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Episode Three: Trolley Square Station

Updated: Sep 16, 2021


Good evening and welcome to a much-delayed episode of S&U

Tonight, we will be talking about Trolley Square Station, the second in a series of train related destinations we will be covering with this podcast. The first was out last episode covering Ogden’s Union Station, and ending with the next episode covering the Rio Grande.

Here at the S&U team we’ve had some health scares of late. The kind of scares that make you want to call your Mama and start praying. Thankfully, everything seems to be okay, for now, and we’re keeping a weather eye out for any signs that this could be changing.

And now for Strange & Unexplained: Utah, Episode 3, Trolley Square Station.

In 1847, while Brigham Young settled the Salt Lake Valley, he began to put in place plans for a sensible and organized system for setting up the city. Four days after his fateful ride down immigration canyon and the declaration that “This is the right place, drive on,” Brigham Young set his cane upon the ground and declared that location would be where they would build the Salt Lake Temple. With that momentous location marked out, wards and streets were designated, and construction began.

Wards, as defined by the LDS church are “the larger of two types of local congregations, the small being a branch. A ward is presided over by a bishop, the equivalent of a pastor in many other Christian denominations.” As the church set about marking out these wards, they did so in tidy little four by four block squares. Which would include an undeveloped block that was classified as a public square for each ward. These were used for gatherings, community gardens, and a host of other activities. I haven’t been able to find a definitive list about what they were used for, but these are the general descriptions that I’ve found.

Today we will be talking about the 10th ward and their public square, this special lot of land that exists between 500 and 600 south. (Or 5th and 6th south for the locals). The history of this particular lot of land is as varied as the stores that take up residence there today.

For near forty years this public lot of land was used for farming for the locals and gatherings as previously stated, and all was well. Until one day, on February 15th, 1888, a man named Alma H. Winn saw the empty lot and thought he had found a way to make himself a quick buck. You see, Mr. Winn is what you would call a Land Shark. A person who liked to sell land that wasn’t his and make a run with the money before anybody found out. So, he hired some men, plowed the field under, destroyed anything and everything that might have been planted or placed there. Crops and otherwise didn’t matter to him.

He and his goons then set up a sign proclaiming that the land was for sale and how best to contact him if you were interested in making that purchase.

Fun story about the ward squares, even though they were set up for public use and left intentionally undeveloped, they still belonged to the city. And when the then Mayer Francis Armstrong heard about the activity at 10th ward square, he took action. The very next day he formed up a huge posse, (Which, I feel like the days of a posse being rounded up to dispense justice is long behind us and that is a shame.) They rode Mr. Winn and his thugs out of town, taking down the for sale sign as they went.

With the land shark dealt with, the Mayor was left with a question, what to do about the 10th ward square? It couldn’t be left as it was, Mr. Winn may have been dealt with, but the odds were that others would come along and try something similar, possibly with better success. The 10th ward square was the furthest south and east from the temple, making it possibly the hardest to police. Something needed to be done with the public square, something that would both benefit the people, and keep future land sharks at bay.

Enter the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society. The DAMS was an organization that had the goal of expanding the Utah territory and making is as self-sufficient as possible. They proposed to do this through giving families what they needed to be small self-sufficient farms even while living in the middle of Salt Lake City. No matter what trade the family worked in, they were given enough land to raise their own fruits and vegetables, enough to feed them in the long cold months of winter and supplement what they could purchase in town. In the research I did into the DAMS, it was reported that many families were actually spared starvation when major crops failed due to little rain, early snow, or infestation of some kind.

The other thing the DAMS is well known for, the Utah Territorial Fair.

Not to be confused with the Utah State Fair. This was March 7th 1888 and Utah wouldn’t be a fully ratified state until Jan 4th 1896.

Things began to change rather quickly for the square as the Utah Exposition Building was erected, designed by Richard Kletting, the same man who would come to design several of Utah’s most notable buildings, including the Utah State Capitol building, as well as the original Salt Palace. Construction was completed on October 3rd 1888, just shy of the 8th month anniversary of Mr. Winns failed land grab attempt.

The fair ran at the square for only 12 years until the territory was recognized as the 45th state in the union. During that time a large number of different events were hosted there. People gathered at the Expo building for a number of reasons, chief amongst them might have been the U of U football team, or maybe the shows and exhibits demonstrating everything from the latest farming techniques, to fashion, to everything that is loved about the state fairs today.

