The Chamber has been a leader in tapping the federal government’s largesse for building projects and other improvements.
In October 1930, the Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Club leaders hired Gus Backman as its top staff member and gave him his first assignment to lobby the government for just such a project.
“I’ll never forget the first job I had was going back to Washington for the purpose of trying to get the Veterans Hospital,” he later recounted. “At that time Senator William H. King was very much interested in having the hospital located at Ogden.”
The head of the Veterans Administration had lived in Salt Lake City and wanted the hospital there, but he didn’t want to offend Senator King.
Backman was hidden out of the Congressional hearing room until after King and others had made their presentation. Then Backman was called in.
“So I went in and on the basis of all the facts and figures that I had assembled we were able to prove to the committee that was making the selection that it was absolutely essential that the hospital be located at the site in Salt Lake City,” Backman said.
In his report on October 9, Backman reported “a definite decision will be made on the site October 13 (1930) after Ogden has been heard, but there was no question of doubt now that he had obtained from Salt Lake City the tender of a site…. The hospital will be located in Salt Lake City,” the board minutes recorded.
The hospital was located on 12th Avenue in Salt Lake City, where Utahns laboring for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) did its landscaping. The Chamber was later involved in the development a new Veterans’ Hospital near Fort Douglas. This was built on twenty-five acres of land that were carved out of the old Fort Douglas holdings in 1948 by the War Assets Administration, which also gave land to other government agencies.
Sources: Gus Backman typescript, 1 July 1970, and board of governor’s minutes, 1930, Salt Lake Chamber papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. “Stepping Stones to Community Development,” Salt Lake Tribune, 17 February 1952. Leonard Arrington and Thomas G. Alexander, “The U.S. Army Overlooks Salt Lake Valley,” Utah Historical Quarterly 33 (Fall, 1965).