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The historic Brownstone building at 22 E. 100 South, next-door neighbor to the Deseret News, is entering its second century of existence with new owners, new tenants and a major interior renovation that the owners hope will see it through the next 100 years.

On a walk-through last week of the Brownstone's four floors (including the dungeonesque basement) with William S. Campbell, one of its new owners, I was reminded that renovating old buildings requires special people, vested with equal parts money, faith and vivid imagination.Where I saw only wet, rotting floors, tilted at a fun-house angle; a roof through which one could see the sky without the benefit of skylight; ancient, peeling wallpaper, rough timbers and lath and plaster blackened by time, Campbell, a partner in the Salt Lake financial management firm Belsen Getty Inc., saw a future Taj Mahal.

"I think I'll have my office over here," he said, pointing to a dark, gloomy corner on the third floor. "Gee, that'll be nice," I said tactfully, moving carefully for fear my next step would send me crashing through the floorboards. (Campbell actually did break through on an earlier tour.) Oh well, if I did fall through, at least I wouldn't have to climb back down the ladder.

When Campbell said his company would be moving into the building on June 1, I must have looked dubious. "You think this looks bad? This looks good," said Campbell. "You should have seen it before we got it cleaned up. Once the construction crew gets to work, it'll go fast."

If you say so, Bill. I've seen enough renovations of old buildings to know what is possible, and I'm sure the end result will be wonderful. Just be sure to hang onto the "before" pictures, or no one will believe it.

Belsen Getty currently occupies office space in the Odd Fellows Building on Market Street, formerly Post Office Place, another historic renovation in which Campbell and his partner, Terry Deru, are minority owners.

Scott Deru, Terry's brother and vice president of Fringe Benefit Analysts in Layton, is also a partner. Belsen Getty and Fringe Benefit will be the first two tenants in the Brownstone when the rehabilitation is complete.

Campbell said Belsen Getty was formed in 1987 to offer financial management for individuals and small corporation pension plans.

Campbell said he had long had his eye on the Brownstone. "There's nothing like it anywhere in town," he said, adding that he had once called about it in the mid-1980s when owner Tracy-Collins Bank & Trust had put it up for sale.

He didn't buy it at the time, but when West One Bank, which had acquired Tracy-Collins, put it back on the market last year, the Belsen Getty partners made an offer of "less than $150,000" and the deal was made.

Campbell expects to be into the building about $800,000 when the restoration is complete. "When we bought it, nothing was habitable," he said. "The floors had been condemned one by one." He said it had become a refuge for street people and some of the walls were covered with satanic writings and symbols. Those remnants will soon be history.

The Brownstone is on the National Historic Register, and Campbell anticipates tax credits for restoring it. Renovators of historic buildings may be eligible for a 20 percent writeoff on the costs with Department of Interior approval.

Campbell said he has worked closely with state and city officials who oversee renovation of historic sites and he is adhering to their advice everywhere he can while still conforming to current building codes, handicapped access (a ramp will be installed at the rear of the building) and commercial viability. The latter, for example, requires installation of an elevator, something historic preservationists don't like but today's tenants demand.

Why undertake such a project? "I have an affinity for old buildings," said Campbell. "It's not a pure economics decision, although I think it will make money. It's preserving history in a way you can justify on the balance sheet."

He conceded that owners can't get top rents for this kind of space, "but it's enough. There are people (potential tenants) who don't like to be on the 12th floor of a glass and concrete building, especially if they can't command a whole floor."

Boyd Blackner, a former Brownstone tenant, is the architect for the restoration. Bid D Construction is doing the work. Leasable space upon completion will total 11,900 square feet. Interior demolition began a month ago.

Majority financing for construction and a permanent loan is through a Utah bank that Campbell said does not want to be named. The project has been approved for additional financing from the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake. Campbell praised RDA director Alice Steiner for her personal interest in the project.

Belsen Getty will take the third floor of the building and Fringe Benefit the second. The partners are currently looking for tenants for the main floor, a mezzanine that will be constructed to enhance the building's stability in the event of an earthquake, and the basement area.