But as the popularity of the fair grew, and as the state continued to grow, the 10th ward square began to have a harder and harder time finding space for all of the exhibits and the people coming to see them. So the now State Fair, despite the beauty and unique design of the building, packed up and moved to its current location near the Rose Park area in downtown SLC.

The original expo building is gone now, but they say that the towers that winged the front of the building were as tall as the water tower that stands there today. And the doors to this auspicious building are rumored to be right in the middle of the Pottery Barn.

The lot changed hands a few times, first it was sold back to the city, and then a Mining Tycoon bought the property with his eye on placing townhomes on the historic site. But those were quickly torn down and the resources spread to other building in the city.

Over the next several years the City of Salt Lake saw a great many changes, including its electrification. SLC was only the fifth city in the entire world to power its city with a centralized Power Station. Street cars became the way to travel. But Salt Lake was getting so big so fast, there was no regulation in place. And with no one to tell these up and coming rail companies how to lay track or where, anarchy ensued with many companies laying down track by pulling up another company’s lines, that were still in use.

The first all-electric street cars came on the scene August 8th 1889. Until that day all street cars were pulled by mules and highly unreliable, not to mention the smell. A luxurious all electric car ran its first trial run this day, proving how much more reliable and quicker these new cars would be. Eight days later on the 16th, these cars opened their doors for public use. More than 500 people gathered to use the cars and watch them run. Resulting in a huge fist fight about who would be allowed to ride first.

The streetcar companies erected their own power and rail lines criss crossing all over the city. Due to the lack of oversight in these companies, plants remained too small to properly power rural areas in SLC. Unregulated companies continued to manage themselves, until in 1901 when the two biggest rivals in the business were purchased. Merging Salt Lake City Railway Company and Salt Lake Rapid Transit into the Consolidated Railway and Power Company.

Now this combined company was purchased in 1906 by Edward “Ned” Harriman. He was already the president of the Union Pacific Railroad and was possibly better known for being man who pursued Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. He looked at SLC with big plans on his mind and set to work seeing them done before the ink had even dried on bill of sale.

He began updating and modernizing both streetcars and lines, as well as updating the shops where these cars were worked on and built. But Ned took it a step further. He commissioned a state of the art building to be erected on the now abandoned 10th ward square. Which had sat unused since the fair had moved back in 1902. Given the size of the lot and its central location it was everything he needed for a renovated centralized for his hub trolley cars and lines.

And this hub was huge. It held 144 street cars with four massive bays each housing four tracks and over two hundred skylights to provide light for this large state of the art building. It cost Ned 3.5 million dollars to build and furnish. The largest of the barns was the southernmost used for the housing for the street cars. In the middle was the machine or “rip” shop and the north barn was where the painters and carpenters were housed. In this last barn was also where new cars were built, and older ones repaired. Being able to house all of these necessities in house, made it the most self-sufficient hub in the west.

And of course you can’t talk about the square and not mention the iconic water tower. Fire was always a huge risk back then, and still is now. But without the systems we have today, when there was a fire, it was usually catastrophic. Not wanting to see his beautiful, (and I do mean beautiful.), building go up in smoke, Ned put up the now iconic water tower. Previously housing 50,000 gallons of water it was his insurance policy should the worst happen.

All through to the 1930’s the square was active and thriving hub. But soon the Utah Light and Rail Company began replacing trolley cars with busses, which had superior maneuverability, cheaper to run, easier to care for, and just an all-around less expensive way to ferry people from place to place. And, finally, in 1946 a buss replaced the last trolley line. At that point the Utah Light and Rail Company became Utah Power and Light.

All at once, the golden age of the electric trolley car was over.

For a while this beautiful and historic building was painted yellow and used as bus storage. In her 2009 book “Specters in Doorways: Revised”, Linda Dunning talks about a field trip that she took to the square back when it was still a bus barn. She talks about going through the large bus washers that had been installed at the time, like a very large car wash and the fun she and the other kids had. But not long after that it quickly fell into disrepair and by the time 1969 rolled around, demolition threatened this historic piece of Salt Lake City.

That is until a local family, not okay with seeing these beautiful buildings disappear, bought the property in 1972 and began adapting the space for retail use. Architect Wally Wright was called into work on the project and is still well known for it today. He based his ideas off the Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, a former chocolate factory turned shopping center.

During the remodel Wright not only saved the barns from destruction, he incorporated them and many other architectural features from historic sites all around the valley. Making it more than a shopping center but also a tourist attraction. It was added to the National Register of Historic Place in 1996.

