Antiquing in Salt Lake City
As our plane began its gradual descent into the Great Salt Lake Valley, I could not help but wonder how anyone a hundred and sixty years ago could have made their way into this vast, desolate plateau, let alone be able to live there.
My home city of Asheville is also surrounded by mountains, but they are rounded, wooded, friendly mountains. The craggy, steep walls of the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains seem to defy anyone who might consider picking their way through their maze of narrow, treacherous canyons. For centuries the valley remained nearly uninhabited, waiting for the outcast Mormons, who were lead there in 1847 by Brigham Young. He saw in the broad, treeless valley the opportunity to escape persecution for their religious views, most notably their practice of polygamy, outside the legal boundaries of the United States.
Two years later, in 1849, Young proposed that Deseret be declared the 31st state of the Union, but members of Congress, still nervous over the polygamy issue, instead designated it as the Utah Territory. They deferred statehood until 1896, and then only after Mormon officials began discouraging the practice of polygamy among their sect.
What drew the majority of the settlers to Salt Lake City, however, was not an escape from religious persecution, but the lure of gold. The arrival of the railroad signaled the beginning of a second exodus into the Great Salt Lake Valley, soon earning it the nickname “the Crossroads of the West.”
Today, tourism brings more people to Salt Lake City than mining, and less than half of the city’s population of 186,000 is Mormon. Had my oldest son not been in graduate school at the University of Utah, I would have viewed the city from 30,000 feet in the air, for I don’t ski and had never considered Salt Lake City a hotbed of Arts & Crafts.
But among some of the most well-preserved examples of Victorian architecture I have ever seen, I also discovered a smattering of charming bungalows, alongside a few Prairie School homes sprawled across large residential lots. They, too, bore fresh coats of paint, a reflection of their owners’ pride in these quaint architectural gems. I could see that Arts & Crafts fever had once infiltrated Salt Lake City, and knew, too, that in 1912 the Greenwald Furniture Company had become an official retail outlet for Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman furniture.
And so, on a blustery Saturday afternoon, beneath the threat of a snow squall, I headed downtown to meet Riley Booker, quite possibly the youngest Arts & Crafts antiques dealer in the country and certainly one of the most energetic. Riley teamed up with his father-in-law, Scott Evans, to open Salt Lake City Craftsman inside Scott’s antiques and architectural salvage business, Euro Treasures.
Scott Evans and Euro Treasures are well-known to area residents, for his sprawling two-story warehouse is a treasure trove of antiquities, from 17th century furniture to 20th century mantles. When the Antiques Roadshow came to town, they filmed a segment in Euro Treasures, highlighting Scott’s collection of more than 6,000 chairs (click on photo to enlarge).
And tucked away in his corner of the warehouse, Riley Booker has begun accumulating his own inventory of Arts & Crafts antiques: rocking chairs, trestle tables, smoking stands, library tables, wardrobes, dropfront desks, and music cabinets by Gustav Stickley, L. & J.G. Stickley, Stickley Brothers, Shop of the Crafters, Harden, J.M. Young, and many, many more.
As we picked our way through the maze of furniture into Riley’s special Arts & Crafts haven, I was impressed not just with the pieces this young man had assembled, but with his keen eye for those critical design details that distinguish a stellar piece from all the rest. His enthusiasm was contagious and, judging from the number of young couples who began eavesdropping on our conversations, as we inspected, analyzed, compared and discussed piece after piece, I expect Riley will find a growing receptive audience in Salt Lake City.
As well as from those of you who someday may have the opportunity to make your gradual descent into Salt Lake City.
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!
You can see some of Riley Booker’s inventory at http://www.saltlakecitycraftsmanfurniture.com