Campbell, who is leasing the space to tenants through his company Capitol Property Management, expects retailers and a restaurant to lease the remaining space. "We have had a lot of interest," he said.

Modeled after the famous brownstone buildings in New York, Salt Lake's Brownstone is not constructed of brownstone. The material is red sandstone believed to have been quarried from Red Butte Canyon east of the city.

Sandstone is notoriously soft, and wind and water have weathered the building's exterior. The new owners have worked on the 100 South facade to reroute water channeling off the roof and have cleaned and sealed the stone to help stop the deterioration. A few other minor changes are planned for the exterior but it will remain basically unchanged from what Utahns have been walking past for more than 100 years.

Ben Barr, a Westminster student and management intern with Belsen Getty, has researched the history of the structure. It was built in 1989-90 by Francis Armstrong, at the time the mayor of Salt Lake City and one of the organizers and president of Utah Power Co. He developed the building in partnership with P.W. Madsen, founder of Madsen Furniture Co.

The architect of the Brownstone was Richard K. A. Kletting, considered one of the state's foremost designers of the time. His credits include the State Capitol, the original Saltair Pavilion on the Great Salt Lake, and the original Salt Palace.

Although it has always been known simply as "The Brownstone," John S. McCormick, author of "The Historic Buildings of Downtown Salt Lake City," said its architectural style is officially known as "Richardsonian-Romanesque."

The building was constructed to house the Utah Commercial and Savings Bank, incorporated on May 29, 1889, with $200,000 in capital. It occupied the building - along with a public bath in the basement and rental apartments on the third floor - until 1919 when it was taken over by the Saltair Railroad Co., which used it as its headquarters until 1960.

Since then, the building has been home for a variety of tenants, including architect Blackner, investment firm Wasatch Advisors, The Brownstone Ltd. men's clothing, Nanette of New York women's clothing, The Brownstone Pub, a "hippie head shop" called The White Rabbit, a barber shop and a magazine shop, and the original location of The Red Apple, a popular lunch spot that later moved into the lower level of the Deseret News building.

"It's tough to find people who weren't in the Brownstone," said Campbell. "It seems like every time I meet someone they turn out to have had a business there at one time or another."

One of the curiosities of the structure is the skewed molding that surrounds the windows of a skylit atrium that runs up through all three floors to bring daylight into the interior of the building (constructed in the age of gaslights.)

Prior to its being completed, the Brownstone settled several inches, leaving leaving interior walls and floors with a pronounced slant. Undaunted, the finish carpenters simply cut the window moldings to match the tilt, resulting in a look similar to what Alice might have encountered in Wonderland.

Like many of the other charming characteristics of the building, Campbell believes this to be an asset, not a liability and assures that the oddly shaped windows will be retained in the restoration.

After all, anybody can have straight windows and level floors. Tenants of the Brownstone will have a century of heritage around them from the day they move in.


(Additional information)

Door of safe creaks open to reveal exotic contents

If Geraldo could make a prime-time television show out of the opening of "Al Capone's safe" in Chicago - which contained nothing but some empty bottles - why couldn't the new owners of the Brownstone, a century old Salt Lake building, also get a little PR from the opening of a "mystery vault?"

Thus, last month, a small group gathered at the historic downtown building to watch while a local locksmith cracked the upper door of a two-story, walk-in safe in the former bank that had not been opened for . . . who knew how long? And what would they find inside? Bags of mint silver dollars? Bars of gold? Stacks of mildewy hundred-dollar bills? Maybe the skeleton of a murder victim?

Well, not exactly. After two hours of drilling holes, the safe door finally creaked open and its exotic contents were revealed to all.

What they found was an old couch, a pair of shoes, an August 1974 TV Guide, several sacks that once held Dee burgers, and a filing cabinet containing literature from Wayne Owens' unsuccessful 1974 campaign for the U.S. Senate, for which the Brownstone was apparently headquarters.

Eat your heart out, Geraldo.