But in 2008 the recession hit the country hard and Trolley Square felt the pain as well, and soon bankruptcy loomed over the horizon. Shops began to close, one after another until the station began to look more like a ghost town than a retail hub. Trolley Square began to slip away, and the fear was that the historic building could be lost again.

Until one day, in May of 2013, when SLC native Khosrow Semnani took ownership of the property with his eye set on restoring the building to the glory it had once known and to bring forward and highlight the interesting and diverse history of the Square.

Dozens of renovations have been undertaken with many completed and some still in progress. Included the iconic LED lights of the water tower. Under Semnani’s tutelage the Square has grown and prospered past what people had hoped it could be and become both a state landmark, a retail hub, and a place for the community to gather once again. Bringing the 10th ward square, full circle.

Now we come to the hardest part of the history to tell.

I went back and forth about how to report about this incident. Did I want to do a full break down like Wikipedia does? Did I want to do a general overview, or would that not serve the pod cast? But how much detail is necessary to convey that story properly?

In the end I decided to report it to you the same way that it came to me.

These are the details of that event as told by Wikipedia.com on their page concerning the mass shooting carried out by Sulejman Talović.

“On February 12, 2007, at 6:42 p.m. MST, Talović arrived at the Trolley Square Mall, parking his vehicle in the upper level of the mall's west parking garage. He was wearing a white shirt, a tan trench coat, and was carrying a 6-shot 12-gauge pump-action shotgun w/ a pistol grip, a 38-caliber handgun, and a backpack full of extra ammunition. Two minutes after exiting his vehicle, Talović encountered 52-year-old Jeffrey Walker and his 16-year-old son Alan in the parking garage. He shot and wounded both in the head with his shotgun; Alan Walker managed to run down a staircase to the lower parking level, where he was assisted by other citizens. However, Talović stood over Jeffrey Walker, who had fallen to the ground after being shot, and shot him repeatedly in the head and back, killing him.

Continuing onward to the west entrance of the mall, Talović shot 34-year-old Shaun Munns twice with the shotgun from approximately 30 yards away. Munns managed to flee the scene and survive his injuries. Talović then fired twice at the entrance doors, causing shoppers inside the store to hide or flee. Entering the mall, he approached the west stairs, where he fired at a security guard, missing, then walked down the main level hallway in the opposite direction. There, he shot 29-year-old Vanessa Quinn in the chest with his revolver; when she fell to the ground, Talović stood over her and killed her with a second gunshot to the head.

Talović then entered Cabin Fever, a card store where seven people were hiding. He first approached 44-year-old Carolyn Tuft, who was crouched down near a display table at the front of the store, and shot her in the left side and arm with the shotgun, causing her to fall over to the ground. He then spotted 53-year-old Stacy Hanson crouching near the southeast glass wall of the store. Hanson said to him "Everyone just wants to go home," to which Talović told him to "Shut up!" before shooting and injuring him in the lower abdomen and arm with the shotgun, also shattering the glass wall; Hanson fell face-down into the glass.

Talović then approached a group of three people: 15-year-old Kirsten Hinckley (whose mother was the injured Carolyn Tuft), 24-year-old Brad Frantz, and 29-year-old Teresa Ellis. All three victims were lying on the floor in the southern front of the store. Talović fired from his shotgun, hitting all three people. Frantz died of a gunshot wound to the forehead, while Hinckley suffered a wound to the torso and Ellis suffered wounds to the right arm, torso, and leg. He then left the store briefly to reload, during which Carolyn Tuft crawled towards her injured daughter. Talović returned, shooting Tuft, Hinckley, and Ellis again; Hinckley and Ellis both died of gunshot wounds to the head, while Tuft survived a wound to the back.

