When the Salt Palace opened in 1969 it was heralded as a great civic asset and ridded the downtown of urban blight. It had been a dream of the community as early as January, 1929 to build a civic auditorium. That year a drawing of a proposed facility was printed in the local press.
The long-envisioned proposal got new impetus in 1961 when the City Commission and the County Commission named a subcommittee of their respective planning commissions to determine the feasibility of a civic auditorium.
The committee included S.R. Anderson, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Salt Lake City’s Tourist and Convention Bureau, who sat on the panel. The committee met for more than a year and produced an 83-page report, “The Missing Link,” outlining a plan for not only an auditorium, but also for a multipurpose complex of two or three buildings.
A Community Facilities Committee of the Salt Lake Valley Citizens Council, appointed by the Salt Lake County Commission in early 1963, reviewed sites for the auditorium. Meanwhile, the Legislature enacted enabling legislation that allowed bonding for the project and appointment of the board of directors. Legislation passed in 1961 had been declared unconstitutional in part by a 3rd District Court judge and upheld by the Utah Supreme Court. Although suits were again filed, the 1963 law was never successfully challenged.
A Civic Auditorium Advisory Board recommended a site and a $17 million bond issue. In November 1963 in a campaign strongly supported by the Chamber and strongly opposed by Mayor J. Bracken Lee, the $17 million bond was approved by voters 48,031 to 33,451. The interest was not to exceed 5 percent and to be paid off over twenty years. Later the financing was reduced to eighteen years.
By 1964, the public got its first glimpse of a model of the project, including the signature “drum,” which became a Salt Lake skyline fixture for nearly twenty-five years.
By 1965, the arena phase of the project was named the Salt Palace and eventually extended in 1968 to the entire project. The board had originally marketed the project as the Salt Lake County Civic Auditorium–”The Convention Center of Scenic America.” The name, chosen over the “Bonneville Coliseum” and “Deseret Coliseum” hearkened back to a turn-of-the-century arena that once was famous for bicycle races. The earlier palace eventually burned.
The new Salt Palace groundbreaking was held on March 10, 1967, on 100 South between West Temple and 100 West. After two years of construction, grand opening activities were planned by a 27-member citizens committee that included Fred F. Auerbach, president of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Planning and Promotion Association, and Lee Jorgenson, the Chamber’s public relations director.
Country music star Glen Campbell headlined the grand opening. Throughout the years, the old tan cylinder was home to many of the state’s proud moments.
In 1971, the Utah Stars won the American Basketball Association championship in the building. It was where the Golden Eagles did battle and the Utah Jazz was born. But it was the construction of the Jazz’s new home, the Delta Center, that helped seal the fate of the Acord Arena and made way for an improved Salt Palace, which now caters solely to meetings and conventions.
The Salt Palace also generated its share of scandals, including accusations of misleading financial reports in 1971 and the resignation of the director in 1987 after he plead guilty to stealing hockey tickets and returning them for cash refunds.
Beginning with the 1969 Republican State Convention and ending in 1993 with the Nu-Skin convention, the building and its auxiliary halls hosted literally thousands of formal gatherings. On the list were gun shows, Southern Baptist revivals, LDS conferences, Jack LaLanne seminars, arts festivals, and Amway meetings.
The large arena played host to many icons of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Lawrence Welk, and even Elvis Presley. Four presidents–Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton–visited the Palace.
Sources: The Missing Link, Joint City-County Civic Auditorium Committee report in Deseret News Library. The Salt Palace Grand Opening Souvenir Program, Deseret News, 8 July 1969. “Chronology of Events, The Salt Palace,” typescript in Deseret News Library. Karl Cates, “Curtain Call,” Deseret News, 12 December 1993.