When it comes to roads that impress based on colossal length alone, U.S. Route 20 has all the rest of them beat with its 3,365 miles of breathtaking asphalt. Even with the mighty U.S. Route 89 helping out girth-wise, State Street pales in comparison; but in its 17.3 miles—spanning from the Capitol building to Draper—the story of Salt Lake City is contained.
State Street's reach, however, goes far beyond that. Take for instance Salt Lake Community College, which in total is responsible for helping mold the future of 61,000 students a year; Impact Hub, which encompasses 13,000 square feet of entrepreneurial coworking space; or Little World Chinese Restaurant, where I have never been judged when ordering a large house special chow mein (for one) on an idle Thursday at 9:45 p.m.
From its deep-running history to its ingrained seediness, Salt Lake City's essence calls State Street home. A few years shy of turning 100, State Brass Foundry is a relic of American industrialization. Check out the family-run business' story here. Have you ever noticed that one building with a sign outside reading "Christian School"? Get hip to the journey of its other-worldly tenant. Speaking of signs, we also pay homage to great displays old and new in this special issue.
Summer heat have you down? Break out the galoshes and relive the great flood of '83 here. While you're at it, give a standing O to the folks behind South Salt Lake's Children's Theatre, and hear the stories of some State Street characters straight from the horse's mouth.
You'll also find a timeline highlighting Great Moments in State Street History—from JFK to KFC. Speaking of which, if all that reading has made you hungry, and you want to travel around the world in 80 plates, State Street has you covered (and so does our food reviewer). Read his picks of under-the-radar bests.
And what about local car culture? From being the current home of endless dealerships, auto body shops and garages to cruising and drag racing, many think State is synonymous with the rev of a 1969 Camaro. Chances are, depending on your age, that a muscle car is the first image that comes to mind when hearing the name of the defiant stretch. Many fights, lifelong friendships and, in the case of Bountiful mechanic Lee Whittaker, marriages were started there.
Keep your flashiness, U.S. Route 20. We have heartfelt bragging rights all our own.
The rise and fall of State Street's cruising culture.
By Alex Springer
It's a Saturday night in the summer of 1975. The sun has set behind the mountains, streaking the sky with lazy strokes of orange and purple. The sound of rumbling engines mingles with laughing teenagers as music from the Bee Gees and the Eagles blares from the speakers of every hi-fi system within earshot. Clusters of jocks, greasers and hippies strike a cautious neutrality as they gather at the local Wienerschnitzel for chili dogs before setting out for an evening of drag racing, dodging cops or perhaps meeting the love of their life.
This last sentiment rang true for Lee Whittaker, a mechanic from Bountiful, who met his wife of 40 years while cruising Salt Lake City's central vein in the '70s.
"I was cruising State, and I saw this girl that I knew in her car, so I started hanging out the window and waving at them." Whittaker recalls. "There was this cute girl that I had never seen in the passenger seat, and I just had to get to know her. "They drove around with each other that night, eventually learning that they both went to Viewmont High School. "She recognized me and my loud '55 Chevy Bel Air," he says. "We went together through high school and got married in '79. She's still my best friend—two people couldn't get along better."
I'd wager that a good chunk of readers grew up in a world without high-speed internet connection and endless social media outlets, and they'd be able to tell you what cruising was. Hell, I dabbled in it myself as a bored teenager in the late '90s. For those of you who are more adept at socializing online, there was a time, before Facebook—before MySpace even—when young people who wanted to meet other contemporaries had to drive around downtown and socialize.
"Your car was your social network," Whittaker says. "Kids struggled to get a car because that's how you met people." Back then, if you didn't have a car, or at least a friend with a car, you were considered a social pariah (and probably one of the people that was using their IBMs to lay the groundwork for the online sprawl of social media that we now enjoy).
Regardless of whether you remember cruising State Street, the fact of the matter is that it's not really a thing anymore. On a given weekend, State Street looks less like American Graffiti and more like ... well, regular graffiti. Based on the souped-up engines that I hear screaming past my place on Foothill Drive on most weekends, and a few articles that I dug up about local car accidents, I can surmise that Salt Lake City still has a street-racing scene—"It's moved onto the freeway, but there are some racing groups that still set things up," Whittaker says. But cruising down State doesn't seem to contain the cultural gravitas it once did.
