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Z.C.M.I. – One of the last remaining fragments of the pioneer era

For more than 100 years, this cast iron and sheet metal facade greeted shoppers at Z.C.M.I.’s flagship store.  Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution was formed by Mormon merchants in 1868 at the behest of Brigham Young to combat the economic influences of mining and the transcontinental railroad.  The enterprise intended to support local manufacturing, control prices, and invest profits back into the community.  Its success spawned similar institutions throughout the Intermountain West and eventually inaugurated a major department store chain.  Z.C.M.I. was sold in 1999 to May Company.  May Co. was sold in 2005 to Federated Department Stores which owns Macy’s.

Salt Lake City merchants belonging to Z.C.M.I. first consolidated in one building – with an elaborate facade – at this location in 1876.  When the building was torn down in 1973, the facade, which had been remodeled several times, was preserved and adapted as a store entrance, as it has been again in City Creek Center.

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The historic Cast Iron Front at 15 South Main Street in Salt Lake City was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 22, 1970 (#70000632)

The “Zions Cooperative Mercantile Association” was formed in 1868. Before 1880 one-hundred-fifty branch stores reached into twenty-four counties and one-hundred-twenty-six towns and cities.

On April 10, 1875 a committee was chosen to select a site for a new building in Salt Lake City, and the present site on “East South Temple” (now called Main Street) was selected. The land was purchased from Brigham Young for $30,000.00. The building, which is reputed to be the first department store in America, was completed in March, 1876 and opened for business on April 1, 1876. The cost was $136,544.00, The architects were William H. Folsom and Obed Taylor. The structure is significant because of its unusually well-maintained historic store front of cast iron.

The original Z.C.M.I. building had a frontage of fifty feet by a depth of 318 feet; three stories high, plus a full basement. The whole interior was chiefly lighted by sky lights.

The store front Is a window wall of three matching sections built at three different times. Rows of Corinthian columns divide the windows, These columns are of cast iron In the center (1876) and south (1880) portions but
of heavy stamped sheet metal in the north (1901) portion. There is a modillion cornice at each level and also in the rake of the pediment. The top
cornice has brackets aligned with the columns below and a row of dentils
under the modillions, which are larger than those of the cornices below and
ornamented with an acanthus leaf. Under the pediment is a frieze which extends across the center portion of the storefront. It contains large letters ‘ZCMI’ balanced on each side with circular frames containing the date of founding, 1868, on the left and the date of the pediment construction, 1901, on the right. The rest of the frieze contains a connecting vine and leaf pattern. Above the top cornice antefixes project in alignment with the columns below. They are typical of much of the ornament which is of light
sheet metal formed over wood.

The windows are double hung wood sash 2/2 glazed with obscure glass.
Upper corners of sash and frame are rounded. These windows are extremely large, 11 feet in height and varying in width from 4 feet to 7 feet. They are covered with insect screens of modern louvered mesh in frames which match the windows behind.

The columns are painted black, other ornament and moldings are white
and background planes are gray.

The first floor level which once had a columnar treatment like that above now has large show windows with wide spaced supports and Is spanned
by heavy steel beams.”

As the width of the store front grew the design of the cornice and pediment was changed. Below the marquee and behind the façade there has been frequent modernization, but some of the varnished pine poles remain as
structural columns along with much of the original stamped metal ceiling.
The store plans extensive remodeling and addition; however, the original
cast iron façade will remain.