In 1909, a group of Utah citizens led by industrialist Samuel Newhouse organized a proposal for a new luxury hotel to be built in downtown Salt Lake City. The group--composed of both Mormons and non-Mormons--took their proposal to the president of the LDS Church, Joseph F. Smith, hoping to secure additional funding for the hotel, as well as permission to to construct the hotel on the south side of Temple Square, which was owned by the Church. Smith was enthusiastic about the proposal, and agreed to the group’s requests. The Church became the majority shareholder in the new Hotel Utah Operating Co., and construction of the hotel began on June 1, 1909. Two years later, on June 9, 1911, the Hotel Utah opened to the public, garnering significant praise and nationwide interest.
The hotel enjoyed significant success from the very beginning. Famous entertainers, industrialists, and even U.S. presidents were among the hotel’s first guests, and it quickly came to be regarded as one of the finest hotels in the nation. Dubbed the “Grande Dame of Salt Lake,” the hotel was not only a financial success but a symbol of pride for the community. The ballrooms and restaurants were popular meeting places for local organizations and for local chapters of national organizations. Despite the loss of business during World War I and after the stock market crash, the hotel maintained its staff and top-tier service, managing to weather the financial difficulties intact. The hotel actually saw an increase in business during the Second World War, as Salt Lake City was on the rail crossroads between the interior of the country and the West Coast and near Utah’s important military bases and facilities, many of which were expanded during the war.
The following decades saw the hotel continue to expand and modernize, with several renovations and expansions that dramatically increased its size and occupancy. The hotel’s continued prestige earned numerous awards and recognitions throughout its history. Chief among these were the hotel’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and the receipt of AAA’s Five Diamond Award several times in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But while the hotel was held in as high regard as ever, it was not as financially healthy as it once was. Though the LDS Church maintained its owning stake in the hotel, Westin Hotels was granted management in 1984. The hotel celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1986, which drew an outpouring of public enthusiasm, but only a year later, the Church announced the closure of the hotel.
Rather than selling or demolishing the hotel, however, the Church had other plans for the building. After an extensive six-year renovation, the hotel was reopened as the new Joseph Smith Memorial Building in 1993. The building now houses several LDS offices and programs, but parts of the building remain available for community events and the famed Roof Restaurant and Garden Restaurant were preserved and are open to the public. Now over a century old, the former hotel remains a distinctive and iconic piece of Salt Lake City and of the history of the state of Utah.