Some blame this on the anti-cruising ordinances the Salt Lake City Council created in the late '90s. Essentially, these laws made it illegal for the same car to pass between a traffic control checkpoint more than twice between the hours of 11 p.m.-4 a.m. Utah wasn't the only state that had implemented this kind of ordinance—it became a nationwide legal trend throughout the 1990s and most cities passed these laws in an effort to combat gang activity, which was the city's rationale. According to Salt Lake City Code, there were two cruising-related homicides and nearly 1,000 assaults in the downtown area from 1997-1998.
In an April 2004 article for Car and Driver titled "The End of Cruising," author Steve Gofman' calls out a University of Utah professor named Ken Larsen who actively protested the passage of these laws in the year 2000. Larsen affixed signs decrying police brutality to his '79 Ford Thunderbird and drove back and forth through State's traffic-control point, eventually leading to a ticket from the police. He fought the ticket in court, using the legal battle as a platform to publicly ridicule the local law.
Larsen's suit, it turns out, made it all the way to the Utah Supreme Court, but that's where his fight ended. Sixteen years later, we still have pockets of community members who'd like to recapture the cruising culture's glory days. Christine Suriano started a Facebook page as a way to generate support for repealing the anti-cruising laws. "I feel like the fun we had on State Street was innocent fun," Suriano says. "It wasn't like today where there's so much hiding behind a computer."
While there's no doubt that anti-cruising laws impacted the culture as a whole, the fact that they coincided with the rise of the personal computer and widespread internet access makes it hard to pin all of the blame on lawmakers. Cruising culture was definitely a youth culture, but it was a car culture as well. A car was essentially a pipeline to the downtown social scene, so teenagers built a scene around maintaining and driving their automobiles. Since teens today don't have to rely on a car as a means of interaction, taking care of cars has become more of a niche hobby among today's youth.
"I know a lot of kids that don't even want their driver's licenses," Whittaker says. "They don't have that passion anymore because they can meet and socialize online."
Anti-cruising laws are still on the books, and since their creation, legislators have added a provision that allows police to set up traffic control points wherever they deem necessary, which begs one simple question: When was the last time this was necessary?
According to Detective Cody Lougy of the Salt Lake Police Department, there aren't a lot of cruisers around anymore. Lougy, who was a downtown police officer when anti-cruising regulations took effect, says that culture has died with the advent of social media.
"We haven't really seen much cruising in the past decade," Lougy says. "Kids used to cruise to socialize, but now it's all done online."
For city councilman Derek Kitchen who was elected in 2015, cruising isn't even a blip on his radar, but he says he's keeping an open mind about it. "I haven't heard complaints either way about the ordinance," he says. "I am willing to listen to anyone who thinks it should change."
Whether ordinances change or not, cruising State Street might have to simply be relegated to the cultural time capsule that is the final resting place for hair grease, poodle skirts and cheap gas. Either way, State Street has certainly seen some action. "You never knew what you were getting into—that's what was fun about it," Whittaker reminisces. "What you saw was what you got."
A River Runs Through it
The State Street flood of '83 was the talk of the town.
By Lance S. Gudmundsen
Every Salt Laker over a certain age, it seems, has memories of the floods of 1983, which for 13 days transformed State Street into a little slice of Venice—minus the gondolas.
Hector Ahumada doesn't recall precisely how he heard about "the river." It might have been from neighbors in his apartment building on 200 South or maybe the television news. "And I thought, 'Holy shit!'"
So on the Memorial Day weekend of 1983, the 35-year-old Chile native found himself part of a human chain, passing sandbags as thousands of volunteers stood shoulder-to-shoulder trying to contain a swift-moving torrent along State Street.
After seeing "a couple of guys with fishing poles," Ahumada decided to try his luck. "I ran back to the apartment, grabbed my gear and got some night-crawlers from the refrigerator." After 15 minutes, he gave up. "The water was running too fast."
The "fish story" isn't apocryphal. A Salt Lake Tribune lensman, in fact, captured an iconic picture of a beaming "unidentified businessman" displaying a trout he'd grabbed from the churning brown waters.
