15 January 2024

Historic Utah Capitol Building Lion Now on Redwood Road

Have you ever noticed this Lion in front of Ron Case Roofing at 440 S Redwood Road SLC? It is one of the original 4 lions that were installed at the Utah State Capitol in 1917 and restored by Ralphael Plescia (founder of the famed Christian School at 1324 State St) in 1976.

Lion in front of Ron Case Roofing at 440 S Redwood Road SLC (June 2023).

Lion in front of Ron Case Roofing at 440 S Redwood Road SLC (June 2023).

Lion in front of Ron Case Roofing at 440 S Redwood Road SLC (June 2023).
The 4 original lions were removed from the capitol in 1999 and were deemed too deteriorated for repair (but see below). The lions were sold at a surplus auction and Lagoon purchased 3 of them for about $16K while SLC business owner Ron Case outbid Lagoon on the 4th (and largest) with his bid of about $8K.

The 4 lions were sculpted in 1917 by Gavin Jack who had convinced Richard Kletting, architect of the State Capitol Building, that lions should flank the entrances to the Utah Capitol Building. He was awarded an $800 (about $20K in 2024 money) contract to carve and cast the lions in concrete, which were placed on the east and west entrances of the building.

Original lions by Gavin Jack at State Capitol Building, ca 1920s. Image from USHS.

Original lions by Gavin Jack at State Capitol Building. Image from USHS.

Gavin Jack grew up in Manti and had both art and engineering experience. In the 1880s he traveled to NYC and studied at the Cooper Institute and the Art Students League working with Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He also studied art and lived in Dresden and Paris for several years. And he worked with concrete during the construction of the Panama Canal.

Gavin Jack. Original creator of the Utah Capitol lions. Image from familysearch.
Jack was rather popular in his day earning many commissions, painting portraits of prominent citizens, painting for the theater stage, painting a mural in the old Manti North Ward LDS Chapel (now demolished), and did sculpture work at the Columbia Exposition World’s Fair. His wife Sarah was a concert pianist who had also worked in France and Germany.

In 1969 the State decided to remove the lions due to wear, but also probably because famed sculptor and founder of the University of Utah Fine Arts Dept, Dr. Avard Fairbanks, criticized Gavin Jack as “an obscure sculptor and have no value as art…there is no need to save them.” He further insisted that Gavin Jack was just someone who tried to do something with art; and, he mistakenly said that Jack had no formal training. Many members of the public, and famed local artist Mabel Frazer, pushed back on this opinion and defended the lions and Gavin Jack. Ultimately, the state quietly dropped the whole proposal and there wasn’t any money appropriated for any of it.

Plescia restored the lions in 1976. The Utah Legislature had appropriated $50K to restore the lions but Plescia convinced officials to hire him to do the job at a cost not to exceed $3K. Plescia’s restoration used a latex and cement mixture to restore missing parts a fill in the cracks. After studying other lion sculptures and visiting the lions at the zoo, Plescia decided to depart from the original lion design to achieve a more natural-looking animal. At the time that Plescia took on the lion project, he was 5 years into his Christian School project, which he called “the Museum” and was intended to be a restaurant with liquor and entertainment.

Raphael Plescia with a restored lion in 1976.  Image from SpacesArchive.
Raphael Plescia with a restored lion in 1985. From The Salt Lake Tribune Oct 4 1985.

The issue with the deterioration of the lions was renewed in 1999 when restoration work began on the Utah State Capitol Building and the lions were removed because of work being done on the steps. In 2007, 4 new lions were commissioned from British master carver Nick Fairplay who sculpted them out of Italian marble; they were installed at the State Capitol in 2008.

When the old lions went up for public auction in 2009, Capitol Preservation Board executive director David Hart was quoted in a KSL article as saying that at auction the lions might get “maybe a buck” and “they are of no value to us.”

But of course, between the Lagoon and Ron Case purchases, the sale of the 4 lions equated to about $24K, which is about $500K in 1917 dollars… so the state made a 99% net profit when accounting for inflation.

SLC business owner Ron Case outbid Lagoon on the 4th (and largest) lion. In a 2016 interview on Fox13’s Uniquely Utah series, Ron Case said he didn’t want the lion to leave SLC and that Salt Lake’s Westside was worthy of a “lion size portion of pride.”

The Lagoon Lions have been restored and are proudly on display in front of Cannibal. Ron Case gave an interview to Fox13 in 2016 in which he stated he does not intend to restore the lion as it is art and history just as it is. 

You can see the Ron Case lion on the west side of 440 S Redwood Road SLC. 

You can see the Lagoon lions near the Cannibal roller coaster.

Restored lions at Lagoon. Image from familysearch.

Restored lions at Lagoon. Image from familysearch.

