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Salt Lake City Public Library / Hansen Planetarium

Dedicated October 27, 1905

Built of Sanpete Limestone with a donation from John A. Packard, Tintic Mining District Millionaire.

Designed by Heins & Lefarge of New York.

Planetarium established 1965 as a memorial to George T. Hansen by his wife.

The Ladies Literary Society is responsible for the construction of the Salt Lake City Public Library Building.  These women promoted Utah’s first tax for the support of public libraries in 1898.  They then convinced mining millionaire John Q. Packard to donate both the land and funds for constructing the state’s first public library building.

The Salt Lake City Public Library Building is a good example of the Beaux Arts Style architecture.  This style, which combines classical motifs with elaborate decorative elements, was popular for large public buildings at the turn of the century.  Look for the library’s ornate stone gable and two-story entrance pavilion.

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I took the above 3 photos in 2007, below are photos I took in 2019.

The Mr. and Mrs. George T. Hansen Planetarium, Space Science Library, and Museum, formerly the Salt Lake City Public Library, is worthy of designation as a cultural site on the basis of its architectural merit, and as a historic site because it is the only building remaining in Salt Lake City that records the philanthropic urge for community improvement that characterized turn of the century America.

considered a necessary asset to a civilized community. In 1850 the Territory of Utah quickly accepted a federal appropriation for the establishment of a territorial library, and appointed William C. Staines (builder of the Devereaux House, Salt Lake City’s first mansion and a National Register site) as the territorial librarian. The territorial library was intended to be both a law library and a general public library, and served as such for a period of years. Eventually the collection was divided up, with the general books going to the library of the University of Deseret and the law books remaining as the Utah Library.

Efforts were made to promote public lending libraries accessible to the public, and the Seventies’ Library functioned for this purpose for a number of years. When this service faltered, a number of private lending libraries sprang up in the city to provide the only library service available to Salt Lake City for many years.

Ladies Literary Society of Salt Lake City, and by the Masonic Order who were interested in promoting libraries to assist in educating Mormons out of their peculiar beliefs. It was the Ladies Literary Society, however, who were successful in promoting a bill in the territorial legislature in 1898 permitting a tax levy for the support of public libraries in the state. Salt Lake City moved to take advantage of this provision and created a free public library, purchasing first the library holdings of the Pioneer Library owned by the Grand Lodge of Utah. For $1,400 the city acquired a library worth $24,000. The facility was installed in the City and County Building (a National Register site) and attention was immediately turned to acquiring some more permanent location. Again the Ladies Literary Society came to the rescue by persuading the eccentric and retiring mining millionaire, John Q. Packard, to donate both land and capital for the construction of a public library building.

The combination of a crusading group of progressive upper-class women and a millionaire eager to fulfill his obligations within the Gospel of Wealth was not unique in Salt Lake City. it was a scenario common to that era of the nation’s history. But while many cities have numerous examples of such public magnificence, it was comparatively rare in Salt Lake City … and the present building is certainly the only one of its nature left in the city. Fittingly when the public use of the library demanded a larger facility, the old library was rescued by a generous donation in the spirit of John Q. Packard. The new donors gave the city $400,000 to renovate the building for use as a planetarium.

Described at the time of its completion as “a combination of the Doric and Ionian styles of architecture,” the Salt Lake Public Library is a three story, rectangular gabled hip roof structure with a two story entrance pavilion, constructed of oolite limestone from Sanpete County. The Beaux-Arts Classical library was designed by Hines and LaFarge of New York City (architects of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine), with Frederick A. Hale the supervising local architect.

The front facade is five bays wide with a heavy moulded cornice between the second and third floors. The first and second floor window openings are slightly recessed in arched frames. The wide eaves of the slightly flared roof are supported by very large modillion brackets. The roofline is broken by a large carved stone gable with a center arched window and four decorated pilasters. The two-story balustraded entrance pavilion end walls are curved to follow the radius of the spiral staircases at both ends of the entrance foyer. Four attached columns divide the entrance facade into three bays with double oak doors. (The center doors have been replaced by a large fixed sheet of glass, and the center part of the steps has been replaced with a fountain.) The interior of the entrance pavilion, done in golden oak, is entirely intact. A mezzanine has been added recently above the second floor for exhibits and demonstrations. Millwork for the additions was done by Fetzer’s, Inc., the same firm that did the original millwork in 1904. The open trusses and tongue-and-groove ceiling are visible above the new mezzanine. Architect for the additions was Wesley Budd.

The following description of the building was published by the Salt Lake Herald at the time of its dedication:

“The library stands on State street, just south of the Alta club, on high ground with lawns sloping from the building in all directions. …

“The building is of white oolite from Sanpete vally, the stone lending itself admirable to the form and dignity of the structure. The main entrance is in three parts opening on the hallway, from which rise the two broad ample stairways to the lecture hall above. Entrance to the east from this hallway leads to the main floor of the reading room, a commodious, sunny room, furnished with all modern conveniences. In the central part of this stands the librarian’s desk or counter, which is of solid steel with a top of golden oak to match the finishing of the interior. In the southeast corner of the room is a small apartment shut off with glass for the chief librarian, so arranged that all parts of the reading room are under supervision.

“Behind this is the stack room, or place for the books. The room is fitted with rows and rows of steel shelving of the latest design, so arranged in units that each small shelf may be readily detached and, if need, be removed. …

“The main auditorium on the upper floor has seats to accommodate 350 persons. It is finished like the remainder of the building, and is built for a gallery to extend around three sides. This gallery is not yet completed, but the building is so planned that the heavy steel bolts which hold it together will support this addition when the time comes to provide it. A good-sized platform extends outward from the east wall into the auditorium, making an ideal place for small lectures or recitals.” (Salt Lake Herald, October 27, 1905.)