Utah Legacy

This article appeared recently in Utah Style & Design Magazine. An instructor of mine in Salt Lake City worked on this project. It was so fun to get updates during the design and implementation process, and what a stunning result!

It took vision, collaboration and a healthy respect for tradition to realize one of Salt Lake City’s most ambitious building restorations. Constructed in 1905 as the city’s first public library, then serving as home to the Hansen Planetarium from 1968 to 2003, this distinctive Beaux Arts-style edifice on State Street now houses the retail headquarters for one of Utah’s most well known family businesses, the O.C. Tanner Company. “Dad was a lifelong lover of beauty, and creating ‘the most beautiful jewelry store in the country’ was one of his more audacious dreams. The renewal of this building more than fulfills that dream, and it builds on the legacy of its own history in the civic life of Salt Lake,” says Carolyn Tanner Irish, daughter of O.C. Tanner Company founder Obert C. Tanner and now chair of the company board of directors.

Big-D Construction began the delicate process of restoring the building in November 2007. Demolition crews, led by Big-D Senior Project Manager Brian Frasier, removed an east side addition and then made their way methodically through the entire structure—carefully extracting windows, doors, staircases, even hardware—until only the original three exterior walls and ceiling remained. “Discovery is a big part of a building restoration, no two of which are the same,” Frasier says. The demolition phase was made particularly challenging because the scope of the project was not clearly defined until it was virtually complete. “We were hired at almost the same time as the architects, meaning building plans were communicated to us in stages. I’m not sure even the owners knew exactly what the building would look like until it was finished,” Frasier says.

The fluidity of the design process, as well as the delicate nature of such an extensive historic renovation, contributed to the project’s almost two-year timeline. Once gutted, columns were cut along each of the remaining walls and filled with rebar and shotcrete for seismic stability. New concrete footings were poured to further fortify the structure. And whether to preserve the building’s original three floors was a time-consuming and critical decision made in the midst of the demolition phase. “For a hundred-year-old building, it was in pretty good shape, but, as with any old building, there were creaks and slight movement in the floors,” Frasier says. After a series of sometimes heated discussions, the team decided to remove and replace the original floors because their slightly spongy character was incongruent with the building’s new distinctly modern interior design scheme. “About five months passed before we could start putting the building back together,” Frasier says. “Even then, demolition continued and overlapped the construction process.”

The new rear facade contains graphics referencing the building’s & OC Tanner’s past.

Kathryn Anderson, project architect with Salt Lake City’s MJSA Architects, was chosen to lead the building’s redesign effort. “The vision for what O.C. Tanner wanted the building to look like was very straightforward and simple. We were asked to create the most beautiful jewelry store in America, which for us was easy to grasp and focus on,” Anderson says.

With the east wall removed, this side of the building became the focus of the exterior design. “I knew that I wanted a more modern look rather than a poor representation of the past. At the same time, I knew it had to be as timeless as the rest of the exterior,” Anderson says. The result is a photographic mural featuring images of O.C. Tanner Company founder Obert C. Tanner, the M101 galaxy and a photograph of the building’s interior soon after it opened as the Packard Library in 1905.

The mural’s modern lines set the tone for the building’s stunning interior. Anderson chose a limestone, glass and stainless steel floating staircase and a one-of-a-kind hanging light sculpture to draw customers up through the store’s three floors. Sleek white walls establish a foil for the painstakingly restored and ornate windows, doors, west side staircases, and the original ceiling. The white walls and minimal design scheme also highlight the obvious star of the show, O.C. Tanner jewelry. “In the final analysis, the primary purpose of this building is to sell jewelry,” says Curtis Bennett, vice president of retail operations. “That intent is what ultimately brought us back to center.”

Since its grand opening, the store has enhanced the city’s evolving downtown district as both a retail icon and visitor destination. “The building began as a public space. We want the public to feel welcome here now and well into the future,” Bennett says.

The grand central staircase

Looking up to the second and third floors

Looking down at the main floor

The third floor

The restored front of the building

Utah Style and Design – Melissa Fields

Photos from Utah Style and Design and MJSA Architects

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One thought on “Utah Legacy

  1. stacey says:

    Yes! I saw this on tv! They recently won an award for having the best jewelry showroom in the world! Ha! suck on that Tiffany’s! jk.

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