  • Lagoon buys 3 Utah State Capitol lion statues, KSL.com, Oct 9 2009
  • Uniquely Utah: The fate of the Capitol’s final lion, Fox 13, July 24 2016
  • Hobbyist is a fix-it man, Deseret News July 10 1976
  • State Will Dispose of Old Pair of Lions, Deseret News April 22 1969
  • State Capitol Sculptor Painted in Orangeville, Emery County Progress Feb 6 1975
  • The return of Gavin Jack: Paintings will grace library, The Manti Messenger Sept 4 1986
  • Capitol Guardians to Retire, 52 Years Erode Their Value, Salt Lake Tribune April 22 1916

13 January 2024

Mammy’s Chicken Inn, Salt Lake City

Mammy's Chicken Inn menu cover, Salt Lake City
Image adapted from worthpoint

Mammy’s Chicken Inn was located at 890 W 2100 South (now Flying J Travel Center parking lot). This is a new one for me.

The restaurant was owned by George Gerard-Theodoracopulos) (1891-1965) who was born in Crete, Greece, and came to SLC in 1910, and his wife Mary L. H. Gerard, originally from Grand Junction, Colorado, and came to SLC in 1917.

The Gerards (as they were commonly known) were associated with several restaurants throughout the years including Mammy’s Chicken Inn, Silver Slipper, Charlott Club, Streamliner, and Dahlia Inn. And many of these got into some trouble with the law regarding bootlegging, bribery, and gambling devices.

The Silver Slipper Inn operated about 1930-1941 and is notable for its location at 3100 Highland Drive, just down the street from another restaurant owned by a different family but also using racist icons, the Coon Chicken Inn at 2960 Highland Drive, which operated 1925-1957.

The Coon Chicken Inn featured an overembellished character of a bald Black man with a porter’s cap. I have posted about this in the past and there is a Wikipedia page on this one.

The Gerards opened Mammy’s Chicken Inn in 1947 at the corner of 900 West and 2100 South SLC. It used the Mammy caricature throughout its branding, including on menus and souvenirs. I could not find a photo of the restaurant but the illustration on the menu shows a large Mammy sign on top of the building’s entrance.
Mammy's Chicken Inn menu. Image adapted from worthpoint
Mammy's Chicken Inn menu. Image adapted from worthpoint

Mammy's Chicken Inn menu. Image adapted from worthpoint

Mammy's Chicken Inn advertisements, from the Salt Lake Tribune

The last reference I could find to Mammy’s Chicken Inn being operational was their New Year’s Eve advertisement in December 1960. By this time, the Coon Chicken Inn had already closed.

In SLC (and presumably elsewhere) the term “Mammy Chicken” was used to describe the style of fried chicken as well as to infer authenticity.

I found other references to the use of the term Mammy Chicken for Utah restaurants. A selection of those: 
  • 1919: A “real colored mammy” Mammy Margette at Roselawn 4374 Highland Drive
  • 1930: Delicious Mammy Fried Chicken, Cabaret Dancing after 9 pm, at Blue Moon Car Service, 3618 Highland Drive
  • 1931: Mammy’s Friend Chicken at Glaus’ Coffee Shop, cooked by a different process, 169 S Main SLC
  • 1937: Home Cooked Food, Mammy Fried Chicken at Sugar House Café 1058 E 2100 S
  • 1941: Mammy Fried Chicken and J. Dean’s Rhythm Boys at Dixieland Tavern, Ogden Highway
  • 1948: Mammy Fried Chicken, Home Cooked Meals, Ethel’s Café in Roy, Utah

For additional historical context:
  • 1889: Aunt Jemima as a Mammy caricature
  • 1909: NAACP founded in NYC
  • 1919: Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP founded
  • 1925: Lynching of Robert Marshall in Price, Utah
  • 1954: Brown v. Board of Education
  • 1955: Emmitt Till murder, Rosa Parks bus arrest
  • 1960: MLK and others were arrested for a sit-in protest
  • 1963: MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech and the March on Washington
  • 1978: LDS Church Official Declaration 2 removed the racial restriction of priesthood

04 January 2024

2023 Recap with Demolished Salt Lake Podcast

I was a guest on episodes 31 and 32 of the Demolished Salt Lake Podcast. “2023 Preservation Wins, Loses and What to Watch in 2024.”

We discussed some of the buildings we lost in 2023, the ones that were saved, and those that are in danger of demolition in 2024. We had more saves than losses this year, which was greatly needed after the past few years.

In this first of two parts, we talk about the loss of the Pink House and the Yardstick Building earlier this year. Discuss the status of the land on which some historic buildings used to stand in my “Still a Parking Lot” segment (ahem... the La France Apartments) and move on to buildings that will be demolished in 2024. Saving the best for last, we end with good news for a few of our historic buildings and areas.

We know we missed some buildings, but these are some of the standouts.

With – Wendi Pettett and Chris Jensen of Demolished Salt Lake Podcast and Adrienne White of House Genealogy

Photos of some of the highlights:

1. The Pink House (Covey House), 666 E 300 South SLC
2. Mountain Bell Building, 205 E 200 South SLC
3. Elias Harrison House, 10 N 300 West SLC
4. Cramer House, 241 Floral St SLC
5. Liberty Wells Center, 707 S 400 East SLC
6. Musser House, 2157 S Lincoln St SLC
7. 2nd Ward Assembly Hall, 483 E 700 South SLC
8. Jerald and Sandra Tanner House / Utah Lighthouse Ministries, 1350-1358 S West Temple SLC
9. Brinton House, 4880 S Highland Circle Holladay
10. Wells Ward Chapel, 1990 S 500 East SLC