It is late spring and Christopher Cramer bends over his flowers.
In the distance, the sound of streetcars can be heard, along with the clopping hooves of horses and the clatter of wagon wheels. There are no cars. It is still 1890, and Christopher Cramer's flower beds do not yet seem out of place in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City. The city is young and there is room for his greenhouse and flower farm on the block between Second and Third South, just east of State Street.The dainty two-story building he has just finished constructing serves as both home and florist shop. A small balcony fronts onto the street. It has a European air about it.
By next year, the street will be named Floral Street, influenced by the prominence of Cramer's flowers, and though the name of the street will stick, it will not be long before Christopher Cramer is gone.
A young city at the crossroads of the West grows fast. By 1897, land in the middle of town is at a premium and it is hard to justify so much space for flowers. Cramer will be stacking up his earthen pots and moving on.
The flowers replacing Cramer's carnations have a more pungent aroma. Floral Street's narrow confines have attracted the brothels, and the ladies of the evening ply their trade even from the balcony of the Cramer house. The street is busiest in lamplight, though electricity is slowly replacing the darkness of the night.
In 1909, the Cambridge Hotel is built facing State Street. Its back doors face Floral, narrowing it to not much more than an alley. In years to come, during Prohibition, a guy named "Diamond Jack" will have a speak-easy upstairs with an unbelievably impressive bar and hidden connecting doors and the like. Later yet, it will be hotel space again, rented out by-and-large to Basque sheepherders who come in off the ranges in Nevada to live almost as families with common cooking facilities.
In 1910, the Chadbourne Building goes up north of the Cambridge. To the south, the Rex Burlesque Theater adds a tone of comparative sophistication.
The Rex is a sight to behold. Its facade on State Street rises a full three stories, with an ornate decorative higher half story with the word "REX" framed in masonry. On the third-story level, two sculptured knights with shields adorn the edges of the building. Between them, two carved women on pedestals hold frosted glass lamps. Below, an ornate canopy stretches over the sidewalk.
Painted on the brick south wall of the building is a large sign reading: "REX Junior Vaudeville - THE MOST ELABORATE ABSOLUTELY FIRE PROOF MOTION PICTURE THEATRE . . . ," and the rest can't be read on the photograph because it is hidden by a sign on the building next door.
In the lobby of the Rex, elaborately patterned carpet covers the floor and plaster garlands held by cupids trim the edge of the ceilings above mirrors running the full length of the side walls.
In the theater itself, beyond long rows of upholstered seats, a grand stage is flanked on either side by the pipes of a massive pipe organ, touted as "the most perfect pipe organ in the amusement world," installed at a cost of $20,000.
But burlesque quickly gives way to the wonder of moving pictures. The ancient hand lift in the back of the theater, used to move scenery up and down from the basement, soon falls into disuse.
Unique in the theater now is a cage-like projection booth hanging over the seats in midair. The projectionist accesses it via a precarious catwalk, and then, from the cage, bright images flash through the dark onto the flat white screen now covering the stage.
But the Rex is to undergo several transformations yet. After its movie days it becomes the state's first "supermarket." Later yet, it is Axelrad Furniture Co. - for 52 years. In the '70s it sits vacant for a while, though the upper story remains a hotel.
In 1980, it becomes Tivoli Art Gallery.
In the back of the gallery, the flywheel of the old hand lift is still intact. The back door opens onto Floral Street - and Christopher Cramer's house.
On the roof of the Rex, I mean Tivoli Gallery, an ancient water tower still serves as a landmark, though it long since was made obsolete when municipal water pressure became dependable (probably in the '20s and '30s).
At one time, the city was dotted by water towers. Only a few remain. The one on the roof of the old Rex will help you find Floral Street, another of those curious corners of the old city, still holding on to its destiny the best it can.