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Antique Ford plant in S.L. restored

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Does the name Frank Lloyd Wright mean anything to you? Of course it does. It can be argued that Wright was the greatest American architect of the 20th century — certainly the most famous, thanks in no small part to his powers of self-promotion.

But what about Albert Kahn? Does than name ring any bells?

Probably not, unless you're an architect yourself. But here's a quote from the July 7 issue of The New York Times that will give you an idea of his stature.

Kahn, declared the Times, is " . . . arguably the foremost American industrial architect of the 20th century."

I'm bringing up Kahn's bonafides because two interesting things came to my attention recently:

1. Kahn designed an industrial building in Salt Lake City back in the 1920s and,

2. Thanks to the foresight and determination of Gastronomy Inc., it still exists, has been restored as an office building and currently houses three Utah businesses at 560 E. 200 South.

Gastronomy, of course, is the restaurant group famous for the Market Street Grille, Market Street Broiler, The New Yorker, Baci Trattoria and Cafe Pierpont, all of which are housed in historic buildings. Gastronomy also restored the old Salt Lake Hardware Co. building into office space.

Their latest renovation project is The Ford Building, although most Salt Lakers know it better as the Eimco plant, where the mining equipment company once operated a testing facility northwest of Pioneer Park.

The facility is easily identified by its towering water tank that dominates the area much like Trolley Square's does 700 East. Although the tank still bears the Eimco logo, in the right light you can just make out the cursive "Ford Motor Co." logo through the layers of paint.

Like Trolley Square's, the water tower — once the main part of the building's fire-fighting apparatus — is now just a landmark, but it's the building and the lengths to which Gastronomy went to to save it and bring it up to modern codes, that are remarkable.

Constructed in 1926, The Ford Building is said to be the only building the great Kahn built in the West. It was one of several designed by Kahn for FoMoCo (the six-story structure on the corner of Broadway and 54th Street in New York City is among them) as automobile assembly plants.

That's right, Ford cars were actually assembled here in Salt Lake City. The sub-assemblies would arrive by rail, (the large, wooden double-doors through which the tracks ran right into the building are still there) and the car pieces would be assembled, not on one of Henry Ford's famous assembly lines, but at a series of stations throughout the plant, some of them reached by hoisting the cars one or two stories via an elevator (which is also still there) the size of a studio apartment.

Jeffrey L. Gochnour, director of real estate for Gastronomy Properties, was kind enough to give me a tour of the building last week and talk about the challenges of turning a 74-year-old industrial plant into a modern office building, which houses some 250 people, while still retaining as much of the building's history and character as possible. Mission accomplished, I'd say.

Gochnour gives the credit to John Williams, president of Gastronomy, who has perhaps saved more old Salt Lake buildings from the wrecking ball than any other individual, even when it would have been cheaper to simply tear them down and start over.

Credit also goes to Louis Ulrich of the Salt Lake architect firm FFKR, who updated Kahn's masterpiece — replete with massive skylights in an age when industrial buildings were usually dark as a tomb — while leaving its character intact. The massive, bright-red steel I-beams that jut dramatically up through some of the office cubicles — icons to modern-day earthquake codes — are a joy to the eye. I just know that Dilbert would approve.

The Ford Building's tenants are Ascensus Insurance, Union Pacific Railroad, Trumper Communications and its radio stations KISN 97FM, KOSY 106.5 and KUMT The Mountain 105.7.

E-MAIL: max@desnews.com