22 March 2021

Mystery Butterfly Case at the Natural History Museum of Utah - Solved!

The origin of this butterfly (Lepidoptera) case was a mystery, until now! 😊

These pics came to me from Christy Bills, the entomology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Very little was known about this case other than what is presented in the images. Christy asked if I might be able to fill in some of the missing details, especially the connection between J.G. McDonald (the SLC chocolate maker) and this case.

This case dates to 1909 when Thomas U. Spalding (1866-1929), an early Utah collector of Lepidoptera, displayed it at the Utah State Fair with butterflies collected in Eureka and Provo, Utah. This case was widely praised for being the finest and most extensive collection of western butterflies thus far exhibited.

It made such an impact that James G. McDonald, the president of the Utah State Fair Association and president of the J G McDonald Chocolate Company (now Broadway Lofts at 159 W 300 South), purchased the case from Spalding and gifted it to the University of Utah Stewart Training School in 1911.

The Stewart School accepted McDonald’s gift and used it for many years to teach a more direct interaction with nature. In fact, the Stewart School expanded its collection to include several cases of songbirds and exhibited them at future State Fairs.

Years later, in the early 1940s, Clyde Gillette (1927-2015) was a student at the Stewart School. He had an early love of butterflies and even co-authored academic papers as a teenager with Professor Angus M. Woodbury.

Reportedly, Gillette retrieved the Spalding Butterfly Case from a trash can at the Stewart School and held on to it.

Later, in 1976, Gillette co-founded the Utah Lepidopterists’ Society and the case then became theirs. They then loaned it to the Natural History Museum of Utah for display and later formally gifted it to the museum.

This case is now over 110 years old and, as is so often the case, little decisions here and there from various people have led to its preservation for the rest of us.

Sources: Eureka Reporter 1927-07-18, Des News 1910-05-21; Daily Utah Chronicle 1911-10-09; Gillette obit 2015

Images provided by Christy Bills, UMNH.

Note: A version of this post was also published on the UMNH Blog.

18 March 2021

SLC's First Talkie Film

The Victory Theater, 48 E. Broadway. From UDSH.

Exploring more of the old Yardstick’s history: the first “talkie” film shown in SLC was at the Victory Theater on May 26 1928.

The Victory Theater claims the first “talkie” but the first film with sound to play in SLC debuted the year before- January 29 1927 at the American Theater.

The American Theater was located at 241 S Main (demolished, now the Wells Fargo Center) and was the first theater in Utah to obtain the Vitaphone system for sound- similar to a record synchronized with the film.

The American Theater presented the silent film “Don Juan” with the music score from the New York Philharmonic orchestra played on the Vitaphone. They also showed an introductory mini film synched with a Vitaphone introducing the technology and featuring a selection of musicians and singers.

The next year the Victory Theater, located behind what is now the Yardstick Building at 48 E. Broadway, debuted a full length “talkie” film.

The Victory Theater purchased the Vitaphone and the Movietone systems. The Vitaphone still provided the musical score through a synchronized record but the Movietone provided speech, song, and sound effects that were embedded on the film resulting in improved synchronization.

The first talkie film shown in Utah was “The Jazz Singer” at the Victory Theater on May 26 1928, and featured Al Jolson in blackface.

Of note, in keeping with SLC racial segregation tradition, people who were not White were only allowed in the balcony seats as the floor seats were reserved for White individuals only; this was true of all SLC theaters with balconies until the late 1960s.

The Victory Theater and the nearby Auerbachs Department Store advertised a joint celebration for the first “talkie” and offered “Vitaphone Sundaes” with crushed pineapple and strawberries over orange cremo, strawberry and vanilla ice cream, with pecan nuts, topped with a maraschino cherry.

Sources: SL Trib 1927-01-30; Des News 1928-05-22

The Victory Theater, 48 E. Broadway. From UDSH.

Interior of the Victory Theater, 48 E. Broadway. From UDSH.
Note the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue.

Interior of the Victory Theater, From UDSH.

Vitaphone Week advertisement, SL Trib 1928-05-26

Advertisement for The Jazz Singer at the Victory, SL Trib 1928-06-07

Advertisement for The Jazz Singer at the Victory, SL Trib 1928-09-28

16 March 2021

Fire at the Victory Theater

In 1908 Eveline Auerbach constructed a new hotel and theater at 44-52 E 300 South at a cost of $140K ($4M today).

The project was a mixed-use building with stores and hotel on the street front. The hotel rooms were on the top two floors of the building and the hotel office, stores, and the entrance to the theater on the lower level; the theater auditorium and balcony was a large building located behind the hotel.