State Street became a river after mud, boulders and debris clogged an underground conduit carrying City Creek. Upstream in Memory Grove, it leapt its banks. At first, the waters sloshed at the LDS Church Office Building and walls around Temple Square, moving onto the then-Hotel Utah and some downtown businesses.
City emergency-management officials decided to divert the stream down State toward 1300 South, which already had been sandbagged to direct the record runoff from three canyon streams toward the Jordan River—which itself was brimming.
The muddy State Street torrent mostly was contained at 800 South where it emptied into storm drains. Later, volunteers and city crews linked the canal into the one at 1300 South. The old Derks Field baseball stadium, now Smith's Ballpark, became a giant retention basin.
Costing $30,000 each, two wooden pedestrian walkways sprung up overnight to bridge the 30-foot-wide river—half the actual width of State and 2 feet deep at places—at 100 and 300 South. Later, earthen viaducts were built at 500 and 600 South to connect with freeways.
Sunday morning, at the height of the crisis, Mayor Ted L. Wilson placed a call to Mormon Church headquarters, explaining the need for additional manpower.
Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the LDS First Presidency, initially was hesitant to turn worshipers' focus from scripture to sandbags.
Wilson reminded him "the water will come down City Creek, and your basement computers [in the Church Office Building] will be the first targets."
"Now I'm interested," the churchman responded, later telling the mayor, "Well, the ox is in the mire," a Mormon euphemism for breaking the sabbath.
So for the first time in memory, Sunday services were canceled, chapels emptied and an estimated 10,000 Mormons and non-Mormons alike galvanized to save the downtown area. Wilson also "called the Cathedral [of the Madeleine] and every other church in the phone book."
Recalls the former mayor: "It was like building a pyramid in one day."
City front loaders and dump trucks brought in tons of sand. In all, thousands of volunteers filled 860,000 sandbags—some estimates ran as high as a million—along the 13-block-long stretch of State. As an artificial stream bed, crews laid countless rolls of rubberized membrane to channel the flow. It all was damp, dirty and exhausting work.
In the days that followed, however, State Street took on the flavor of a festival. Shoppers became sightseers. A couple of enterprising restaurants moved tables onto the sidewalk with signs like, "You hook 'em, we cook 'em." Denizens of smoke-filled barrooms, restricted by Utah liquor laws, stayed indoors and swapped stories over 3.2 draft beer and mini-bottles.
The river became less of a nuisance and more of a novelty. Cameras (these were the days before smartphones, remember) were de rigueur accessories. Photographers captured a helmeted 18-year-old high-school student paddling his kayak upstream near the "Alta Club Rapids." Other watercraft—including inner tubes, makeshift rafts and an occasional skiff—were spotted on the new waterway.
All that water, of course, had to end up some place: the Great Salt Lake. Already cresting to historically high levels, the inland sea continued to rise.
Four years later, during the administration of Gov. Norman H. Bangerter, the state installed three massive pumps—costing $60 million—to propel water into the West Desert, where it evaporated. They haven't been used since. Derided by critics as "Bangerter's Folly," the pumps still are maintained.
The 1983 flood scenario began the previous year as record rainfall saturated soil throughout northern Utah. Reservoir levels swelled. Winter again brought record-shattering snowfall. Parley's Summit, for example, recorded 700 inches. Most of May was colder than normal, impeding snowmelt, but Memorial Day weekend temperatures climbed into high 80s, triggering the deluge.
Before the State Street flood, a gargantuan mudslide had blocked the Spanish Fork River in Utah County, inundating the town of Thistle and causing $200 million damage. And to the north, slides caused widespread damage in Davis and Weber counties.
After declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Scott M. Matheson was widely quoted as quipping: "It's a hell of a way to run a desert." The Reagan White House also inked an emergency declaration.
Of course, there's the question: Could history repeat itself if the Wasatch Front were to face another maelstrom?
Laura Briefer, director of Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, says: "The city learned from the '83 experience and put new capacity into the system." She adds, "We had very similar weather conditions in 2010-201l" and drainage infrastructure performed as designed.
On a scale of 1-10, "If we have similar conditions to '83, we're a 10 in terms of preparedness."
Tucked away on State, foundry holds key to city history.
Story and photos by Colby Frazier
Some children have vivid first memories of playing with a favorite toy, being strapped into a hated car seat or learning to ride a bike. For Don Archer, life's inaugural slice of existence has its roots at 1400 S. State inside the brass foundry that his great-grandfather built there in 1922.
