This past week I had a most unusual experience. I was invited to a luncheon at the Alta Club in downtown Salt Lake City, located as it is, smack dab on the corner of State Street and South Temple where the founding non-LDS members inside could keep an eye on the comings and goings of their LDS neighbors outside. Not long after the Alta Club opened, attitudes changed and the club began accepting LDS members. That was way back in the 1880s. Not much would change at the Alta Club for the next 100 years.
That century was marked with the clear notion that the Alta Club was the seat of power, influence and wealth in Salt Lake City, and its all-male membership comprised this area's biggest movers and shakers. Whoever they were, I never heard of them. As far as I knew while growing up, Salt Lake City's real movers and shakers held court at Ferraco's, the Iron Horse, the Black Bull and the Watergate. They took their daytime moving-and-shaking breaks at the Joker Lounge, Jerry's Brown Bag or the Astronaut Lounge. Whoever they were at the Alta Club, I believed, they sure weren't doing The Hustle.
In the late 1970s, one of Salt Lake City's best-ever clubs opened—the Wasatch Front. It was located across the street from the Alta Club in a red brick building that formerly housed the Elks Lodge. Soon it opened, I was hired as a bartender there. "The Front," as it was known, held claim to being the first private club in the Salt Lake Valley—if not the first one in Utah—to have an outdoor patio in full public view.
Many clubs back then didn't even have windows, let alone outdoor patios. We often wondered why anyone would walk past The Front, forgoing our sunshine, and Carl Rubadue's fabulous zucchini fingers, only to enter the Alta Club, which was mysterious and foreboding by comparison.
Right about that time, I made a friend whose family were Alta Club members. There they would go, she told me: father, mother and daughter, off to dinner—he entering through the front main door while the two women were given entrance through a side door facing State Street. The Alta Club did not allow female members. To this day, that door bears a sign that reads, "Guest Entrance."
It was the most amazing thing—only 30 years ago stood a Salt Lake City establishment that discriminated against women.
Finally, close to 100 years after the Alta Club accepted its first LDS member, it granted membership to its first female members: Deedee Corradini, Genevieve Atwood and Annette Cumming. (I always wrongly thought it was Frances Farley who opened those doors. Oops.) Then, about 15 years after women were first allowed membership, came another historic Alta Club breakthrough: I myself entered the Alta Club, via an invitation from Dominic Welch, then-publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. My first Alta Club meal was a club sandwich with chips. It was garnished with a black olive.
Dominic met with me many times, and he was forever kind, despite my being regarded as a pest and a bastard by a fair share of his Salt Lake Tribune employees—a storied tradition that continues today, and one that cuts both ways. Nevertheless, he gave me friendly advice and encouraging support, considering City Weekly a vital, local voice. He told me that City Weekly, though a thorn in the Tribune's side, made his newspaper better. I was a snowball beside his glacier. He never tried to kill us. Things change.
So it was last week that I sat for lunch at the Alta Club and was treated to a plate of perfectly prepared salmon atop a bed of couscous, an impressive food improvement since my first visit. Hat's off, Alta Club.
Even more impressive was that I was at an Alta Club "Women's Lunch & Learn" session. I was one of but three males there. One of them, Ted McDonough—a great guy and former City Weekly reporter—was a panelist. As I wrote at the outset, it was a very unusual experience.
There I sat, channeling a feeling that those Alta Club women—and generations before them—knew all too well: that of being an out-of-place spectacle. Not a corsage, but a vase. In the club, not of it. It was disconcerting, yet also ironic, since I was among a roomful of influential female movers and shakers, filling the very space that once excluded them. I hope that men are no longer, but men certainly were, pricks.
The speakers were folks from the Utah Newspaper Project presenting insights to its lawsuit filed in hopes of securing a future for The Salt Lake Tribune. The session was titled, "David & Goliath: The Fight to Keep the Salt Lake Tribune Alive."
That was my second ironic moment, hearing the Tribune compared to David (Goliath being the LDS Church). After all, from the day Dominic left and Tribune ownership was nabbed from the McCarthey family, the Tribune became no friend of City Weekly—or any other Salt Lake media. Goliath, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
Yet, I support the persons fighting to keep the Tribune alive and vital despite knowing that position is a fool's folly—for, should the Trib survive, I fairly wonder if those who support two newspaper voices in Salt Lake City will support three. I would have named the Lunch & Learn topic "Godzilla vs. Goliath." We remain David.
It's been subsequently reported that a potential sale of the Tribune to a local buyer—believed to be Jon Huntsman Sr.—fell through this week. Speculation is that others suitors, one local, may step up to the plate. That's another irony, I believe, and one best left for another day.