THE HOTEL UTAH


Hotel Utah in 1912

For seventy-six years the Hotel Utah presided as "the Grande Dame of Hotels" in the Intermountain West and was internationally recognized for its elegance and extraordinary service. Called "the Hotel" by locals and travelers alike, this ten-story white palace hosted legislators, Latter-day Saint conference-goers, conventioneers, visitors, skiers, and every U.S. president since William Howard Taft in 1912.

The Hotel Utah was built as a cooperative effort by the business and ecclesiastical leaders of the Salt Lake community to bring everyone together. It succeeded. Shares in the venture were sold and the hotel's prominent location on the corner of South Temple and Main Street, previously the site of the Bishop's Tithing Office and the Deseret News, was donated by the LDS Church. After two years of construction and a $2 million price tag, the Hotel opened 9 June 1911 "in a blaze of splendor" with a grand party for 500 of Utah's notables.

The hotel enjoyed great success until World War I when occupancy fell about 50 percent. The board determined that "the only thing to do is to hang on until conditions change, reduce expenses as much as possible and keep everything first class." The approach paid off. By 1918 the hotel was adding 100 guest rooms and by 1922 it was paying four percent dividends to stockholders.

The Hotel Utah's profit margin of $11,473 in October 1929 turned into a loss of $6,474 in November which doubled in December. The management responded to the Great Depression by cutting room rates from $3.50 to $2.50 for singles and from $5.00 to $3.50 for doubles. As times improved, the Empire Room on the main floor was renovated for dinner and dancing to big-name bands, while the Starlite Gardens on the roof was a favorite spot for eating, dancing, and romancing.

World War II brought increased occupancy because of the military bases in the area. The hotel supported the war effort with generous donations to the Salt Lake County war chest and by printing daily bulletins, "Today's War News," for guests and diners. Advertising promised, "Quality and service will never be rationed at Hotel Utah," but cautioned that when eating at the Hotel Utah, "Don't order more than you can eat and then eat all you order."

During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s the hotel hosted famous visitors from around the world: John Kennedy, Jimmy Stewart, Lowell Thomas, Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Van Cliburn, Helen Hayes, Harrison Salisbury, Liberace, Warren Burger, John Glenn, and Ella Fitzgerald, to name but a few. LDS Church Presidents David O. McKay and Spencer W. Kimball also lived at the hotel.

In the early 1970s the Hotel Utah responded to the changing travel market with massive remodeling that was projected to cost $6 million and that actually exceeded $15 million at completion. Using the slogan "Getting Better with Age," the hotel added two new wings, 160 guest rooms, a grand ballroom, exhibit space for conventions, a new kitchen, and a new rooftop restaurant.

For most of twentieth century, the Hotel Utah not only serviced travelers but anchored the community as well. Everything that was anything was held there. However, local interest and convention business was not enough to keep this classy lady in her leading role as Utah's premier hotel. A National Historic Site, the Hotel Utah was closed in August 1987, and its owner, the LDS Church, announced plans to convert the facility to offices and community meeting halls. The facility reopened in 1993.

See: Leonard J. Arrington and Heidi S. Swinton, The Hotel Utah: Salt Lake's Classy Lady (1986).

Heidi Swinton