The State Brass Foundry & Machine takes its name from the street it sits on, and in this era of oppressive technology, the gray masonry building that has housed the foundry for 94 years still stands.
Inside, bearded men in denim overalls pour molten metal into casts large and small to keep society's industrial machines running smoothly. Chains and pulleys hang from the ceiling, shiny brass ovals are carved to precision inside computerized cutting machines, a conduction furnace melts metal and new casts are formed from wood cutouts and silica sand.
Though some jobs are repetitive, Don Archer, the fourth-generation of Archer men to work at the foundry, says part of the job's charm is solving problems and often getting to do something different.
"It's unique," Archer says, noting that the position of "foundryman" is becoming an increasingly rarefied title. "I like to say that it's different every day. There's always something coming in the door that's new, that's a challenge that you have to figure out to make it new for the customer."
His father, Kim Archer, whose first name derives from his great-grandfather and early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints apostle Heber C. Kimball, began working at the foundry in 1972.
One of the first accounts that Kim Archer secured, he remembers, was manufacturing brass bearings for FMC Jetway, now JBT Corp., in Ogden. Shining brass gears made on State Street are the guts of thousands of jetways around the world, Kim Archer says.
While State Brass Foundry performs jobs small and large, Kim Archer says some of his largest customers run fish farms around the world. On the morning of Aug. 9, the foundry crew had just poured nearly 1,000 pounds of molten metal into a cast that would become a roughly 6-foot-tall pump housing for an aquaculture company.
These pumps, he says, are designed to carry live fish and water from one area to another while feeding them through the pump head first. If they go in backward, their gills are damaged and they die.
Archer says he ships three to four of the pump housings each week to places as far flung as Norway and Sweden.
While little has changed at the foundry over the decades, the area surrounding the business has changed, and in Archer's opinion, it hasn't been for the better.
On the same Tuesday morning that his 18 employees were busy making the new pump housing, Archer says that when he showed up for work at 5 a.m., he caught sight of a prostitute performing oral sex on a customer in the parking lot of the Wasatch Inn.
Each morning, foundry employees find the parking lot littered with hypodermic needles. A full beer can flew through a foundry window a couple of days before this story was published, and break-ins, Archer says, especially when the price of copper, brass and aluminum are high, are frequent.
Don Archer, who started working at the foundry full-time at the age of 18, says he was exposed to the wonders and the sins of the world on State Street. "If you can imagine somebody doing something, I've seen it done out here," he says. "You see things that you shouldn't see and it's getting worse around our neighborhood."
But crime and prostitution are only part of the issues with the street that his business calls home. As Salt Lake City has morphed, and heavy manufacturing jobs have fled to the city's outskirts, State Brass Foundry has remained, the smoke rising from its vent stacks and the pile of spent silica sand out front, standing out amid the convenience stores, fast food joints and hotels.
The business' uniqueness, Kim Archer says, has attracted the ire of city officials who are concerned about air pollution and wastewater quality.
But while Archer does what he needs to do to keep his business alive in Salt Lake City, he says he would like to see something done about the cottage industries of drugs and prostitution that thrive at nearby motels.
The nature of his business, and the combination of the perception that the city isn't doing enough to crack down on crime in the area, he says, has resulted in a mutual dislike. He says the city hates him "probably because I put out a little smoke and I am what I am downtown," while "I hate the city because [it] isn't doing anything with the problems we've got here on State Street."
And while heavy manufacturing jobs sometimes appear to be a fading relic of American industrialism, the State Brass Foundry is thriving. Short on space and needing to expand, Archer says he has purchased a pair of buildings on 2.5 acres at the old Tooele Army Depot. There, he says, they can expand the business.
Eventually, Archer says he hopes to move the bulk of his foundry operations to Tooele, but current plans have the machine shop remaining on State.
As he walks from room to room in the ancient building, its walls blackened with soot, he points out the old gas-fired furnaces that lie dormant beneath the building, and veteran employees like Steve Kump, who has worked at the foundry for 40 years, and was busy handling a flame-thrower.
