If These Walls Could Talk | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

October 06, 2021 News » Cover Story

If These Walls Could Talk 

Richard Kletting's buildings define Salt Lake City. They're also vanishing.

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  • Derek Carlisle

Make the effort to stop by 411 E. 100 South and you will notice a striking, Late Victorian mansion of brick, sandstone and tin. The paint on the delicately carved porch pillars is peeling and some of the brick has weathered, but beauty still whispers through the muted wear of time on these old walls.

Tiffany windows reflect an artistry of color and care that is rarely seen in our buildings today. The hardwood parquet floors inside are scuffed and tired, but they remain solid and cry out for revitalized use.

This house, known as the Dinwoodey Mansion, has been in our city since 1890. But it now faces an uncertain future. Talk of demolition and drawn-out preservation fights hover, but at the core of the struggle is whether we will allow the work of a unique and influential artist to survive in this dislocated and historically amnesiac present, or allow one more piece of his storied portfolio to vanish.

The artist, for those unfamiliar, was Richard K. A. Kletting, a man once described by The Salt Lake Tribune as the "Dean of Utah Architects." You may not recognize the name, but you have likely seen many of his buildings, including his most beloved creation—the Utah State Capitol.

Who was this man and why are his buildings still important to this city? Is there anything we can do to preserve them? Let's listen to what these old buildings have to tell us. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Creating an Artist
Richard Karl August Kletting was born on July 1, 1858, to Joseph and Wilhelmina Kletting in southwestern Germany. Joseph's work in railroad design obliged the Klettings to relocate often, keeping the family near construction camps and the engineers who populated them. Richard later credited that environment—coupled with the knowledge obtained from a voracious appetite for reading—as a defining influence in his early passion for building design.

"From the time I was five years old," he wrote, "I had mostly mechanic's tools and drafting instruments for my playthings and as soon as I was able to read, I could not leave books alone. In many of the books were fine prints and illustrations of buildings, bridges, etc., which trained my eye for form and outline."

Kletting was 16 and still in school when he worked as a junior draftsman for government railroads in the mid-1870s. By 1878, he was working in the city engineer's office at Freudenstadt and then with a large contracting firm in Paris the following year.

While he became familiar with the works of antiquity and medieval Europe, Kletting was not content with simply replicating the visual splendors of the Old World, as historian John S. McCormick expounds in The Historic Buildings of Downtown Salt Lake City: "Trained as a Classicist in the Beaux-Arts fashion, Kletting was nevertheless quick to assimilate ... various design movements as they developed. He capably mastered and helped to advance Richardsonian Romanesque, Beaux-Arts Classicism, the Second Renaissance Revival, the Commercial style, and Sullivanesque architecture."

Having assisted in the construction of the Crédit Lyonnais bank building, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and the Bon Marché department store—and following a year's stint in the German Army—Kletting boarded a ship with two of his brothers in the spring of 1883 and headed for the shores of the United States. While one brother stayed behind in Ohio and another went on to California, Richard settled in Salt Lake City.

Within a day of his arrival, he became the assistant of local architect John H. Burton, lending his drafting skills to the plans for the old University of Deseret campus (a precursor to the University of Utah). Located on the current site of West High School, the building was a solid beginning for Kletting's Utah career.

There are many buildings to admire from Kletting's impressive output. And since there were so many kinds of projects with which he was involved, we can only touch upon a small sampling here.

The Karrick, at 236 S. Main, is one of Kletting’s oldest buildings still standing
  • The Karrick, at 236 S. Main, is one of Kletting’s oldest buildings still standing

Local Treasures
Go to 236 S. Main Street and you will see a narrow façade of stone, brick and iron. Small vestibules on cantilevered porches punctuate the center of each level. As the painted detailing and the stone cartouches at the top suggest, this is the Karrick Building.

Completed in 1887 for a local businessman in the Commerical style, it is one of the earliest Kletting works still standing. Over the years, it was the site of a chemist shop, a jewelry store, a gambling hall, doctors' offices and even some rooms of prostitution. Today, it houses a brokerage firm and several modern apartments.

The commercial real estate agency Hamilton Partners acquired the Karrick—and the next-door Lollin Building, also a Kletting structure—when they bought the property at 222 S. Main. Brian Horrocks, an asset manager at Hamilton Partners, oversees a large portfolio of properties that includes the Karrick and Lollin Buildings as well as other historical structures of note like the Boston and Newhouse Buildings farther down Main Street. His proximity to architecture from this earlier era has deepened his admiration for their craftsmanship.

"There's so much intricate detail that you can't see from the street," he said.

Horrocks noted the basement brickwork in the Karrick and pointed out that as well preserved as the 134-year-old building may be, there could still be varied supports established to mitigate structural damage and leakages. He said he supports federal tax credits for preservation and believes that such programs should be established where they do not currently exist.

Other historic property owners utilize the protection strategies that organizations like Preservation Utah have put into place for lasting maintenance. Joyce and Leslie Kelen live in a Kletting-designed residence on M Street, in The Avenues, and they work in partnership with Preservation Utah to keep their home in good condition.

