Saturday, June 11, 2011


I was one of the lucky people to be invited to the Hotel Utah/Joseph Smith Memorial Building's 100th Anniversary Gala last night.  It was a modern-day party with the elegance and charm of a bygone era. Many people came in "period" costumes — top hats and jackets, and enough frilly bonnets to rival British royalty.  

And some of Utah's own "royalty" were there — LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, Governor Gary Herbert, Mayor Ralph Becker, Deseret Book president Sheri Dew, and Gail Miller of the Larry H. Miller Group, to name a few.

Deseret Book President Sheri Dew chats with former Deseret News publisher Jim Wall and his wife,  Connie Wall.
President Monson at dinner, with Gov. Herbert to his left.

"Even the chairs are wearing dresses!" my husband, Kim, commented as we made our way to our table.

You could stroll through the anniversary memorabilia on display, which will be there until Oct. 1. There's a shiny 1912 Cadillac, and a bright red Model T. 

One of the hostesses poses with the Model T Ford. 

The chef display with old menus reminded us of an era when the Hotel Utah offered the finest dining in Salt Lake City.

The culinary staff pulled out all the stops with a meal that looked back on some of the hotel's past signature dishes. The crusty "Hotel Utah roll" was served, and is going back on the menu in the building's current restaurants. 

I'm new to the idea of taking photos of menu items when I'm eating out — a lot of the time they don't end up looking very appetizing, and it seems a little pretentious. But I thought this was a special occasion, and maybe readers might be interested. So here goes:

When I was food editor at the Deseret News, several readers mentioned fond memories of legendary Chef Girard's chilled borscht. So I guess I wasn't surprised that this was a starter course.  

It was followed by smoked duck salad, with fresh white asparagus and creamy raspberry vinaigrette.

Here's the lime sorbet "palate cleanser." (and FYI,  that the drink you see in the background was Martinelli's sparkling cider. Honest!) 

The entree was a juicy beef tenderloin with a lobster tail perched on basil mashed potatoes.  

Dessert was strawberry shortcake with a curvy white chocolate garnish.

At each place setting was a commemorative coin. Mark Willes, president of Deseret Management Corporation, said the coin reflects back on the days when the Hotel Utah "laundered money." The coins were washed before going into the cash registers, so that they would be bright and shiny (and not soil the white gloves of the ladies) when given out to their guests. Willes said the Hotel Utah was the only hotel that did this. But actually, the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco has been washing coins for its guests since 1938. (How do I know this bit of trivia? Years ago, a guy I dated stayed at the St. Francis, and brought me back some shiny coins as a souvenir, along with the Village People's album with the song, "San Francisco" on it. But, I digress.) 

Gov. Herbert reminded us that every president from William "Big Bill" Howard Taft to Ronald Reagan had stayed at the Hotel Utah, and that the National Governors Convention had taken place there in 1947.  Mayor Becker said his parents stayed there when they visited his family in Salt Lake City, and they all noticed that Becker's young son liked jumping and flipping on the Hotel Utah bed a lot. This was his start to becoming a gymnast. Becker offered a non-alcoholic toast to the city's past and future.

President Monson recalled two fond memories of the Hotel Utah: first, taking his then-girlfriend, Frances, out to dinner after he enlisted with the U.S. Navy. (She eventually became his wife.)  And, as a bishop, he took an elderly couple in his ward out to dinner there. They had been to a restaurant so rarely that they didn't know how to order their meal. 

The building's grand history as a hotel came to an end in the late 1980s. By that time, said Monson, the hotel was having a difficult time competing with some of the first-rate chains that had moved in. Also, the hotel needed renovation work. 

He added that when the hotel closed, the silverware, dishes , tables and chairs were donated to the Salvation Army "to help serve the homeless and hungry in the community."

The renovated building reopened as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in 1993. Some of the floors are offices for staff with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but people still enjoy the restaurants, the parties, receptions, business luncheons, and so on that take place there.  "This glittering white palace is as vibrant and essential as it ever was," President Monson said.

The menu/program included a few stories that people had written in about their memories of Hotel Utah.  So here's mine: As a teen-ager, I had the privilege of staying at the Hotel Utah during the annual Future Homemakers of America convention. I remember feeling very cosmopolitan the first time I walked into the lobby and saw the gigantic crystal chandelier. We felt so grown-up!  
Some of us went to an afternoon matinee of "Love Story," the blockbuster movie of the day, and tried to see who could out-do each other with sobbing and sniffles. "Love means you never have to say your sorry," sounded so profound at the time, now I think it's one of the dumbest pieces of advice I've ever heard! 


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