While the world outside the foundry walls changes, bits and pieces of that world are fabricated inside. From the beehives that grace the south entrance of the Utah State Capitol, to the Pioneer-era map of Salt Lake City imbedded in the floor of the City Creek Center bridge above Main Street, and to the names on gravestones that fill the state's cemeteries, one is never too far from a brass fixture crafted on State Street.
And a fifth generation of Archers is waiting in the wings. Don Archer says one of his sons wants to be a physician, while the younger of the two enjoys lending a hand at the foundry, where he, like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, will be able to say he's a foundryman.
"It's a unique thing," Don Archer says of being able to tell people, "I pour molten metal for a living. There's not a lot of people who can say they do that."
In a city dominated by religion, Ralph Plescia's State Street studio testifies to a singular passion.
Story and photos by Stephen Dark
When Ralph Plescia (pronounced Plee-sha) graduated from West High School 60 years ago, he went down to his father's store at 1324 S. State to start working there full-time. But while he had assumed he would join his wheelchair-bound, Navy-veteran father working at Western Auto Parts Co., Theodore Plescia had other ideas.
"Go out into the world of hard knocks," he told his son, and learn about life.
Much of the education Plescia received in the intervening six decades has been immortalized behind the brick façade that previously housed his father's auto parts store, next to the gas station, on the southwestern corner of State and 1300 South. The only signs that an extraordinary vision lies behind the wall, are a curb garden protected by concrete crosses and a looming statue of a mother and child, and words painted in red on an adjoining door, "Christian School." The latter resembles more a plague-like warning than the title of a religious institution.
Plescia is a thin, sprightly 78-year-old with a head of vivid, electrified white hair, whose resemblance to a wild prophet in his own wilderness is belied by his quiet, gentlemanly charm and the understated passion he displays for religious self-expression as he shows a visitor around his studio. With cement and rebar, he's fashioned life-size representations of what the former Mormon has discovered through studying different religions and their texts. "Everybody picks and chooses what they want to talk about," he says. "I tell them about what they ignored."
There's no doorbell, and it can be haphazard trying to find him. Knock loudly midday on Fridays or Sundays and chances are he'll hear you and open the door.
Plescia inherited the store after the tragic death of his father and 8-year-old daughter Maria in a car accident in Nevada in 1970. That said, even though he pays for its upkeep, he says he doesn't own the building technically; it's held in a trust and will go to Shriners Hospitals upon his death.
Plescia's held many jobs over his lifetime, from working as an apprentice embalmer at a mortuary in his early 20s, to singing in bands and repairing musical instruments. He's worked on-and-off for Summerhays Music Center's Briant Summerhays repairing instruments for close to 30 years. Summerhays describes Plescia as a "highly, highly creative guy." Plescia, it turns out, invented a bridge for violins that the late Utah Symphony music director Joseph Silverstein lauded to the Deseret News as actually improving the sound violins make, but given the value of his instrument, chose not to adapt it.
Plescia also rescued a number of damaged cellos after a fire savaged the former Summerhays' store on Main Street. He plucks out several notes from half a cello he salvaged, using his ingenuity to fashion an internal bridge that would replicate the missing half of the instrument. "If it survived as far as it did, I should put it back together to make it play," he says. "Just because it ought to be done."
Homespun Plescia has always made do with little. "In my life I have had no money, so I have to fix things." In 1976 he repaired the weather-beaten stone lions in front of the Utah Capitol built by Gavin Jacks in 1914. Amusement park Lagoon subsequently took two of them for its fairground. In one of the lions, Plescia placed a heart stitched together by his daughter Tammy, who died of a brain aneurism in 2009.
What dominates Plescia's studio, though, is his unique religious vision, fashioned from all he learned responding to a challenge by an Episcopal minister in 1983 to come up with his own theory of creation. In Revelation 12, Plescia says, he discovered references to a woman who he believes is the heavenly mother. She's part of the curb garden, "clothed in her radiance," he says, with baby Jesus in her arms. "Sometimes you get to thinking it ought to be done and then you do it," he says.
Ask Briant Summerhays for his thoughts on Plescia's striking religious statues and he references Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel for context. "I don't think Ralph has his artistic talent," he says, "but you might say he has some of his creative yearnings."
