40 years of City Weekly—Volume 4, 1987-1988 | City Weekly REWIND | Salt Lake City Weekly

40 years of City Weekly—Volume 4, 1987-1988 

City Weekly Rewind

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Dusty pastels were in fashion, local rock bands were jamming at the Zephyr Club (301 S. West Temple), and as evidenced by the unfolding Iran-Contra scandal, the Reagan administration was adding some closing touches to its hefty record of "corruption and double-dipping," to use a phrase from contributor Ron Yengich. The Salt Lake Trappers baseball team won a remarkable 29-game streak during this period, the Salt Lake Board of Education took the controversial step of closing South High School and John Gundersen placed himself in a bamboo cage outside of the federal building to raise awareness of POWs still missing in southeast Asia. The Private Eye was there to provide coverage of all these things and more.

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Remembering Vol. 4: In the streets
"You can't walk down the street in downtown Salt Lake today without being aware of the reality of homelessness," wrote John Dorsey and John Saltas for the July 1987 cover story. "For most of us, the first instinct when faced with the problem of homelessness is to simply turn away, thankful for a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in each night."

At the time, Salt Lake City was proposing a new shelter in the old Westinghouse Warehouse at 210 S. Rio Grande St. Later to be known as The Road Home, the facility was intended to offer improved living conditions and greater space for both families and singles.

Interviewing unhoused individuals in the downtown area, as well as local merchants and care providers, Dorsey and Saltas found a mixture of anxiety, resignation and hope. One man—who by 1987 had been without a home for over 20 years—remarked that the conditions in the available facilities were such that he preferred to sleep outdoors. "It's too hot in the Mission, and it's too loud in the shelter," he said.

"You think this is bad?" mused the octogenarian manager of the Rio Grande Hotel (428 W. 300 South). "You should have been here in 1933! There were many more men out of work then."


The owner of a theatrical lighting and design company resented how people like her were being characterized in the media for having concerns about public safety and loitering by the unhoused around her store. "We deal with these people closely on a daily basis, pulling them out of the streets, making sure they're alright," she stressed. "Then these bureaucrats with three-piece suits who have probably never even touched a transient come down here and make us seem uncaring and selfish."

Stephen Holbrook, an activist and legislator who was then the coordinator for Salt Lake's Shelter the Homeless Committee, estimated at the time that there were between 1,400 and 2,400 homeless people in Utah. Today, the number of unsheltered Utahns on any given night is believed to be roughly 3,600, according to the most recent data from point-in-time counts.

The Road Home's downtown shelter was closed in 2019, in keeping with the years-long and much-ballyhooed Operation Rio Grande project, which cleared out the Rio Grande neighborhood under a dramatically martial mien and diverted the unsheltered to separate resource centers around Salt Lake for men, women and mixed groups.

The centers continue to be filled while informal homeless encampments—out of sight and mind to many under cover of bridges or beside the Jordan River—are routinely swept out by local and state agencies to the tune of hundreds of thousands of public dollars, as The Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2022.

"It is a waste of money," said homeless advocate Ty Bellamy to the Tribune. "Anytime you ask for them to allocate those funds towards something to help these guys, there's a million and one excuses. But, they'll go throw money out there like crazy to get rid of them."


In the ads
To celebrate its 125th anniversary, Daynes Music offered a piano sale in the pages of the June 1987 issue of Private Eye. Then the exclusive Utah dealer of Steinway pianos, Kurzweil keyboards and Rodgers organs, Daynes Music's sale would likely have appealed to the local music lover. Now in its 161st year, Daynes touts the fact that the music company is the oldest continually run family business in the state.

Across a full-page spread in March 1988, the Private Eye alerted readers to the Great Utah Laugh-Off. Sponsored by KTOU Radio, Coca-Cola, Private Eye and Cartoons Comedy Club (2201 S. Highland Drive), the Laugh-Off offered contestants the grand prize of a trip to Hollywood.

"Make our day by making us laugh," went the invitation. For the sake of the audience and the "celebrity judges," we hope that levity was enjoyed by all.

Advertising their Easter specials in the April 1988 issue was the restaurant Johanna's Kitchen, which once stood at 9725 S. State in Sandy. Opened in 1971 by Johanna Nielsen (1934-2013), this family establishment served down-home cooking all the way until 2015, when a gas explosion destroyed the building.

"Something good's always cookin' in Johanna's Kitchen," sang Rodd Buckle for the restaurant's radio jingle. "If you ain't been there yet then you don't know what you've been missin'. Country fresh and made from scratch, y'all better listen!"

For years, truckers, skiers and locals alike heeded the call, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner—often capping the meal with one of Johanna's scones.

In the lobby
Having operated as Utah's foremost place of lodging since its opening in 1911, the Hotel Utah (15 E. South Temple) ceased operations in 1987 to much public dismay. The stated plan of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to convert the building into office space sank public spirits even further.

The church's net worth was then estimated to be in the billions, Ron Yengich noted in August 1987, yet it couldn't see fit to put its office staff in the many "largely empty" office buildings already littering the downtown area. He looked askance at any corporate entity making such an impactful move upon the public weal, whatever its tax exempt status.

"Don't expect the church to change its mind," Yengich wrote at the time. "It will not sell or otherwise maintain the Hotel Utah as a hostelry."

Yengich returned to this theme in May 1988, noting that what had already happened to "that wonderful old dowager of a hotel" was now threatening to reoccur with the historic LDS Church-owned houses at Capitol Hill's Gordon Place, potentially wiping out up to 18 habitable dwellings "as well as the property tax revenue generated from the houses and their inhabitants."

The city's need for low- and medium-income housing was apparent to Yengich at that time, and the loss of these homes added further shame to the church's already-suspect track record of architectural preservation.

"Twentieth century Mormon architecture is to architecture as Ragu is to Italian cuisine," he opined. "It is not enough that the buildings that the Mormon church now constructs are insipid, albeit functional. It is the church's willingness to tear down wonderful old buildings of historical significance, including entire streets of them, which will remain its real architectural legacy."

Indeed, his observations emanated from a similar vein as those being made by many Mormons themselves. In a 1983 commencement speech at Brigham Young University—decrying the "fatal shift" that occurs to a culture when imaginative vision is drowned out by the mediocrity and wealth-obsessed conformity of management types—Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley (1910-2005) pointedly spoke out against the trends that were well underway in the Beehive State.

"If the management does not go for Bach, very well, there will be no Bach in the meeting," Nibley warned. "If the management's taste in art is what will sell—trite, insipid, folksy kitsch—that is what we will get. ... If management must reflect the corporate image in tasteless, trendy new buildings, down come the fine old pioneer monuments."

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About The Author

Wes Long

Wes Long

Wes Long's writing first appeared in City Weekly in 2021. In 2023, he was named Listings Desk manager and then Contributing Editor in 2024. Long majored in history at the University of Utah and enjoys a good book or film, an excursion into nature or the nearest historic district, or simply basking in the company... more

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