The hotel started as the Regis Hotel and then changed to the St George Hotel in 1952. In 1956 the now defunct Yardstick fabric store moved into the hotel office space.

The Theater had several names: it started as the Colonial Theater, became the Pantages Theater in 1913, Loew’s State Theater in 1921, and finally the Victory Theater in 1924.

The first Talkie film presented in Utah was shown at the Victory Theater on May 26 1928 and was “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson (in blackface!).

In 1943, one of the most devastating fires in SLC history destroyed the Victory Theater. Several people were injured and 3 firemen were killed. The fire was able to be contained to the theater building and none of the adjacent buildings, including the hotel, were burned.

After the fire only a brick shell surrounding rubble remained. The fire-ruined brick walls stood for several years; sometime after 1950 they were removed but the large concrete subterranean foundation remains.

The property remained with the Aurebach family until 1949 when Eveline’s children sold the majority ownership to a Los Angeles real estate mogul, E. Phillip Lyon. Ownership has transferred a few times since then and the current owners have owned the property for at least 20 years.

The original façade of the street front stores were covered in the 1960s and the stores closed in the 1980s/90s. The building has sat vacant for decades and recently has become known for its ever-changing street art.

Colonial Theatre 1909, From UDSH.

Victory Theater entrance 1924. From UDSH.

Victory Theater fire 1943. From UDSH.

Victory Theater fire 1943. From UDSH.

Fire aftermath July 1943. From UDSH.

Modern façade, 1979. From site form, UDSH.

Sanborn Map 1911

Sanborn Map 1950

12 March 2021

The Columbus School, 2531 S 400 East

The Columbus School building today, 2021.

The city of South Salt Lake has decided to close the County Library in the Columbus Community Center at 2531 S 400 East and is now looking for a new occupant to fill the space of the old library. A perfect time to dive into the history of this fantastic building!

In 1916 the Forest Dale area was growing and a new elementary school was needed. The area chosen was located just outside the city limits so SLC annexed the 5-acre parcel and proceeded with plans to build a new school.

Architect Charles S McDonald designed the school. In a break from previous school design in SLC, this was a single-story building which was emphasized as being safer during a fire and preferable in areas with lower cost of land. McDonald also designed Irving Jr High, Auerbach’s, Walker Bank Building, and the Alta Club.

The Columbus School opened on Jan 22 1917 and served as an electuary until 1968 when it became a technical school for disabled individuals.

Two large additions were made in the rear including a gymnasium in 1954 and a shop area and commercial kitchen in in the early 1970s.

By 1992 the building was vacant and still owned by the Salt Lake School District. The City of South Salt Lake had set its eyes on the property and considered it a neighborhood asset. Two problems with this: the building was still in the city limits of SLC and not SSL, and the SL School District was looking to sell the property to a real estate developer.

In 1995 SSL offered a bid of $800K (lower than the developer’s bid) but the District sold to SSL because the Developer’s bid was contingent upon approvals for a zoning change.

SSL began the process to convert the old school to a community center and SSL and SLC adjusted their boundary so that the building was now in SSL.

SSL was pleased with the $5M price tag the feasibility study for rehab produced because it was less than the cost of a new building. SSL worked with local architects CRSA on a phased approach to renovation.

During the renovation CRSA found that “structurally, the building was extradentary fragile.” But SSL persevered and worked to stabilize the building and improve the landscaping. The new community center officially opened in 2002.

Currently, the County Library has vacated the south wing of the building and SSL is looking to fill the 8,700 sq ft space. Most of the building is still in use by the Promise SSL program, Recreation Department, and Senior Center.

SSL is solicitating public input and request emails be sent to connect@sslc.com.

Sources: SL Trib 1916-05-23; SL Trib 1916-07-30; UT Preservation V6

Bell tower 1939, From UDSH

School and grounds 1939, from UDSH.

School in 1917, from UDSH.

Darrell Kinder and Renee Sessions, 1956, From UDSH.

Floorplan, from SL Trib 1916-07-30.

09 March 2021

SLC's Meter Maids


Clarice Holt and Molly Langston 1954, from UDSH. 

In 1954 the term “Meter Maid” was coined when SLC replaced male police officers with female parking meter readers.

The SLC police department was understaffed and in 1954 SLC decided to replace male police officers in the traffic division tasked with parking enforcement with female parking meter readers.

This idea was originally proposed by the Utah Taxpayers Association and had been adopted in a few other cities within the US in previous years (Charlotte NC in 1950; Kansas City MO in 1951; and Asheville NC in 1953).

This was seen as a cost saving move because the City could pay female workers less money and it would relieve regular officers for other police work. Immediate protest was lodged by Mr. Arnold Schryber who insisted that older men should be given the jobs.

