In the early 1980s, as part of my work at the Utah State Historical Society, I identified more than one hundred buildings in Salt Lake City's central business district and the adjacent west side industrial area that, because of either their historical, or architectural, significance, or both, were eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. They included buildings of all kinds, not just the grand buildings of the rich and famous on which the historic preservation movement had long focused.
Since then more than half of those buildings have been demolished. They include the Federal Reserve Bank on the northwest corner of South Temple and State streets; several buildings on Regent Street that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were brothels on one of the city's red light districts; the Amussen Block on Main Street, the city's only remaining commercial building constructed before the coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1869; the Utah Savings and Trust Company Building, at 235 South Main, one of Salt Lake's earliest skyscrapers and best examples of the Sullivanesque style of architecture in Utah; the Dooley Block, the only commercial building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Utah; the Buddhist Temple at 247 West First South in the center of the city's Japanese neighborhood; the Utah Slaughter Company Warehouse, at 370 West First South, the only remaining commercial structure designed by prominent Utah architect William H. Folsom; the Utah Ice and Cold Storage Company warehouse, at 551 West Third South, whose painted mural on the north elevation, with its multiple colors, serifs, flourishes, and curving horizontal movement, was the city's finest example of early 20th century commercial art on the exterior of a building; and most of the forty or so buildings from Salt Lake's Greektown, a two block area on Second South between 400 and 600 West, including two that were the heart of Greektown. One of them, at 460 West Second South, housed the offices of two Greek-language newspapers, To Fos (The Light), whose goal was to educate Greeks about U.S. laws and customs so they might become informed citizens, and O Evzone, which viewed itself as the voice of the working class and advocated for the rights of Greek laborers. The second building was located at 592 West Second South. From 1907 to 1912 it was the headquarters of Leonidas G. Skliris and his Italian-Greek Mercantile Company. Known as the "Czar of the Greeks," he was the leading labor agent, or "padrone," in Utah and the Intermountain West, recruiting immigrants mainly for mining and railroad jobs and charging them a large initial fee and a sum to be deducted from their wages each month. It was largely through his work that the largest concentration of Greeks in the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century was in the Intermountain West. In addition to providing cheap labor for employers, Skliris, and other labor agents, brought in strikebreakers, as in the 1912 Bingham strike, who were easily recruited from among immigrants desperate for work.
The loss of these buildings matters. Because they were deeply woven into the fabric of the city, they were central to understanding its history. Analyzing and interrogating them, in combination with a range of other sources, treating them as "texts," documents to be "read," helped provided answers to questions about how Salt Lake has organized itself, what its interests and aspirations have been, what it has valued, how power has operated and what efforts there have been to assume, extend, resist, or accommodate it, about the ways particular groups have sought to represent themselves and establish their authority and their place, about to whom Salt Lake's past, present, and future belongs. These buildings, and thousands of others, were once available to help suggest the answers to these fundamental questions, but they no longer are.