Compared to the rush of traffic on the street, inside the studio there's a slight chill in the air, and a dusty silence. The first spectacle that greets you is the Garden of Eden, Eve climbing on the serpent's back and reaching for forbidden fruit. Plescia then leads you upstairs to a second floor where he has fashioned a ceiling mural in the form of a cross on which are painted the faces of his loved ones who have preceded him to whatever awaits after death. "There is an afterlife, and we are going to it," he says. These celestial renderings boast eyes fiery-bright and wild white locks, keeping him company from heaven as he works on 10-foot high banners bearing Christ's anguished face beneath a crown of thorns. Plescia carries the banners each Holy Friday in the Community Ecumenical walk through the city, marking the stations of the cross.
Plescia is largely self-taught as an artist. "After seventh grade, I never had an art teacher who taught me anything," he says. His philosophy is if you ask questions, people will point you in the right direction. So he studied art books at libraries and watched artists at work, like a magpie, forever picking up ideas.
Plescia then goes down into the bowels of the building, past dragon-like serpents, a 1931 Cadillac he bought when he was just 19, and then on down some steps to hell, where several figures reach yearningly up to be saved from a water-logged pit. At times, as you squeeze through labyrinth-like tunnels, it's more akin to a Middle Eastern archaelogical dig than the basement of a forgotten building.
Out in the back garden, the smell of jam-sweet blackberries wafts up from years of sun-dried fruit underfoot. A tombstone dedicated simply to "Curtis" stands at the back of the garden. Plescia says it memorializes the son of a former owner of the neighboring gas station. "Curtis" was shot five times in the head and after surviving for years, finally died.
He's planted moonflowers beyond his fence in the back alley, which, he says, only bloom at night. "Something is going to grow," he says, meaning weeds. "So you plant something so that doesn't."
He'd like someone to take over the studio after him. His agenda, he says, is simple and, in a sense, seems almost a response to the fate of State Street itself, long forgotten in the rush to I-15 and the suburbs.
"Teach what's ignored," he says. "Through art."
Everywhere a Sign
Just like the age of a tree can be traced by its growth rings, so can the history of a stretch of land like this one via its signs—current or abandoned, vibrant or ghostly, wooden or equipped with that nifty invention by French engineer Georges Claude, neon. War-torn or shiny and new, signs abound—from Eagle Gate near the Capitol to Draper's glorious In-N-Out yellow arrow (hey, you can take the boy outta California ... )—each telling a story, holding special memories; a first date perhaps, and bearing silent witness to Salt Lake City's expansion, as well as lending a pop of color to its personality. Quick, can you guess where all of these are located?
State and the Arts
Children's Theatre proudly keeps up the main drag's performance tradition.
By Scott Renshaw
James Parker, executive director of Utah Children's Theatre, sits on a barstool inside an old-fashioned soda fountain adjacent to the theater space. Through the full-length windows, traffic rolls by, past the South Salt Lake location that once housed Avalon Theater. It might not seem like the most obvious place for a children's theater, but Parker has a different, more expansive vision of what his organization can be. "Children's theater, you usually think of a park setting," he says. "If you go to other cities—Seattle, Minneapolis—theirs tend to be in more rural areas. And I thought about that: 'Wouldn't it be great to be in a more rural area, and not on a busy street with the motorcycles going by?'"
The lure of State Street, however, kicked in. "I think there's something special with getting the visibility. And people tend to kind of think of theater as an urban event," Parker says. "I'm sure we've had some parents or people who haven't come to our theater think, 'Oh, South Salt Lake. Where is this?' But usually, as soon as they walked in the doors of the theater, they were like, 'Oh, I get it. This is special. This is important. We want to be here.'"
And it is a beautiful space, fully renovated with an art-deco feel between 2011-2012 when UCT relocated here. But just as much as he's clearly proud of the new look, including that soda-fountain-as-concession stand, Parker also loves sharing the quirky bits of history associated with the building as he walks me through it: a ground-floor barber shop that for years occupied the room UCT now rents out as a party venue; the upstairs space, now used for classes, that was once a private apartment next to the theater's projection booth, with a window that would allow occupants to watch the movies shown when it was still an operating cinema.
