Remarks by Don Hartley, State History historical preservation architect, in the Grand Lobby of the Rio Grande Depot on September 9, 2010, at the Annual Utah State History Conference.
As an architect concerned with historic preservation, I think we have a pretty good track record in Utah of hanging onto significant historic buildings.
Statewide, from the Cache County Courthouse in Logan to the Washington County Courthouse in St. George, from Statehouses to Stakehouses, Utah communities have done a pretty good job of maintaining, preserving, and using their culturally important historic buildings.
But even with this good track record, it’s no small feat nowadays for a building to remain in service for 100 years, as the Rio Grande Depot has.
We’ve all seen the trend for major public and commercial facilities to be demolished after a relatively short service life.
The Salt Palace (home of the ABA national champion Utah Stars) barely made it to 30 years. Likewise, the ZCMI Mall, so revolutionary in its day, and its companion, the Crossroads Plaza, only lasted 32 and 28 years, respectively.
Now, I don’t know if this is an indictment of our inability to properly plan for the future, or if our architectural and consuming tastes are on ever-more-rapidly rotating fashion cycles. Or maybe the decision-making is driven purely by economic aspects.
But whatever the cause, it boggles my mind to think of the amount of energy and non-renewable natural resources it took to:
When I contemplate our courthouses and major hotels constructed with fiberglass wall panels and trim, and finished with drywall and plastic windows, and roof materials that will only be guaranteed by their manufacturer to last 10-20 years, I have difficulty imagining these new facilities serving for a century.
The Division of State History is privileged to call the Denver and Rio Grande Depot home. This building represents what’s right with preserving our history. It allows us to lead by example when assisting individuals, communities and other agencies with their efforts to manage historic resources.
It stands as an elegant reminder of the significant role transportation played in making Utah the crossroads of the west. To many who were either coming or going through this depot, it served as the gateway to profound, life-changing experiences.
By looking backwards and preserving this history, we are looking forward to a sustainable future: we are able to capture and retain all of the energy that’s been used to construct and maintain this building.
Consider the fact that we are protected today from the elements by the original clay roof tiles. We’re sitting on the original terrazzo floor tiles. The original woodwork and marble and plaster ornamentation has survived with only minor wear and still has the power to awe and delight us.
No wonder this depot makes a compelling argument for retaining and celebrating the best from the past and doing things with care and skill the first time.
So--2010 marks the first 100 years of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Depot, with many more years to come.