Old Brownstone Architecture

Back in 1889, Salt Lake City’s streets were utterly lacking in automobiles. Fact is, a majority of our town’s thoroughfares lacked pavement and I’m not certain whether a light-rail line ran along 100 South east of Main. If it did, it was not as yet called an electric trolley line – the motive power doubtless consisted of mules or horses. At any event, Mayor Francis Armstrong did not have to contend with pollution from autos or diesel trucks – four-footed animals gave street sweepers work enough.

Mayor Armstrong seems not to have been too swamped with civic duties or at least he had more spare time on his hands than Mayor Deedee Corradini, time enough for him to found and operate a bank. His Commercial Savings Bank being in need of a spanking new building, he commissioned one of our town’s finest architects to build him a proper structure for his proper new commercial institution – to be located on company property at 22 E. 100 South. His three-story, rough-hewn brownstone building still stands, pretty much as designed by Brownstone architect Richard K.A. Kletting. But unfortunately, and through no fault of banker Armstrong or architect Kletting, the century-old structure has been vacant for the past dozen or so years. It’s been vacant so long its future has been in doubt.

There were, of course, some recent years of occupancy. Almost a decade ago an eatery called the Red Apple took root in the old bank building’s basement – but it quickly moved next door into the modest structure occupied by the Deseret News. A short-lived newspaper and magazine shop also occupied the basement for a time – briefly. Simultaneously, a pub called the Brownstone Ltd. and a shop specializing in beauteous wedding gowns occupied the main floor — but again, not for long.

This past month, however, there’s been good news for those architectural buffs who cherish the outwardly unmodish, slightly decrepit building. It has been purchased from recent owners (the West One Bank) by the finance firm of Belsen Getty Inc. In turn, its new principals, William Campbell and Terry Dern, have promised to respect the old-time look of the structure.

Outwardly, this survivor of livelier days in the Main Street district is a three-bay affair, with the central bay topped by a triangular element that may have, in times past, been flanked by twin cornices.

As observant downtowners know, the brownstone structure has a variety of window styles – or fenestration. There are twin windows beneath an elaborately carved arch centered on the top floor, with tripled windows flanking the central pair. Still another trio of arch-topped windows occupies center stage on the second floor, while twin windows capped by rough-hewn stone arches are balanced on either side. The ground floor – likely the banking floor in the old days – has large showroom-style windows on either side of the arch-topped doorway. Entrance is via a broad stone stairway, while the full basement or cellar has large windows admitting light into the below-street-level premises.

While few local residents are elderly enough to remember the years when the bank occupied the premises, many can recall the period when the brownstone was chiefly occupied by the Saltair Railroad and its popular Saltair Resort. By that time, of course, electric trolley-car tracks crisscrossed the city, and gasoline buggies had become more than plentiful.

The weathered brownstone has long had problems that are an outgrowth of its original building material. The fact is, it was not built of brownstone at all, or at least, not the sort of brownstone used for many years to face row houses in New York City. The building material is really a red sandstone, quarried locally in nearby canyons – and it spalls. That is to say, the stone, when set in place for building material, weathers poorly. It flakes off, at many exposed joints, in the wake of our several local winters in which there is alternate freezing and thawing. It is not unlike the flaking politic limestone used for such mansions of note as the Kearns home on South Temple, now used as the Utah’s gubernatorial mansion.

Well, whether it has weathered poorly or not, whether it is called brownstone mistakenly or not, the building at 22 E. 100 South is certainly a survivor. It is good indeed to learn that financial folk of the new generation are astute enough to see that such a building on the National Register is well-worth saving, and utilizing. The foundation stones were laid in 1888; the bank building was occupied a year later. That’s 103 long years ago!

And by the way, banker/mayor Francis Armstrong went on, when his mayoral term ended in 1890, to gain some fame, and, one hopes, some fortune, by buying our town’s initial horse-car lines – after which he electrified same.

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