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Spring highlights certainty of change

The sign read: "This area will be closed until the snow and ice can be removed. Please do not enter."

It was tossed in the corner, along with the chain it came in on.

Spring has sprung.

March has come in like a lamb soaking in a hot tub filing its nails.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the top of the LDS Church's new Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, where rain and snow had held the new rooftop gardens hostage since they were built last summer and fall.

But 60-degree weather took care of that. This week the Do Not Enter signs and chains were cast aside, although not completely stowed away for the summer. Not everyone is an optimist.


It is a stunning new view from the rooftop gardens. The city takes on a different dimension seen from a hundred feet up. And there's a nice framed view of at least part of the Wasatch Front mountains that you can't see from the downtown city sidewalks.

Apart from the fountains, sidewalks, skylights and stone benches, there's a large expanse of open space on the Conference Center roof with nothing but dirt, desert-type grass and the occasional thirsty pine tree obviously glad the winter is over.

You can walk across these high plains and easily think it's 153 years ago and you're the first emigrant to hit town.

If you don't look up and see the high-rise apartments to the north, the skyscrapers to the south and the Delta Center to the southwest.

The dirt floor harks back to early Temple Square history, in 1857, when the U.S. Army was on its way to Utah to see what the Mormon Pioneers were up to.

Brigham Young, the territorial governor and Mormon leader, knew the Mormons had already lost temples in Nauvoo, Illinois, and Kirtland, Ohio, so he was taking no chances. Before the troops arrived, he ordered construction on the Salt Lake Temple stopped and brought in mounds of dirt and covered over the foundation. When the Army arrived, they thought the temple plot was just another plowed field.

The new Conference Center is similarly camouflaged. From overhead, it could be just another stretch of western desert. Who would know that underneath all that dirt is a 21,000-seat arena? Or, for that matter, who could know that the 21,000-seat arena used to be the basketball courts and swimming pools of the old Deseret Gym?


As much as I like the new improvements in Salt Lake, I have to admit I miss the Deseret Gym.

It's true, there are still plenty of places to work out and swim downtown, but there's no convenient place where you can wrench your knee playing basketball on your lunch hour anymore.

There's such a thing as being too civilized.

What I want to know is how can a church that builds a basketball court in every ward house not have at least two or three in its new Conference Center that takes up an entire city block?

While we're on the subject, I also miss the old Hotel Utah.

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is nicely restored as the world's biggest wedding reception center, no question, but it's no Hotel Utah.

You can still get room service in the building, but only if you've got at least 100 guests.

For almost the entire 20th century, the Deseret Gym and Hotel Utah, built in 1910 and 1911, were Salt Lake landmarks. The Hotel Utah lasted 76 years, until 1987; the Deseret Gym lasted 87 years, until 1997.

Now they're gone, proving yet again that nothing's irreplaceable.

One day you're there, one day you're not. Sorta like the winter.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.