Friday, August 10, 2012

"What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar"

After all of this history regarding history about Provo, you are probably wondering where all the pioneers and their relatives bought the most fashionable armoire or the most up to date French fauteuil (or essentially where they brought their furniture).  Today's post is meant clean up that question, and all of the answers revolve around the Gates-Snow (sometimes written as Gates/Snow) Building in downtown Provo.  Here are some photos of the Gates-Snow Building from 1900 and what it looks like today:

Courtesy of the Brigham Young University Lee Library's L. Tom Perry Special Collection

The best history of this building is reported by the city of Provo's website.  They state:  "When Provo residents wanted to buy furniture in the 1880s and 1890s, they had two large choices--Snow Brothers and Taylor Brothers.

"In 1887 the newspaper declared, 'There appears to be just enough competition' between the Snows and the Taylors.  In 1889 the Snow Brothers expanded their store and moved from the first floor of the Academy boarding house to the old Factory store across the street from the courthouse.  They added a story to the building.

"In May 1889 the Salt Lake newspaper declared, 'Snow Brothers, the furniture deals, are now established in the new quarters--prouder than ever.'  The next year Snow added J. F. Gates as a parter [as a side note, I previously covered Jacob F. Gates actual house in a post, although unfortunately it was at some time torn down and replaced with an apartment complex].  The new company tore down the existing building and completed a three story building.  The paper bragged that it could be expanded to a five story building.

"The business' success did not last.  In 1890 a depression hit Provo, Utah, and the rest of the United States.  The impressive building was completed in October 1890.  By April 1891 the store was going out of business.

"According to the Daily Enquirer, 'Owing to the stringency in business circles, the Gates-Snow Furniture Company has decided at least temporarily to suspend business and rent their large building.'  The owners planned to rent the bottom floor as two stores, the second floor as offices, and the their floor for lodge rooms.

"In 1898 Jesse Knight purchased the building for $3,600.  In 1902 Gates and Snow dissolved their furniture partnership, and M. Snow continued to sell furniture.

"In the 1890s walking by the Gates-Snow Building could be a 'shocking' experience.  According to the Daily Enqurier, the steel front 'was strongly charged with electricity... on account of defective wiring.'  As a rest, 'a great many persons standing on the wet ground and coming in contact with the building received an electric shock.  The defect was soon remedied.'"  On an additional note, according to this website, it has one of the best tin-pressed fronts in the state.

While searching for more recent history regarding the building, I came across an incredibly interesting article from the Deseret News from 1984 about the Gates-Snow Building and several other very recognizable, historic buildings in downtown Provo.  Here is what it said:

"Dedication ceremonies for Provo Town Square were barely over Thursday when developers announced the purchase of six more buildings in downtown to continue the project.

"Provo Town Square Associates has been busy in Provo for the past year renovating nine buildings in downtown Provo on Center Street and University Avenue.

"The multimillion-dollar project has revealed the historic past of Provo and boosted what was once a faltering downtown business economy.

"When completed the project with house 35 retail, restaurant, and office tenants, with a potential occupancy of approximately 70 businesses and merchants.

"Craig Call, amaging partner for the project, has restored the Knight Block, Avenue Block and Union Block and the six new buildings to be renovated will mean a majority of downtown Provo will soon look like it did at the turn of the century.

"Ceremonies for the dedication and grand opening were held as carpenters were still nailing up boards and new merchants filling up freshly stained shelves.

"Call said taking apart the old buildings and putting them back together has given him a sense of the humanity that lived and worked in Provo years ago.

"'Someone picked up all those old bricks and put them up and that in a way gives us all a tie to the past,' said Call.

"The Gates/Snow Building, 43 E. Center, Princess Theatre, 25 E. Center, Utah Office Supply Building 69 E. Center, Sweetbriar Shop, 82 W. Center, Palace Drug and Saloon, 104 W. Center, Farmer and Merchants Bank Building, 290 W. Center, have been acquired by Provo Town Square.

"Plans for the six buildings are still uncertain, Call said, pending decisions by existing tenants and other potential users of each property.

"Call said the building is a fine example of metalworker’s art because all the fa├žade details were made of pressed metal attached to a wooden framework."

The Gates-Snow Building was restored, in addition to several of the other buildings that were mentioned in the previous article.  However, one that was not was the Princess Theatre, located at 25 E. Center, which has an interesting connection to the Gates-Snow Building.  The following photo from 1971 was the only one that I could find of the theatre.  You can see the Princess Theatre, which later became the Uinta Theatre on the right hand side of the photo:

Courtesy of

In 1991 the Uinta Theater was demolished, and a advertisement painted on the wall of the Gates-Snow Building that had previously been hidden was exposed.  It is an advertisement for cigars and if you look closely you can see that it says "a great 5 cent cigar."

Courtesy of the Deseret News

The advertisement has come up in recent controversy because of a proposed development at the Princess Theatre lot.  Currently, nothing has been built on the parking lot where the theater once stood, but recent plans have called for a new building up to 11 stories tall.  Some individuals are concerned that the building will once again cover the sign and are pushing for the developers to design the building is such a way that the sign is still visible and to restore it as well.

To finish off, when the Deseret News first published the story in 1991, a Thomas Riley Marshall was quoted saying that "what this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar."  Whether the country actually needs a good 5-cent cigar of not, I think that downtown Provo definitely benefits from this uncovered piece of history, and I for one hope that it remains as a show of previous life in Happy Valley.

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