words and photos by
February 7, 2013
“The most important building on South Temple you never knew existed…”
The Ladies Literary Club in the Central City neighborhood has been cultivating education, culture, and knowledge since 1877, before women had the right to attend universities. The birth of the LLC was a major push in the equality for women in Salt Lake City, and across the country, as it was the first chapter founded west of the Mississippi. Kind of a big deal.
As the club grew, the ladies ambitiously aspired to own a building. They banded together, and by 1898, they’d raised enough money to purchase their first clubhouse, located on 300 E, below South Temple. It was the first women’s clubhouse in the west, and they thrived in that location for the next 15 years. Then, in 1913, they made another bold move when they commissioned and built a more extravagant clubhouse, which still stands today at 850 E South Temple. It’s a grand example of Prairie-Style architecture, touting clean, horizontal lines, a grand auditorium, wood inlays, and beautiful, leaded glass. The clubhouse was designed by the local architecture firm of Ware and Treganza, who also designed several other Salt Lake City landmarks, including the Walker Mansion and the Commercial Club on Exchange Place. The cost to build was $32,507.94.
Over the last 100 years, the building has housed more than the LLC headquarters; countless charitable and educational efforts have run through, as well. The ‘Ladies’ helped create the first free public library, establish the first free kindergarten, and fund scholarships at the University of Utah. In 1977, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was also made part of the South Temple Historic District by Salt Lake City’s Historic Landmarks Commission.
All told, 136 years of perseverance within the walls of 850 E South Temple have seen major cultural shift and forward progression for our city. Equality is an ongoing battle, but change has come, in many forms. Recent years saw club memberships decrease, and maintaining the building became a struggle. In response, the LLC decided to seek out a non-profit partner to help sustain themselves and take ownership of the building. A tough decision, no doubt, but this classy gang marched forward. On Tuesday, Februrary 5, 2013, we watched as the deed was gifted to their new, non-profit partner, The Utah Heritage Foundation. We can’t think of a better outfit to take care of this beautiful, historically significant building. Kirk Huffaker and crew will no doubt do their part in reconnecting the space with its community and helping the Ladies Literary Club continue their incredible legacy.
Historical information provided by: Utah Heritage Foundation