in the Salt Lake area bearing the Prophet Joseph's name. Speaking to the residents of the Salt Lake City area, President Hinckley emphasized it is the Church's "great interest" to keep the city beautiful, viable, attractive, clean and delightful in all respects.
"That's the reason we've been involved in the plaza [on Main Street], and we're grateful for the mayor who's here today, for all that he has done to bring about a resolution of that very difficult and serious problem." (See June 14 Church News.) The efforts of the Church continue to benefit Salt Lake City, he added.
"This may sound a little brazen, but, in my judgement, what benefits the Church in this community also benefits the city," President Hinckley said. "It benefits the community because all of our efforts are in the direction of making this [city] very attractive."
Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the Church. As a result, millions of visitors come to the city and spend their money in the city's establishments. The community benefits "in a very direct and meaningful way."
President Hinckley invited those at the luncheon to walk outside to the Main Street Plaza "and look at this little piece of real estate that has brought about so much notice in the newspapers. Look at the beauty of it, feel the spirit of it and then smile as you walk down the street and say 'Isn't that just great.' "
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