Bringing Trolleys Back | Urban Living

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Bringing Trolleys Back

Posted By on January 9, 2019, 4:00 AM

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This past October, a large crane lowered an original street car (think of the cable cars in San Francisco) back to its home at Trolley Square on 700 East and 500 South. It is so ironic to me that at one time, almost half the population of Salt Lake City rode trolley cars around town on 150 miles of track, and today, the Utah Transit Authority is hustling to fill the Trax trains during rush hours on less than 50 miles of rail. What was in, went out, and now we want it back.

The first trolley company was started by sons of Brigham Young. Their first passenger trolley car was pulled by mules along 300 West and South Temple to 300 South and State. I found a trolley ticket in an old book of Robert Browning poems I bought years ago, and the fare was five cents. Originally, it cost 10 cents to ride, but the brothers found that by lowering the price, they'd get more riders.

The first electric streetcars in Utah began operating in October 1908 and were housed in the beautiful Mission-style buildings at Trolley Square built by a notorious railroad tycoon named Edward H. Harriman. Harriman was infamous for his never-ending efforts to hunt down Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who had robbed his trains many times. He bought the 10-acre block of Trolley Square that had originally been the Territorial fairgrounds and constructed the buildings that eventually held 144 streetcars. There were blacksmiths and carpenters, conductors and electricians working inside the buildings. The old First Security Bank stand-alone structure (now gone, previously located where Whole Foods is now) was used to store sand needed for the rail system.

I was a planning and zoning commissioner for Salt Lake City when Whole Foods came to the city and wanted to put in a store smack dab in the middle of this historic block. I was definitely not a fan of the size of the project and the way its designers originally failed to fit the new in with the old. But as you can see, Whole Foods downsized its design and now fits in among the historic barns.

There's a lot of history at Trolley Square, and bringing back probably the only remaining original trolley car makes many people smile. It had been in storage for almost a decade after bulldozers came to start the food chain's new location. The car last housed the Trolley Wing Co. The urban mall is expanding under new owner Khosrow Semnani, and we might see a return of a movie theater and a food court, in addition to the multifamily development going in across the street on 600 South.

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