Their property is under a preservation easement—a legal agreement that runs through the land and is in force in perpetuity through subsequent ownership. Preservation Utah administers periodic inspections that the Kelens can utilize to prevent and mitigate issues like water damage and paint failure. Such an arrangement can be expensive at times, but Preservation Utah also provides low-interest loans to help with restoration, rehabilitation and repair.

It's a worthwhile effort, Joyce Kelen said, with the upkeep to their home over the last 38 years helping to maintain a charm that is "at times magical."

The Gibbs-Thomas-Hansen House on West Temple was built in 1895 for Gideon Gibbs.
  • The Gibbs-Thomas-Hansen House on West Temple was built in 1895 for Gideon Gibbs.

Other Kletting residences—such as the William F. Beer House (1898-99) at 181 B Street and the Gideon Gibbs Home (1895) at 137 N. West Temple—enjoy designations on the National Register of Historic Places. Such designations provide a state tax credit incentive for rehabilitation efforts, but they do not offer a complete safeguard against future demolition or insensitive remodeling. Some of the Kletting homes that have received these designations have been well cared for, while others are in need of loving attention.

In the case of the Albert Fisher Mansion (1893) at 1206 W. 200 South, damage from the March 2020 earthquake has closed the building off to the public for now. The mansion is owned by Salt Lake City and is included in various development plans related to the adjacent Jordan River Parkway—its carriage house is slated to be converted into a nature center and recreation hub—but restoring its structural integrity would require significant funding and architectural sensitivity to accomplish.

Ghosts of Buildings Past
Not every Kletting building has had the fortune to survive. Among the most beautiful of his designs in Utah were two buildings erected for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no longer stand—a chapel in Riverton and tabernacle in Lehi. While Kletting claimed no formal religious affiliation himself, he created magnificent works of art for Latter-day Saint worshipers that still linger in the imagination generations after they were demolished.

Elements of the Riverton Ward building are preserved through a museum.
  • Elements of the Riverton Ward building are preserved through a museum.

His domed, 1899 chapel in Riverton was once a cultural touchstone for the community throughout its short existence. Its organ and stained-glass windows can still be admired at the Old Dome Meeting Hall Museum.

The Lehi Tabernacle served first as a place of worship before being utilized as a school, then a National Guard armory and then once again as a religious center. It was under construction from 1900 to 1910 at great expense and featured an enormous nine-ton organ from which airy tunes could be heard through its thousand pipes. The tabernacle's main tower was over 112 feet high and could once have been seen from most points in the northern Utah Valley.

The beauty of this white-pressed brick sanctuary was threatened when church leaders announced in 1961 that it would be razed for a new stake center. There was much opposition from local citizens, but the work of destruction nevertheless commenced that fall.

"The grand old building didn't go down without a valiant stand," wrote Lehi local Gordon Bennett in 1981. "Much to the surprise of those who declared her 'unsafe,' the wrecking crew had considerable difficulty penetrating that once-sacred shell."

Other Kletting structures have met similarly tragic ends, particularly among those made for recreation. The original Salt Palace (1899) once stood on 900 South between State and Main Streets and served as an exhibition hall, a dance floor, a bicycle saucer track and a theater. From within, its dome was a representation of the night's sky, and from without, it shone with the artificial splendor of 900 electric bulbs. Its wooden structure glittered with the encrusted Salina salt crystals that gave the resort its name.

A fire destroyed the building in 1910, and while concessions and amusements continued in that location for some time as Majestic Park, today the site is now occupied by the asphalt of car dealerships.

One of Kletting's earliest forays into recreational facilities was with the Lake Park Bathing Resort in the mid-1880s. Standing on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in western Farmington, Lake Park featured restaurants and a bar, bowling alleys, grounds for cricket and baseball, boats for hire and a grand dancing pavilion. The pavilion was a stellar example of Kletting's ornate blending of Second Empire and Victorian Gothic touches in a tall, latticed structure.

Unfortunately, it wasn't too long before the lake receded and the resort was abandoned. Simon Bamberger, an entrepreneur and future governor, relocated many of the structures from Lake Park—including Kletting's dancing pavilion—to a location further inland for a new amusement park named Lagoon.

Kletting's Lake Park pavilion remained in use at Lagoon for years until it was torn down to make way for an inverted coaster ride called the Bat. Today, visitors to the amusement park can still see the uppermost portion of the pavilion as a shelter for picnicking tables under the name of Rose Terrace.

The original Saltair was lost to a fire.
  • The original Saltair was lost to a fire.

As beautiful as the Salt Palace and Lake Park were, Kletting's most renowned resort was the original Saltair (1893). A majestic pleasure palace with a Moorish flavor, the Saltair stood atop 2,500 pilings driven deep into the bottom of the Great Salt Lake. Its crescent wings extended wide on either side of the pavilion, making the entire complex more than 1,100 feet in length.

Onion domes and trellises surrounded the mammoth dome at the Saltair's center, and a magnificent archway welcomed incoming visitors from the railway line that ran directly from Salt Lake City. There were restaurants and picnic areas, clubrooms and promenades, midway concessions and a saloon, vibrant colors and rich ornamentation throughout. Best of all was the gargantuan dance hall, perhaps the largest in the world at the time.

