Monday, January 21, 2013

University and Center: Provo's Most Dangerous Intersection

Historic photo courtesy of Brigham Young University, Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collection

In April of 1917, a group of artisans in Provo decided to add an innovative, concrete fountain to the intersection of University Ave and Center Street.  The fountain marked what became a meeting place for Provo residents; several community events were organized and held around the fountain, including bike races, hikes, and pageants.  The fountain was eventually removed in 1931.

The Daily Herald wrote an excellent article about the fountain.  One of my favorite stories recounted in the article is how the fountain was used to "duck," or throw people in the fountain, several Provo High School students who did not show up to a mandatory day of service.  I also enjoyed the story about a group of kids who would hold onto car bumpers in the intersection and get a quick ride down the street.

The fountain was eventually moved because it was a traffic hazard.  Automobile accidents were extremely common around it, especially in the winter time when the fountain froze over and the ice spilled onto the street.  Since University Ave is a state highway, the state offered to remove the fountain.  Although several individuals wanted to move the fountain to a local park as a commemoration of the horse and buggy era, the city accepted the states offer when no funds could be found to move the fountain.

Below is an additional photo of the fountain looking towards the east.

Historic photo courtesy of Brigham Young University, Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collection

In the first photo of this post, you can see one of the most prominent buildings in Provo, the First National Bank Building (which may be known as the Commercial and Savings Building), which is currently part of Provo Town Square.  Below is a picture of the building from 1880 and what it currently looks like.

Historic photo courtesy of Brigham Young University, Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collection

The Provo City Website has an excellent summary about the history of this building.  It reads:

"Businessmen A. O. Smoote organized the First National Bank of Provo in 1882 and constructed their first building on this site in 1884.  In 1894 the Provo Commercial and Savings Bank took over First National.  Reed Smoot, president, had organized the new bank in 1890.  Provo Commercial and Savings constructed this building in 1904.  Like the Knight Block, the architect for this building was Richard C. Watkins.  Watkins also designed College Hall and other commercial buildings on University and Center during the real estate boom in Provo at the turn of the century.  The new bank resembles the Knight Block and is late Richardson Romanesque-Commercial.  The ground level has been altered, eliminating the large arched window.  Look especially for the capitals on the free standing and engauged columns.  They have some of the finest hand carved masonry work in provo.  The carving which are also are Richardson Romanesque inspired, included Gothic creatures and naturalistic designs such as leaves.  The second level has remained essentially intact."

As nerdy as it sounds, I got really excited when I read that the building is in the Richardson-Romanesque style because my favorite building in Salt Lake, the City and County Building, is also Richardson-Romanesque.  One additional historical note is that the first building at this site held class for Brigham Young Academy after the Lewis Building was destroyed in 1884.

Below are a couple of additional photos of the building throughout the years.

Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University, Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collection

LOST IN HISTORY:  The other day I read about a building in Provo that has been lifted off its foundation and is resting on stilts about 5 feet of the ground so that a 38 foot basement can be dug.  Which building is it?  As a couple extra hints, it is located in the vicinity of the First National Bank Building and it has been covered in a couple of previous posts.  If you would like to see pictures of it rest on stilts, take a look at the Skyscraperpage Forum.


  1. Im pretty sure your talking about the Provo Tabernacle...

  2. Correct! Check out the photos on the Skyscraper Page. It is pretty crazy looking.

  3. Love, love, love the pictures on Skyscraper Forum. I also wanted to vote for the Provo Temple/Tabernacle.

  4. Thanks for posting this. My great-great grandpa worked at the Commercial and Savings Bank in the lat 1800s early 1900's