When statehood finally arrived in 1896, the struggle for control of the federal court continued. No part of the battle was more pitched than where a new federally-funded courthouse would be located. Mormon Church authorities lobbied for the new construction to be in close proximity to Temple Square. But non-Mormon business interests argued behind the scenes to create a new “heart” for Salt Lake City, separate and distinct from Church influence.
In the end, the prominent Walker family sold a choice parcel on Main Street and 350 South to the federal government for one silver dollar. Non-Mormon business entrepreneurs, such as mining and real estate tycoon Samuel Newhouse, soon purchased all of the adjoining lands to build a new financial district as the “power center” for a new Utah.
The vision is still evident to this day in downtown Salt Lake City, with the Boston and Newhouse Buildings, Utah’s first steel skeleton “skyscrapers,” still standing across the street from the federal courthouse. Just behind them is the Salt Lake Mining Exchange, another Samuel Newhouse vision for moving affairs from theocratic to business control.
“Along the way we meet some of the most influential, and perhaps under-appreciated, figures who shape our current sense of justice and rights,” says Verdoia. “Courageous figures like the federal judge who ruled against Newhouse and prevailing economic interests to protect the public from air pollution…in 1908.”
The Courthouse storyline is also populated with scandal, as one judge resigned due to a vicious whispering campaign alleging an affair with the cleaning lady of his court, and another judge barely survived a widow emptying her handgun into him as he sat on the bench in the 1920s. For more than 50 years Mormons were informally barred from serving as federal judges. When the barrier was broken, two sitting judges refused to speak to each other or walk in the same stairwell, so deep was their dislike for each other.
“But, while those are intriguing ‘court secrets’ the real message of Courthouse is the abiding principle of the integrity of a process that allows us to build a better understanding of what it means to be an American,” says Verdoia. “Our nation is a remarkable product of everything that has gone before, with an unshakeable faith that our discovery is never at an end.”