SLC hired 12 women for a 30-day trial period at a salary of $165 ($1,605 today). Initially the women were hired as special police officers but after the resounding success of the trial period, and the increase in parking fee revenue the City received, they were given a monthly salary of $280 ($2,723 today) and transferred to civil service. Mrs. Clarice Holt, one of 3 female police officers already with the SLCPD, was appointed supervisor of the new organization.

The SLC newspapers immediately coined new terms to describe the women and their jobs: “Petticoat Patrol” “Femme Patrol” “Meter Enforcement Women” “Meter Mollies” and of course “Meter Maid.”

The first appearance of the term “Meter Maid” that I could find in a nationwide historical newspaper search was Dan Valentines’ column “Nothing Serious” in the July 20 1954 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune where he snidely wrote “Salt Lake’s new ‘Meter Maids’- the gals…who don’t let any grass grow under their petite feet when it comes to doling out parking tickets.”

The term “Meter Maid” stuck and within a couple years had spread across the US; it was even used in The Beatles’ song “Lovely Rita” in 1967.

The SLC Meter Maids seemed to embrace the term and Clarice Holt proudly included it in her 1999 obituary.

Now, gender-neutral terms are primarily used.

Sources: SL Trib 1954-01-11; SL Trib 1954-06-18; Des News 1954-07-06; SL Trib 1954-07-20; Des News 1954-07-26

Zola Henroid and Nelda Van Vleet, from SL Trib 1954-07-13

Minnie Langston, from Des News 1955-05-23

Virginia Hawkes and Jessie Turner, from SL Trib 1957-05-11

Zola Henroid, from Des News 1965-07-15

Proliferation of "Meter Maid” as a term, 1954-1956

The use of the term "Meter Maid" through time

05 March 2021

SLC's First Cremation

Dr. Charles Winslow’s crematorium in downtown Salt Lake City, July 1877. From UDSH. 

The first non-indigenous cremation to take place in Utah was of Dr. Charles F Winslow (1811-1877) in downtown SLC.

Dr. Winslow moved to SLC from Boston after his wife died in 1874. In SLC he was a well-respected [Gentile] professional who was interested in the sciences. Dr. Winslow had decided that cremation was more sanitary than traditional burial and was the most sustainable option for a growing population.

Dr. Winslow died July 7, 1877. He had recently written his will and specified exactly how he would like his remains treated. He directed that 48 hours after his death (to make sure he was good and dead) his heart would be removed from his body and preserved in a glass jar with a specific formula of chemicals; his heart would then be sent to Nantucket to be buried with his mother. He also directed that his body would be cremated, and his ashes buried with his wife in Boston.

Only 2 other cremations had been recorded in American history- the 1st being Henry Laurens in 1792 and the 2nd being the Baron de Palm in 1876.

Morris and Evans, experts in fire brick, were called on to build the crematorium for Dr. Winslow. They secured permission from Brigham Young and built it in their back lot, behind the Utah Theatre at the SE corner of 100 S and State St (today, this is roughly where Regent St curves between 100 S and State St).

The crematorium was built of fire brick with a stone foundation. It measured 12 ft long, 4.5 ft wide, and 5 ft high with an iron door and a window of mica. Coal was brought in from Rock Springs to ensure a high temperature was reached. A quarter of beef and several beef bones were tested in the chamber with great success.

Dr. Winslow’s children objected to the cremation, instead preferring traditional embalming and burial. The cremation was delayed several weeks until his children consented. In the meantime, Dr. Winslow’s body was decomposing, and ice offered little protection in the July heat, so he was also embalmed until the dispute was settled.

Winslow’s funeral took place on July 31 1877; kind words were spoken by his friends but no prayers were offered in accordance with his wishes directed in his will. After 2.5 hours in the furnace his body was reduced to ash and calcined bone (which was then crushed in a mortar). His heart was sent to Nantucket and his cremains sent to Boston, per his wishes.

Reportedly, some relic-hunters gathered some of the remaining refuse from the furnace, placed it in pillboxes, and sold it at a rate of $0.25 a box; several going so far as England.

The entire funeral, including the cost to construct the crematorium, was about $1500 (~$37K today)

The crematorium was dismantled soon after its use.

Sources: SL Herald 1877-07-12; SL Herald 1877-07-13; SL Herald 1877-07-31; SL Trib 1899-08-06; Winslow probate file from Utah State Archives.

Charles F Winslow, 1876. From ancestry user curiositykeeper

1884 Sanborn Map 5, red star showing location of temporary crematorium

Grave marker for the heart of Dr. Winslow in Nantucket, from find-a-grave