The mural is on the lobby level of a Salt Lake City skyscraper, with a clear view of Main Street. That’s appropriate. Because metaphorically speaking, you’d be hard-pressed to point to a family that’s had more to do with Salt Lake City having a Main Street.
In one way and another, the progenitors of William Eccles, a nearly blind Scottish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who brought his family to Utah in 1863, are architects of a legacy second to none when it comes to giving and receiving. First they became world-class capitalists, then they shared their wealth to become world-class socialists. No small feat.
Commissioned by Wells Fargo, with assistance from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, the mural encompasses 170 years of Eccles family history on a single 8-foot-by-10-foot canvas. Also no small feat.
But it’s all there if you look close enough — and read the explanations on the legend off to the side.
David Eccles, William’s son, kicks things off in the upper right hand corner. He was 14 years old when his dad brought the clan across the ocean on the back of an LDS perpetual immigration loan. The Eccles started out in the hole.
But David (upper left as a grownup) was a visionary and a hard worker, an enviable combination in 19th century America. He foresaw that lumber was the future; that railroads, in particular, would require mountains of wood for ties to connect the country. Over time that single enterprise evolved into an Eccles empire that grew to more than four dozen businesses, among them railroads (upper left), banks (bottom center) and the Utah Construction Company (top upper left) that among other things built the Hoover Dam.
At the bottom (lower right) is David’s son, Marriner, who took over the family businesses when his father died of a heart attack at the age of 63. There was no succession plan in place because everyone thought David might be immortal.
First, Marriner stepped in and saved the family empire, after which he stepped in and saved the country.
That may be hyperbole, but only slightly.
Consider that not only did Marriner, at 22 and with no college education, actually expand what his dad had gotten started, but when the Great Depression came in the 1930s, he kept the doors open to all 28 banks in the Eccles-run First Security Corporation — while 40% of banks nationwide were closing theirs.
That so impressed President Franklin D. Roosevelt that he summoned Marriner to Washington, D.C., and put him in charge of the Federal Reserve System, where he helped structure the New Deal that righted the ship. (On the lower right, Marriner is standing in front of the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, a building that bears his name to this day.)
In the center of the mural, Marriner is talking with his brother George, who, after Marriner went to Washington, took over the reins to First Security Corp. and ran the bank for 40 years until his death in 1982.
To George and Marriner’s left with his arms folded is their nephew, Spencer Fox Eccles, who assumed command of First Security when George passed.
It was Spence, at 89 a living connection to all things Eccles past and present, who two weeks ago pulled the cord that unveiled the mural in the lobby of the Wells Fargo Center at 299 S. Main.
“It’s quite the mural, isn’t it?” he said. “The Wells Fargo team did an amazing job.”
Looking at his younger self staring back at him, Spence said, “Believe me, I am honored and humbled to be there — in tall cotton for sure — surrounded by such remarkable individuals whose giant footsteps I have endeavored to follow.”
Below Spence is the entrance to Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah. Next to that is a Salt Lake 2002 Olympic banner, while to the right of that is the Eccles Theatre on Main Street — just three of the countless Utah causes funded and supported by Eccles descendants dedicated to giving away, through their nonprofit foundations, David Eccles’ money.
The largest of these family philanthropies is the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, which by itself has awarded grants approaching $1.5 billion.
In 2023, the Eccles business machine, great as it was, is fading into history, its remaining parts owned and operated by someone else. Utah Construction Company was absorbed by General Electric in 1976 in what was then the largest corporate merger in U.S. history. In 2000, Spence Eccles deftly negotiated the merger that brought First Security Corp. under the umbrella of Wells Fargo, the venerable nationwide banking company launched by the California Gold Rush.
One proud relic that belongs to the golden age of Eccles finance still stands tall in downtown Salt Lake: the iconic First Security Bank sign (center bottom) that remains atop the building on the corner of First South and Main that was once the bank’s headquarters. A reminder of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
And now, there’s the lobby mural in the Wells Fargo Center on Main Street.
“It is my hope that the people and places reflected on this mural — the remarkable progress they represent and the extraordinary stories behind them — will inspire all who view it to dream big and contribute in their own ways to strengthen the economic vitality of our state and enrich the lives of all Utahns in future generations …,” said Spence Eccles at the unveiling ceremony.
Then he paused before adding the words that have been closing his speeches for more than half-a-century, a kind of Eccles anthem: “... Ensuring that, yes indeed, the best is yet to come!”