State Street has always been home to theater houses—from the Murray Theater (now used only as a rehearsal space for city-sponsored arts events) to the still-vibrant home of Desert Star Theatre in Murray. That's a tradition Parker seems proud to be part of, as he has moved the operation from previous temporary locations at 638 S. State (now the State Room music venue) and 237 S. State (currently undergoing redevelopment). "I think people will identify us with State Street," Parker says. "And if you look at, as far as arts and entertainment, State Street, Main Street, West Temple, that's where all the theaters were. ... We can say, 'Hey, it didn't go away completely. We're still here.' That thing that was developed a long time ago—the dance halls and movie theaters—it still exists in some form."
The history of local Children's Theatre itself dates back to the early 1980s, when Parker's parents, Tom and Joanne, moved the family to Utah from the Seattle suburbs. Tom became general manager of Salt Lake City's LDS Church-run Promised Valley Playhouse (which itself was previously the home of the Lyric Theater). After just three years, the church closed the theater—and rather than move the family back to Washington, the Parkers decided to launch their own company, which became Salt Lake Repertory Theatre (better known as City Rep). After several years of mounting productions in various venues as an itinerant company, City Rep took over the Utah Theatre on Main Street, where they were the last permanent tenants from 1988-1991. Children's theater productions began in the upstairs space, and continued as the organization moved again to the other State Street locations.
James Parker relocated back to Seattle with his wife and family in 2001, but returned in 2007 when Tom became too ill to continue running the theater. He officially organized Utah Children's Theatre as a nonprofit rather than shut it down. When it came time to decide on a permanent home, he pulled the trigger on taking over the old Avalon.
But what seems like a perfect space now was far from an obvious choice at the time. "When I moved here," Parker recalls, "of all of the sites we were looking at ... I had this building at the bottom of the stack, basically. I said, 'I'll never be able to get parents to bring kids out to South Salt Lake. There's too much of a stigma.' Then we saw [the theater] and felt that everything was right."
Whatever aprehention might have existed, Parker praises the city of South Salt Lake for its efforts at making a great home for the theater. He has also been pleasantly surprised to find that any anticipated concerns about the space haven't really come to pass. "When we were in construction, we did get tagged in a couple of spots, back in the alley," he says. "But really and truly, I wonder if people holding the spray can think, 'Hey, it's the Children's Theatre, I can't do it. I'll pick another wall.'"
He continues, "This might be a little cheesy, but the magic of State Street is, it really sort of deflates that possibility of danger."
The theater now has a chock-full schedule, offering both fixed-term summer camps and after-school programs, and providing family-friendly productions like this year's Shakespeare Festival, employing abbreviated versions that Parker jokingly describes as "for kids, or adults, with short attention spans." He's careful on multiple occasions to emphasize that "children's theater" doesn't mean productions performed by children—although some of his students do take age-appropriate roles in their productions—but high-quality theater that is appropriate for children. As with any arts organization, it's not always easy to keep things rolling. "You think, 'Utah, Mormons, big families—children's theater is a slam-dunk,'" Parker says. "But it's not. It's a strange, strange thing. You'd think it would be a breeze, but it's not."
In the meantime, Parker keeps Utah Children's Theatre rolling, continuing a history that's both personal as a family business, and part of the larger history of State Street as a home for theater. "The nice thing about us partnering up with this building on State Street—and South Salt Lake, to a certain degree—is that we've preserved something that really never looked great, and turned it into something that looks like it's always been here," he says. "And that's special."
State And Market
State Street is delicious, from downtown to Murray.
By Ted Scheffler
Let's not mince words: Much of the Salt Lake Valley's storied State Street has little or no eye appeal. The Champs-Élysées it is not. But, if you love to cook and eat, it's a treasure trove of specialty food markets, from closet-size ones to those you could park a Boeing 747 inside of. It would take most of these pages to list all of them, but here are a few—from north to south—of the marvelous markets on State that help keep my pantry full and exotic.
Ocean City Seafood Market (872 S. State, 801-953-1916, FreshSeafoodMarketinSaltLakeUT.com) This aptly named market boasts a huge seafood selection, including fresh-caught Alaskan salmon and sushi-grade tuna, clams, oysters, several types of shrimp, crab legs and scallops. If it swims, they probably have it. But this is much more than just a seafood market. It also stocks Asian spices, sauces, groceries and such, including fresh veggies (like seasonal mushrooms), Chinese noodles and even Vegemite from Australia.