Like the Salt Palace, Saltair fell victim to a fire. And while it was rebuilt in subsequent years, it was the Kletting original that undergirded the essence of the "enchanted playground" that novelist and historian Wallace Stegner recalled with such fondness years later: "I remember it like lost Eden," he said.

Kletting's school buildings left a different kind of impact for the countless students who spent their formative years within their walls. He designed at least ten schools for the Salt Lake Board of Education in addition to his work on the Lehi Central School (1891), the West Building of Brigham Young College in Logan (1898) and an early forerunner to Westminster College at 200 East and 200 South in Salt Lake City called the Collegiate Institute (1889).

His schools were eclectic in style but tended to feature 10 to 15 classrooms around large central hallways with ample airflow and natural light. Perhaps the only schools designed by Kletting that still survive today are the 10th District School (1887) at 400 South and 800 East, the Oquirrh School (1894) at 350 S. 400 East, and the Emery, Cowles, and Widtsoe Buildings (all 1901) on the University of Utah's Presidential Circle (that Kletting also helped landscape).

Built Environments
Although he was involved with several projects following his work on the Utah State Capitol (1912-16), Kletting went into partial retirement upon completion of the marble masterpiece that overlooks Salt Lake City. An exacting perfectionist—but not a humorless one—Kletting was never fully satisfied with his creations and had plenty of ideas that were never realized, such as a gorgeous public park in Logan and a bridge at Parleys Canyon.

"There were few professional architects of Kletting's day who had as much involvement in the total scope of architecture, as we define it today, as Kletting," wrote Craig Lewis Bybee in an unpublished thesis. "Extremely well rounded in every phase of the profession, even by today's standards, he was, in addition to being an architect, an engineer, an artist, an environmentalist, a public servant and a planner on both local and regional levels."

The Henry Dinwoodey House is facing demolition after standing for 130 years.
  • The Henry Dinwoodey House is facing demolition after standing for 130 years.

The beauty of his designs once bespangled the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, and through his commissions for the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Co., Kletting structures could even be found in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. When he was killed by a careless driver in 1943 during one of his customary neighborhood walks, the world lost a great artist.

What are we doing to treasure the works of such artists? What about Frederick A. Hale, who created the Alta Club and the Keith–O'Brien Building (City Weekly's former home), or Joseph Don Carlos Young, whose portfolio includes the LDS Church Administration Building? The story of Utah's built environment is rapidly being forgotten by us today. The buildings that meant so much to so many are being replaced with indistinguishable structures that are forgotten the moment they are replaced with some other bit of planned obsolescence.

Our neglect, apathy and retreat to a world conducted over the screen have left these works of art at the mercy of developers and left our communities without meaningful places to gather.

"People take historical buildings for granted," says Preservation Utah executive director David Amott, "They become part of the wallpaper."

It is often only after they are threatened or demolished that people come to value the historical buildings in their communities. Amott described the loss of Utah's historic structures as "a tragedy."

"Good preservation starts at the political level," Amott said. "We should demand that this becomes an issue. There currently isn't that level of support in the state of Utah and some of our leaders have gone out of their way to dismantle historic protections."

We would do well to reorient our educational focus as well. In a desire to be competitive globally, the University of Utah shifted away from the teaching of architectural history and preservation with any sort of emphasis on local Utah vernaculars. Such a move may make the institution more palatable to some, but it deprives our community of the academic appreciation for what we have had around us—and have been steadily losing—for years. The methods and styles of such an architect as Richard Kletting need not be lost to us but rather rejuvenated.

The Felt Building on Main displays elaborate detail - in its monochrome facade.
  • The Felt Building on Main displays elaborate detail in its monochrome facade.

"The greatest glory of a building is in its age," wrote John Ruskin. We feel its voice in "walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity" and it connects us to ages past and ages to come. "It is in that golden stain of time," Ruskin wrote, "that we are to look for the real light, and color, and preciousness of architecture."

Architecture obtains true language and life only when it has been hallowed by deeds, when it has sheltered suffering and has been touched by death. In this context, then, Richard Kletting and his contemporaries still speak and live with us today. It would be glorious if we listened.

Wes Long is a graduate of history from the University of Utah. He currently serves the poverty reduction nonprofit Circles Salt Lake through the AmeriCorps program.

Special thanks to Larry Foote, J. Cory Jensen, Nancy and John McCormick, Stephanie Overfelt, Richard S. Van Wagoner, Gregory Walz and Allen D. Roberts. Archive photos used by permission of the Utah State Historical Society.

Too many to choose
More of Kletting's buildings to admire:

Utah Commercial and Savings Bank (1889), 20 E. 100 South
J.R. Allen Home (1899), 1047 E. 13200 South
George Dern House (1902), 36 H St.
Federation of Labor Hall (1903), 400 South and State
Enos Wall Mansion/Thomas S. Monson Center (1909-14), 411 E. South Temple
New York Hotel (1906), 42 W. Market St.
Felt Building (1909), 335-339 S. Main
McIntyre Building (1908-09), 68 S. Main

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About The Author

Wes Long

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