Sometimes, in all innocence, the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce stirred up a hornet’s nest and then scrambled into a hasty and strategic retreat. That happened twice in 1978, when it tried to move Brigham Young’s monument and, later, the Utah State Fair.
On April 12, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Chamber backed a plan to move Brigham Young’s monument half a block north of its long-time location in the middle of Main and South Temple Streets. Chamber executive vice president Fred Ball said the monument had become a serious impediment to traffic on Main Street. The new Crossroads Mall would cause even more traffic and congestion at the intersection.
Brigham’s new home would be directly in front of the Salt Lake Temple, but still on Main Street with a $100,000 mini park around it. The Chamber said the plan was worked out by officials of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the city, and the Chamber.
Reaction from the public was swift and heated. Letters to the editor filled both Salt Lake newspapers, descendants of Brigham Young weighed in (mostly against it), and opponents asked why the city spent $130,000 just three years before to expand the monument’s base, claiming then it was necessary to reduce auto pollution. Competing sites were offered and traffic statistics were cited by both sides.
“City officials were stunned by the strength of the opposition,” said a historian. In the end, despite the support of the newspapers and city officials, more people appeared to oppose the move than favored it. Ultimately, the commission voted against the proposal, saying automobiles had become a “Frankenstein” dictating too many decisions.
Years later, when Brigham Young’s monument finally moved out of the intersection in 1993, former mayor Ted Wilson, who was embroiled in the heated debate, said, “I think [moving the statue eighty-two feet north] was a brilliant solution. I wish we had thought of it.”
The fight over the State Fair was more straightforward. Surveying the ancient buildings at the State Fairgrounds that badly needed upgrading, the Chamber officers then took a look at their new Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake. Why not hold the fair at the Salt Palace, they wondered.
Again, the reaction came fast and strong. The Chamber dispatched member Wallace G. Bennett to meet with farm groups and discuss the move.
The Deseret News reported the result: “Salt Lake businessmen capitulated to the state’s farmers” and abandoned their effort to move the Utah State Fair.
“The farm community, ‘to a man and to a horse, doesn’t want to go there,’” Bennett told a breakfast meeting of the Chamber’s board of governors. At which Chamber president Wendell J. Ashton said the Chamber wouldn’t propose the move “in the foreseeable future, even though this plan has considerable merit.”
Today, the Fair is still at its old home, but Brigham has a new view of the city.
Sources: J. Michael Hunter: “The Monument to Brigham Young and the Pioneers, One Hundred Years of Controversy,” Utah Historical Quarterly 68 (Fall 2000): 332-51. The Salt Lake Tribune, 12 April 1978. Deseret News, 28 November 1978.