Over the years, the Salt Lake Chamber called a number of office buildings home, some of them elegant, others not so grand. Their new offices on Fourth South and State Street were decidedly in the elegant category when they moved in 1986, thanks to an innovative plan to furnish them.
How that came to happen is a story in itself. But first, some background.
The Chamber had been in relatively few locations until 1968. It enjoyed being at the swanky Commercial Club Building for twenty-eight years, and in the utilitarian Walgreen Drug store upper floors for another twenty-eight. But in 1966 the J.C. Penney Company began an expansion program and acquired the Walgreen site for a new downtown store.
New executive secretary Maxwell E. Rich, in the job for just ten months, led the Chamber up the street July 1, 1966, to new quarters at 146 S. Main, above the Utah Theater, where KALL radio had been located. (The Retail Merchants Association, The Salt Lake Junior Chamber of Commerce, The Salt Lake Safety Council, The Better Business Bureau, The Downtown Planning Association, The Utah Legislative Conference, Utah Council of Retailers, the Bonneville Speedway Association, Intermountain Fat Stock Association, and Olympics for Utah, Inc., all associated somehow with the Chamber, tagged along and changed their letterheads.)
Rich then found a street-level location with more spacious quarters at 19 East Second South, where the Chamber moved in 1968. Among other things, more room made it possible to build a new, sophisticated State of Utah Briefing Center where nearly every day groups interested in economic development, conventions, or tourism assembled.
That was the situation when Fred Ball became executive secretary. Although it was a superb location, it was also beneath a twelve-story parking garage. That brought with it a lot of traffic noise and sometimes fumes. Ball remembers that the furnace and air conditioner were “very antiquated. Frequently the furnace would ‘blow’ and so I learned how to make the repairs. I kept work gloves and old clothes in the office so I could go to the basement and make the repairs,” he wrote.
The furnace was in the basement, which also housed a private club called the Press Club, so he found himself moving crates of lettuce and canned goods to get to his repair job. Chamber members became members of the Press Club. (The club later folded and D.B. Coopers took its place.)
The location had its advantages. Chamber aides were offered the use of Walker Bank’s executive dining room, located on the top floor of the building, when they needed it.
Nevertheless, Ball recognized early that new facilities would have to be located. And by the time the lease neared its expiration the space had become too small. “The big problem for the Chamber was that there were not sufficient cash reserves to really do an adequate job in securing new space,” he said.
The Chamber began looking for alternative homes. Desmond Barker, who would serve as Chairman of the Board of Governors in 1981, writes that in 1978 he headed a Chamber task force that evaluated downtown property ownership, and particularly focused on Block 53. That block extends from 300 to 400 South and from State Street to 200 East–just north of the City County Building. Owners of most of the property then were two elderly sisters, “heirs of the Auerbach family who lived in New York. They thought their property was worth far more than any offer and held up a planned major shopping center that would have anchored the south end of the city,” wrote Barker. Developers instead moved north and built the Crossroads Mall, he added.
Despite that setback, Barker and his committee continued to try to do something about the block, which was a significant part of downtown. Eventually, “the discussions led to meetings with N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church,” he relates. “Wes