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About Utah: Crandall Building in Salt Lake City stands the test of time

David C. Epperson, left, his father, David H. Epperson, and grandfather, Bob Crandall, stand atop the historic Crandall building amid the bustle of City Creek project downtown.
David C. Epperson, left, his father, David H. Epperson, and grandfather, Bob Crandall, stand atop the historic Crandall building amid the bustle of City Creek project downtown.
T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

As the heart of downtown Salt Lake City rushes to its future, David Epperson is clutching hard to its past.

Epperson isn't exactly old. He turned 60 the other day and celebrated by scuba diving in Honduras. He looks closer to 40.

But he reveres stuff that is old, and through fate, happenstance and maybe a little old-fashioned karma, he finds himself sitting, almost literally, on the dividing line between Salt Lake's old and Salt Lake's new.

Every day, he shows up for work in a building that was finished 118 years ago — only to be surrounded by buildings that haven't been finished yet.

Epperson's law office is on the fifth floor of the Crandall Building, the distinguished sandstone structure that has anchored the corner of 100 South and Main Street since it was completed in 1892.

All around, rising from the rubble that was once the rest of the block, is the framework for the massive, $3 billion City Creek Center downtown rebuilding project.

The juxtaposition couldn't be more dramatic. On the one hand, there's a seven-story sandstone building that was once hailed as the city's first skyscraper. On the other, there are steel structures arching five times its height, already obscuring it in shadow.

Epperson remains nonplussed. The new might be cool and taller, but the old, well, the old has the real stories.

Epperson's history with the Crandall building has so many twists and turns you'd almost think he made it up.

It goes back practically to the very beginning, circa 1892, when one of the first tenants to rent space in what was originally the McCornick Block were brothers Samuel and George Stewart. Both were lawyers; both were just starting out. They named their firm, appropriately enough, Stewart & Stewart, bought 20 books to start their law library and shared a desk on the fifth floor. Their first case was a divorce. They made $20.

Thus were the beginnings of what would become one of the city's most distinguished, long-lasting law firms.

As it grew, Stewart & Stewart moved a half-block down Main Street to the new Kearns Building. By 1975, the Stewart brothers were long gone and so were their names; the firm had morphed into Hanson, Wadsworth & Russon.

That's when David Epperson, following his first year at the University of Utah law school, was hired on as a clerk.

He had no idea he'd just joined his great grandfather's firm.

But then one day he was in the library, browsing through the stacks, when he saw George Stewart's signature inside one of those original 20 books.

True to his pedigree, Epperson rose quickly through the ranks to become the firm's senior partner. In the 1980s, he oversaw yet another move, this time to the Triad Center on 300 West.

But something kept nagging at him to return his roots.

Part of it was his heritage calling to him. The other part was the fact that his father-in-law, Bob Crandall, now owned the old McCornick building.

Ten years ago, he came full circle. He downsized the firm (it's now called Epperson & Owens) and returned to occupy the exact same offices on the exact same floor that Samuel and George Stewart rented 118 years ago.

Only now it's Epperson and his son, also named David, who are practicing law side by side (although with separate desks) — and instead of paying their rent to William S. McCornick, they pay it to 92-year-old Robert E. Crandall, their father-in-law/grandfather, who still comes to work every day.

The offices have been painstakingly restored to their original late 19th century luster, with the old sandstone brick showing through in all its glory.

And in the library, those 20 original books have come back to rest.

No one could be prouder of all this than Epperson, who has papered the law offices with historic photos of the McCornick/Crandall building in its various incarnations — black-and-white reminders that progress, and beauty, isn't just a modern thing.

Sometimes, he says, his father-in-law will ask him what he makes of all the changes going on around them.

"I tell him, 'If your neighbors are going to drop a billion-dollar bill in your backyard, that can't hurt your values,' " grins Epperson. "Might as well enjoy it and hang on for the ride."

From where he sits, the future looks almost as brilliant as the past.

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