Famous Guests

An establishment with such prestige and grandeur was bound to attract visitors who enjoyed fame and prestige of their own. Upon opening in June 1911, the hotel was visited by many notable local business leaders. Prominent banker W.S. McCormick and president of the Utah Copper Co., Daniel C. Jackling, were both early guests, with Jackling soon becoming a long-term patron. Famed unionist Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, stopped at the hotel in August as part of his cross-country speaking tour in defense of the McNamara group (who had recently been accused of planning the dynamiting of the Hotel Utah, along with other major construction projects).

Its position as a luxury establishment was truly cemented, however, with the arrival of U.S. President William Howard Taft in October of 1911. Taft was exceptionally impressed with the hotel, as were his successors, with every president through Reagan staying at the hotel at least once. General John J. Pershing visited the hotel in 1920, while other notable diplomatic guests included US Chief Justice Warren Burger, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and Princess Sonja of Norway.

The hotel was also a popular residence for travelling artists and entertainers. Hollywood was well-represented, with Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn counted as guests. Famous musicians rented rooms as well, including Elton John, Liberace, George Harrison, and, of course, the Osmond family, with the hotel even hosting many of their early performances. Fame was no guarantee for black performers, however. Concert singer Marian Anderson was only allowed to stay if she used the freight elevator, and actor Harry Belafonte wasn’t allowed to rent a room there at all. Famed jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was barred from the hotel during an early visit, but was eventually welcomed as a guest after segregation laws were removed.

Given the LDS Church’s financial backing and the hotel’s proximity to Church offices, it was no surprise to see LDS officials present at many occasions at the Hotel Utah. Church presidents attended groundbreaking ceremonies for many of the expansion projects, spoke at hotel events, and hosted events of their own in the hotel ballroom. President David O. McKay celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary at the hotel, and President Gordon B. Hinckley was one of the featured speakers at the hotel’s 75th anniversary, less than a year before its closure. With the hotel’s popularity among Church leadership, it’s easy to understand the Church’s willingness to transform the building into the church-operated Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

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