SALT LAKE CITY -- The Mormon Church has decided to get out of the hotel business and close the Hotel Utah, a stately establishment that has hosted the rich and famous, queens and presidents for three-quarters of a century.
The 10-story structure will be converted into meeting rooms and offices for the Mormon Church. The church intends to keep the red-carpeted lobby with its crystal chandeliers and gilt ceilings open to the public but to close the restaurant, the state's only five-star eatery.
"For the traveler in search of class and comfort over the past three-quarters of a century, there has been only one hostelry of note between Denver and the West Coast: the Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City," the Los Angeles Times said in an editorial.
"The Hotel Utah is to Salt Lake City what the Biltmore is to Los Angeles, the Brown Palace is to Denver, and the Mark Hopkins, Fairmont or St. Francis is to San Francisco -- and more," the Times said.
About 200 people sang happy 76th birthday to the hotel last month, then hugged the landmark building to protest its closing. But the demonstration and full-page signed ads in Salt Lake's daily newspapers failed to sway the church from its plan to close the 494-room building Aug. 31.
"The hotel will close," said church spokesman Jerry Cahill. "The lobby will certainly be maintained and kept open, but what other areas will remain open, that's being discussed now."
The conversion to offices will save the building and stop the flow of red ink, said spokesmen, who declined to provide details on the losses but said the only alternative to conversion was demolition.
"Salt Lake has an oversupply of hotel rooms and at the same time, Utah has not had an upsurge" of business, said Rick Davis, president of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Salt Palace Convention Center, the Sheraton, Doubletree Inn, Embassy Suites, and the Marriott all opened here within the last five years.
Because conventions are booked up to five years in advance, Davis said there was insufficient business for all the hotels.
"The opportunity to compete on the same level was a factor," Davis said. "That includes having a cocktail lounge and a swimming pool that a lot of the large hotels have would require a large amount of capital outlay."
"If it had a liquor license" -- inconceivable because the Mormon faith prohibits the consumption of alcohol -- "the hotel would be going gangbusters," said Phyllis Steorts, who has worked at the hotel for 33 years.
For the thousands who danced in the 15,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom, ate in the Roof Restaurant, or listened to pianists in the three-story marble lobby, the grand dame of South Temple and Main Street will be sorely missed.
It also will be missed by longtime employes, who recall visits to the Hotel Utah -- an establishment in the grand European style -- by Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, Henry Fonda and James Stewart.
"Every president of the United States has stayed there since it opened," Steorts said.
A reunion of hotel employes, past and present, is planned for July 30.
The hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is across from the 10-acre Mormon Temple Square and close to the symphony and opera.
It is on the same block as the Mormon Church's world headquarters and the home of Mormon pioneer leader Brigham Young.