Police response

Leaving Cabin Fever a second time, Talović encountered off-duty police officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden City Police Department. At the time, Hammond was at Trolley Square on an early Valentine's Day dinner with his pregnant wife, 911 dispatcher Sarita Hammond, when they heard gunshots. Sarita Hammond borrowed a waiter's cell phone to call 911. Drawing his weapon, Hammond identified himself as a police officer, and Talović fired twice at him with his shotgun, missing. Moving around the central hallway area, Talović focused his gunfire at three restaurant employees, firing from near the south entrance of the Pottery Barn Kids home-furnishing store. Witnessing him returning to Cabin Fever and shooting Stacy Hanson in the back, an employee, Barrett Dodds, yelled at Talović, prompting him to walk back towards Pottery Barn. Hanson survived his injuries.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Andrew Oblad of the Salt Lake City Police Department entered Trolley Square through the south entrance and encountered Kenneth Hammond. Talović fired at both officers, and Hammond fired back in return. An active shooter contact team composed of Salt Lake City PD SWAT team members Sergeant Joshua Scharman, Detective Dustin Marshall, Detective Brett Olsen, and Officer Gordon Worsencroft eventually arrived and confronted Talović from behind. Scharman and Olsen shot him a total of eight times in the back with their service weapons, and Marshall also shot him five times with his AR-15 service rifle. When Talović turned around and aimed his shotgun towards the team, Scharman and Olsen fired again and killed him. Talović's body was later found to have been struck a total of 15 times by bullets fired by police. At least 30 rounds were fired by Talović, 29 of which came from his shotgun and at least one from his revolver. The entire shooting lasted for six minutes.

It was a terrible day, one that still lives in current memory for all the people affected by the tragedy. It’s easy to see how a place like that could carry an echo of such a horrific experience. But the echoes of that day aren’t the only ones I’ve found out about.

There is a story about an old painter that was killed sometime in the 1920’s. His death was either the cause of fire or some kind of accident, the records aren’t really clear. What they do all agree on is that the man who died loved his work at the Depot that he stayed on, even after he died. He can be seen wearing a workman’s coveralls, near the north doors on the north side of the building. Some people report hearing him whistling in the night, others see him as a wisp of smoke or a full shadow figure moving across the halls.

There is a story about a new security guard who was watching the building one night, the more seniored members of the staff had warned about the ghost and told him to keep a look out. Assuming it was hazing of some kind, the young man paid it no mind. There was a cleaning crew in the building, and they were tearing up some old flooring and doing some waxing. They got about halfway through when it was time for lunch. They contacted the new security guard and he let them out of the building and then promptly locked the door.

After they left the guard was walking past the work that they were doing and noted how much work they still had to do. He then continued on his rounds and about an hour or so later he returned to let the maintenance crew back in and while they were commenting on the work still left to do the heard a strange sound. A loud eerie musical sound that one of the crew thinks sounds like the tune “Danny Boy.”

Naturally freaked out the group starts to hot foot it toward the sound. As they hook around the corner into the North concourse, the music stops suddenly, and they are so shocked by what they see the group stops.

All the work in the hallway is done. Waxed and buffed to a beautiful shine. And their equipment? Stacked neatly against the wall. One of the maintenance crew turns to the security guard asking if he had completed the work. Naturally, he’d not touched the equipment while they’d been gone. It was then commented that there would be quite the story to tell next Halloween.

Like I said, the history of this building and the lot of land it sits on is a rich tapestry of history, loss, gatherings, joy, and the strength that bonds all Utahns through the tragedies that plague our modern world.

I found myself at the square just before Christmas this last year, (pictures of some of the amazing decorations can be found on our website, www.strangeutah.com) I wondered around trying to see the building the way it had been when it was Ned’s pride and joy and central hub for a rail transportation in Salt Lake. It’s harder to do than I thought. But if you stand a certain way, and look at the arches that span the building, you can see it. Much of the building is the same now as it was then. Thanks to the people to saw the beauty it held and fought to preserve it.

I wandered into Cabin Fever, the location where most of the people killing in shooting lost their lives. I was concerned that being there would feel the way a place that has seen death does. It would be chilly and difficult to be comfortable since most of these places carry that feeling of being constantly watched.

But my concern was unfounded.

Despite the tragedy that place had seen, you could tell that through time and the perseverance of the people there, that place has healed. That cant be said for the rest of the building. There were several places where the hair on the back of my neck raised and the feeling of being watched perforated the air. I think I had some of the most intense feeling in and around Weller Book Works. They carry a large variety of books both new and used. But the most notable of these would be some of the books from around the 1840’s when Utah was originally founded. They have books with pages from French newspapers more than one-hundred years old.

I probably spent more than an hour in there and I maybe saw a quarter of the titles they offered. Some of them had a life and history all their own. It was a wonderful store and I can’t wait to visit again.

I do hope to go back and maybe do a little more filing if I can get the permission.

Well my friends, we have come to the end of this, the third episode of Strange and Unexplained: Utah. I can’t thank you all enough for waiting these long months for this latest episode. As I get settled into everything I’m doing with the new job and the health stuff, hopefully these episodes will start coming out more and more regularly.

A huge thanks to all of you out there listening, until next time, keep it strange.

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