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Video salutes 2 giants of the skyline

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MURRAY — When Jerry Andersch moved to Utah 20 years ago, the smokestacks on the Murray skyline were a way for the new resident to find his way home.

Otherwise, the Murray resident admits he thought little of them, and when the word went out that the stacks were to come down, he was ambivalent.

To him, like many others, they were just "the dirty old smokestacks."

That sentiment has changed.

His yearlong involvement in the production of a historic video on the smokestacks has him convinced their pending demolition signifies a tremendous, shameful loss.

"I feel a little concerned about our obligation to generations yet to come," he said. "We're not far enough away from that industry (mining and refining minerals) to fully appreciate what a tangible relic those smokestacks are of a time when this country depended on them."

The stacks, contaminated with asbestos and other toxins, are being knocked down to make way for the proposed $100 million Chimney Ridge commercial development.

Although they were set to come down in April, demolition was delayed until June — and then put off again. Murray city officials still don't have an exact date the stacks will be knocked to the ground.

The largest stack, at 455 feet tall, marked 82 years in existence on July 4. Both stacks were part of the American Smelting and Refining Co. operation, at one point the world's largest lead smelter.

Because the stacks are due to come down, the Murray Historic Preservation Advisory Board wanted a visual record of their history, a video that could be shown to schoolchildren for years to come.

Mary Ann Kirk, Murray's cultural programs specialist, says the board hopes to incorporate the video into a study-curriculum for students that not only emphasizes the significance of the stacks but the value of preservation in general.

Eventually, the board hooked up with Andersch about making the video.

Andersch, a former senior producer and reporter at KTVX Ch. 4, worked for 14 years in Utah in broadcast media bringing viewers "Cover Story," a special projects feature.

Now a freelancer, he jumped at the challenge to resurrect the history of the stacks and learn something about Utah's heritage.

Called "Giants on the Skyline," the 30-minute video traces the history of the Murray smelter, relying on old photos and the memories of former employees and their families. The recently released video, which costs $5, is available at the Murray City Parks and Recreation Office at 5200 S. State. The budget to make the video, estimated at just under $20,000, was partially funded by a zoo, arts and park grant from Salt Lake County.

It was tough to compile, Andersch says, because the smelter ceased operation in 1949.

"There have been 50 years of things getting scattered and lost and people passing away," he said. "We had to do a lot of hunting and scraping for visual material."

Becoming embroiled in the research for the video is what sparked Andersch's passion about the smokestacks.

Andersch wrote the script and narrated the video and, along the way, he said, learned what a rare treasure Utah has at the former smelter site.

"From talking to people who are stack experts, that large stack is the last major industrial brick chimney of its kind in an urban area in the United States," he said. "It represents the smokestack revolution, which really kicked things into gear for the United States. Here is a perfect symbol of that and the very last one of its kind. Once it's gone, then they are all gone."

Andersch was intrigued by the larger stack when he learned it was built by hand, one brick after the other, and that when it was finished, the labor had involved 12 million pounds of brick hauled in with horse carts.

"It may be old and dirty, but it is perfectly symmetric, an excellent execution of brick work," he said.

Years from now, with the stacks gone, Andersch said residents will have reason to mourn.

"I am going to feel rather bad that a great, colossal example of another time and another place will be gone, and all we have is the photos and the video," he said. "It's not the same. The stacks speak for themselves. They have a presence."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com