Mahider Ethiopian Restaurant & Market (1465 S. State, Ste. 7, 801-975-1111, MahiderEthiopian.com) When dining here, you'll be treated to delicious East African foods including sambusa—a very popular Somali appetizer of lightly crusted pastry dough stuffed with meats, veggies, potatoes or lentils—along with, injera, the spongy type of bread used as an edible tool to scoop foods. It anchors virtually every Ethiopian meal. If you'd care to take a crack at making sambusa and injera at home, Mahider includes a small market selling African ingredients such as teff flour for doing just that. With help from the International Rescue Committee and Salt Lake County via the Spice Kitchen Incubator, Burmese-born (now Myanmar) Haymar Janumonya and her husband were able to open Sonjhae (named after their young daughter). Here, you'll find an array of items—ranging from smokes and Bud Light to hard-to-find foods and ingredients from Myanmar and Thailand—not to mention Asian cookware and clothing. Be sure to try the amazing Thai tea drinks.
Qaderi Sweetz 'n' Spicez (1785 S. State, 801-484-0265, QaderiSweetzandSpicez.com) As someone who loves to cook Indian food, I'd be lost without Qaderi. This sprawling market stocks a gazillion different Pakistani and Indian food items, along with all-natural Ayurvedic powders, pills, oils and ointments, and a big selection of halal meats. If you'd rather leave the cooking to them, they also offer fresh curries, biryani, kabobs, puri, chaat and more, to eat-in or take-out.
Powerful African Market (2561 S. State, 801-972-2266, PowerfulAfricanMarket.com) The folks here are super friendly and helpful, so don't be intimidated if you're not too familiar with African foodstuffs. To be accurate, this market stocks much more than just items from Africa, although there are plenty. Anyone looking for ingredients for Caribbean dishes, for example, would be smart to shop here. I know my life wouldn't be complete without Matouk's Calypso Sauce. You'll find everything from clothing and school supplies to hair extensions.
La Pequeñita (2740 S. State, 801-484-2980, LaPequenitaMarket.com) After living in Brazil for some time, I'm grateful to have this local store—an international market that specializes in products from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. I tend to veer to the imported Brazilian items, such as farofa, guaraná, dende oil and suco de caju, but I can never pass up the Peruvian peppers or Inka Kolas, either. I have found that the yerba mate sets they sell make for an excellent and unexpected gift item.
Tejeda's Market (2963 S. State, 801-485-0667) Fabian Tejeda's Mexican market offers fresh produce and spices for making moles, birria de res, sopas and just about any other south-of-the-border dish you'd like to try. But the main reason to visit is the meat selection. Low prices and friendly service make this place hard to beat, whether you're in the market for thin-sliced beef or an entire rib-eye roast.
Chinatown Supermarket (3390 S. State, Ste. 11, 801-906-8788, ChinatownSupermarkets.com) When you visit, be sure you've left a big hole in your schedule. I find myself so dazzled by the array of items here that hours can pass before I'm finished shopping. You'll find an amazing selection of fresh and frozen seafood, pork belly, mooncakes, an enormous noodle selection (fresh and dried), cooked whole ducks and virtually every spice or ingredient you could ever need to make your own Asian meal. There are more types of clams sold at Chinatown Supermarket than I even knew existed, and it's one of the few local places I know where you can get live crabs, lobsters and head-on shrimp.
Mediterranean Market & Deli (3942 S. State, 801-266-2011, MedMarketSLC.com) You can eat-in at this impressive food emporium, but it's also a great place to load up on items for a late summer outing. Delicious deli selections like feta cheese, fresh imported olives, cured meats, made-to-order salads and some of the best paninis around will make you the star of your next outdoor concert or picnic. Be sure to grab some waffle cookies on your way out.
Sprouts Farmers Market (6284 S. State, Murray, 801-266-3566, Sprouts.com) It's easy to eat well with the wholesome assortment of foods available at Sprouts. Natural grass-fed beef, organic free-range chicken and farm-fresh pork are just a few of the quality items available from the Old Tyme Butcher Shop, and fresh fish is delivered six days a week, featuring wild-caught and farm-raised specialties. Personally, my favorite part of the store is the bulk food section, which includes a dizzying assortment, including more than a dozen types of rice, and more nuts than you'd find at a Trump rally.