Imagine yourself in downtown Salt Lake City in the 1950’s. The streets are filled with classic steel and chrome Chevys and Cadillacs, Doo Wop and Elvis rule the radio waves and the economy is booming in the post Depression and World War II era. Fast forward 65 years and take a look at downtown today: fiber optic internet connects us with the world through the click of a button, electric cars charge on the side of the road and the streets are filled with people glued to their smartphones. Our once casual city is now developing at a remarkable pace with skyscrapers, restaurants and art installations occupying the foreground to our beloved mountain backdrop. While downtown has changed significantly since the mid-century, there are still remnants of the fabulous 50’s hidden in plain sight. From buildings to bar carts, downtown’s mid-century scene is as distinct and funky as the 50’s themselves.
Ken Garff Building: (405 S Main Street)
One of the most prominent examples of mid-century architecture in downtown is the Ken Garff Building, or as it was originally known, the First Security Bank Building. The construction of this building marked several important milestones for downtown Salt Lake. First, the design of the building with its large windows, flat planes and terraced roofs was the first building in SLC to veer away from the masonry style that most downtown buildings had featured. It was also downtown’s first pre-fabricated building. The First Security Bank Building was the first major construction project in downtown Salt Lake following the Great Depression, marking the beginning of a postwar economic boom. The building’s location was handpicked by the bank owners George and Mariner Eccles and designed by W.A. Sarmiento, a Peruvian-born architect who built dozens of mid-century banks around the United States. In the early 2000’s, the building underwent a $12 million dollar face lift rather than face the threat of demolition, four times the amount it cost to build it originally. It was at that time the building was renamed The Ken Garff Building, after the local automotive dealership opened its headquarters there. While the building was modernized in the renovation, it retains its core mid-century attributes, its straight lines, marble lobby and focus on open space are a constant reminder of the era from where it came.
Federal Building Fountain: (125 S State Street)
Located in front of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, this unnamed abstract fountain was created in 1965 by Angelo Caravaglia, a former art professor at the University of Utah. The fountain is now more sculpture than fountain as water no longer flows through it. But, it is an excellent example of mid-century art and design.
Mod a-Go-Go: (242 E South Temple)
What started out as an MBA project has transformed into a major player in the mid-century scene downtown over the past two years, thanks to the hard work of Marcus Gibby. When you enter the doors of Mod a-Go-Go, you enter a different era. Not only is the store filled with rare and classic furniture sets, the building itself has a Frank Lloyd Wright feel to it with its floor to ceiling windows and open layout. Apart from being a bona fide furniture store, Mod a-Go-Go also focuses on featuring local artists to accent the surrounding furniture while giving them some well deserved recognition. Gibby attributes the resurgence of interest in mid-century furniture not only to popular culture with shows like Mad Men, but also to the quality of the product. “A lot of new furniture just isn’t made with the care that it used to be”, Gibby says. “Mid-century furniture is practical, well made and streamlined to blend old with new”. Combine quality products, authenticity, some great local art and you’ve got Mod a-Go-Go.
Green Ant: (179 E Broadway)
One of the original mid-century vendors in SLC, The Green Ant offers furniture and art as colorful as its owner Ron Green. Green started selling mid-century in college as a way to make a few extra bucks while pursuing a career in film. Ron told me: “After my film job dried up, I took some time to reevaluate what I truly loved, and that love was mid-century furniture.” Green’s love of mid-century design doesn’t stop at his furniture. With developers lining up to get a piece of downtown’s bustling economic pie, Green is very involved in the conservation and preservation of historic mid-century architecture around the city. Whatever the future holds for downtown’s mid-century scene, The Green Ant will be here to sell timeless furniture.
Tomorrow’s House: (177 E Broadway)
Attached to the Green Ant is Tomorrow’s House, the brainchild of Boise native and industrial designer Michael Templeman. No space is lost in this narrow store, tables, desks and chairs are dexterously stacked to the ceiling from front to back. The ties of Tomorrow’s House and Green Ant run deeper than just being neighbors, Ron Green has been a mentor to Templeman since he was young. “Ron actually sold me my first Eames chair when I was 14”, Michael told me. Templeman, Green and owner of Urban Vintage Josh Whitley, have plans to open a joined space cleverly named “A New Space” just a few doors down from where they currently reside on the corner of Broadway and 2nd East. The new pop-up space will focus on high end mid-century furniture.
Now & Again: (207 E Broadway)
Inspired by the rockabilly scene of the late 1950’s, Michael Sanders, owner of Now & Again, has been in the mid-century game for over 30 years or as he puts it, “before mid-century was called mid-century”. Nestled in on Broadway, Now & Again is one of the anchor mid-century furniture stores on 300 South. Sanders commented on the resurgence and popularity of mid-century furniture stating “what would have consigned for $50 a few years ago is now going for five to six hundred dollars”. The downstairs of Now & Again which used to house Mayberry Vintage Clothing (now next door) was recently transformed into a hot-rod scene of clothing and accessories to perfectly accent the furniture upstairs.