Salt Lake City is heavy, weighed down by excrement-hued mountains and architecture. The Mormon Temple is made of Quartz Monzonite from a local quarry.
The Catholic Church is sandstone.
The Presbyterian Church is made of sandstone also, but red.
The mining magnates’, then later Mormons’ mansions along South Temple are stone.
The state capitol is made of local stone outside and Georgia marble inside.
The buildings of the old fort, the 2002 Olympic Village, the University of Utah campus – all brick and stone.
For all its aura of permanence, Salt Lake City sits directly on the Wasatch fault line, and there’s been no sizable seismic activity for about 1,300 years. They are due. But not if those darned Mormons have anything to do with it. Wow, are they an industrious bunch. I am a largely secular girl, a woman of science rather than faith, but I do my best to respect others’ beliefs. I’m not here to write about magic underwear or retroactively baptizing the deceased or plural marriage. I must say, I was impressed with the LDS folks and what they have accomplished.
Don’t want tourists standing in the middle of Main Street snapping photos of your temple? Buy Main Street. Don’t want a hotel next door to your temple, though it was a venerable and historic hotel which hosted a succession of presidents since 1911? Buy it, name it after Joseph Smith, and transform it into a meeting and event space. The result is Temple Square – a collection of buildings and fountains and monuments in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. This is the American spin on a practiced religion. Less ornate, but just as grand.
The streets around the temple are all named based on their relationship to the temple – West Temple, South Temple, etc. In tax-exempt Temple Square, where tours and entrances to the buildings are free and meals in restaurants are served at cost, everyone is polite, smiling, well-dressed, clean cut, and whiiiiite. Gorgeous flora adorns the acreage, none of which is native to Utah, so hordes of Mormon volunteers re-plant the entire grounds every. 30. days.
My tour of the city got off to a dubious start. The guide highlighted rentable bicycles, orange flags carried by pedestrians to cross streets, and the chirping sounds made by walk/don’t walk indicators for blind pedestrians. Did he think none of us lived in cities? Did he believe Salt Lake City invented these things?
The guide, a member of the LDS Church who eschews caffeine, finally built up a head of steam. Those Mormons! Seventy thousand of them walked 1,300 miles to get to SLC. Walked. When called upon by the United States government to fight in the Mexican-American War, the Mormons formed the only religious-based battalion in United States history and marched from Iowa to San Diego. It’s probably for the best that they didn’t run into any skirmishes.
When Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake valley and uttered the words, “This is the Place,” whether due to visions from God or utter exhaustion, those diligent Mormons first built roads, and then a university. Roads first, education second – pretty forward-thinking. When gold and silver and copper were discovered in the nearby mountains, the Mormons focused on farming and did not succumb to the siren’s call of the mines.
Brigham Young instructed the members to ignore the ore. He required his people to be eager little worker bees, adopting the beehive as a symbol of group hard work and fortitude. The word “Deseret” in Mormon charities and bookstores and thrift stores means “honeybee” according to The Book of Mormon. The beehive symbol adorned the entrance to Young’s property, and the roof of the house in which he lived.
Now that beehive is carved in relief at the state capitol and is the symbol of the state highway route marker.
In the state capitol rotunda, a painting depicts the seagulls eating the locusts and saving the Mormons from famine. Utah is known as “The Beehive State,” even though it is the state with the lowest honey production in the United States. It is difficult to see where religion ends and government begins in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City was dragged into the modern age by hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics. The light rail system was built. Antiquated liquor laws were amended, and now there are even state-sanctioned distilleries and breweries in the city and the state. The oldest bar in the city, opened the day after Prohibition ended, “Bar X,” serves craft cocktails and does a bustling business. Yet and still, as you drive the broad city blocks which seem to stretch for miles, there is a notable absence of neon or other invitations to let your hair down and kick up your heels.
If a downtown building wasn’t built at the turn of the 20th century, it is likely less than 20 years old. Amidst all the granite and stone there is a palpable Orange County vibe to Salt Lake City. Billions of dollars have been spent on destination shopping malls and “villages.”
I’m looking forward to southern Utah and all its beautiful national parks on a return trip, but I will not return to SLC. I like the vice meter to be set somewhere between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Vice adds spice, and even though a spice is in its name, Salt Lake City is bland.