News | All Fall Down: With a government wrecking ball poised, elderly Shubrick tenants face a tenuous future. | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

News | All Fall Down: With a government wrecking ball poised, elderly Shubrick tenants face a tenuous future. 

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Allen Bithell points over his shoulder through the large glass windows of Port O’ Call looking across 400 South to the massive parking lot that used to be the site of the Hotel Newhouse when he was a kid. Now it is a massive parking lot. The Newhouse Hotel came down in 1983 and has never been replaced. n

Today, the 1912 Shubrick building that houses the private club Port O’ Call and some apartments is facing a similar fate. The iconic turn-of-the-century building is waiting to bite the dust. The federal government sued to condemn the property in November and wants all occupants out by Jan. 1 to make way for a new glass and granite federal courthouse.

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Bithell, a 45-year-old Port bartender who lives in an upstairs apartment, is among several who stands to lose both job and home. A sculptor, Bithell also is losing the art studio he rents in the building’s back. He once ran a Shubrick art gallery—one of several businesses that once lined the 400 South side of the building now marked by empty offices and “moved” signs.

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“It breaks my heart,” says Bithell who has worked for Port O’ Call’s owners Kent and Jannette Knowley for about 20 years. He echoes many employees and regulars of Port O’ Call as he removes his glasses to wipe away tears saying, “I liken it to the government breaking up your family.”

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Bithell is in the process of moving out of his Shubrick apartment. Others who live in the building are still looking for new housing. That includes several retirees who have called Shubrick home for years and haven’t been able to find anything in Salt Lake City as affordable.

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Every day just after 11 a.m., 81-year-old Bob Snyder can be found at a Port O’ Call table doing newspaper crossword puzzles. The Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War has lived in the Shubrick for 26 years and says he can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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“I’m at a total loss. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” says the former logger, Wyoming oilfield roustabout, millworker, cook and one-time manager of the Shubrick apartments. “I love this place. Kent and Jannette have been so good to me. They’ve treated me like a king. When you get older—I don’t know about everybody, but I just stay stationary. I don’t know anybody outside of this building.”

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The employees of Port O’ Call keep a watchful eye on the older residents, and vice-versa. Snyder worries about future employment prospects of the “kids,” Port O’ Call’s approximately 90 employees.

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“The lousy government is taking this place. Eminent domain. What a joke,” he says. “Across the street was nothing but a vacant lot, a pile of dirt. They aren’t taking it. Instead they’re running 100 people out of work. Putting all those people out in the cold. ‘Merry Christmas to You.’” Tenants were originally told to be out by Christmas Eve, but later were given a New Year’s Eve eviction date.

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At the end of the bar, 72-year-old Shubrick resident Chuck Periman says he doesn’t know where he is going to go. He’s under the impression he doesn’t have to figure it out for another month. Some employees of the General Services Administration, the federal agency handling the courthouse project, visited with building residents last spring. Periman says he’s waiting to hear if he qualifies for help with moving costs that GSA representatives talked about. He currently pays $325 per month out of his $857 Social Security check, and he hasn’t been able to find another apartment anywhere near that rent.

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Perimian says he is considering moving back into a budget hotel where he used to live, but does not relish the prospect. “I’m looking for somewhere where I can survive, just survive,” he says.

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The GSA has offered some Shubrick apartment renters help with moving expenses, or help with paying rent at their new place: For those who qualify, the government will pay the difference in rent between their old and new apartments for up to two years, to a maximum of $5,000.

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Shubrick’s rents are among the lowest in town. Owners kept them especially low for some of the older residents living on fixed incomes. The GSA people were helpful and the aid they offered is welcome, says Snyder, but it’s not much good if there isn’t anything else available. Periman has put in four applications but has not been accepted anywhere yet. Snyder might have a line on a low-income apartment but keeps being told, “maybe next month.”

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“I’m scared to death,” he says. “I’m too old to go out there on the streets.”

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GSA sources, citing the lawsuit they filed to condemn the Shubrick building, aren’t talking about the timeline for the courthouse project or what help is being offered tenants. Government lawyers to whom the GSA referred City Weekly also would not comment.

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Deno Dakis, Port O’ Call manager and partner, says the ax that has been hanging over the heads of the bar’s owners for more than a decade now has damaged business. “It changes the way you do business,” he says. “You stop advertising. Cancel events. Tell people, ‘We can’t book you because we don’t know if we’ll be around,” only to learn later the government has delayed the courthouse project again.

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Employees leave, uncertain if they’ll have jobs next month. Many customers have assumed the bar is closed since the feds filed suit to condemn the building in November. Port O’ Call has pointedly not set a last day.

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In the meantime, Port’s owners say they can’t make plans for the future because the amount of money the GSA is offering for their building isn’t enough to purchase a comparable location. The price the government will eventually pay for the Shubrick building is now before the courts, but the bar will likely be forced out of the building before the case is decided.

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The first sign of movement in the courthouse project was the hoisting of a neighborhing building, Odd Fellows Hall, onto metal girders in preparation for moving the building across the street and out of the way. The latest insult for Port O’ Call owners was an offer from the GSA to sell them the Oddfellows building shell—at a per-square-foot price higher than the GSA is willing to pay the for the earthquake-ready Shubrick building. Port O’ Call owners didn’t take the offer.

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