I like to mix a little history into anything I’m doing, even skiing. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. That event inspired me to check out Utah skiing. A recent trip marked my fifth skiing adventure in Utah.
This time instead of staying in a modern, usually characterless, condo near the slopes, a friend and I decided to stay in downtown Ogden in a historic hotel. According to the brochure, the Ben Lomond Suites hotel (named for a nearby mountain) is the last of the three “Grand Hotels” in Utah that is still operating as hotel. The original section was built in 1927 and its polished marble floors, crystal chandeliers, decorative ceilings, and creaky paneled elevators all contribute to a building brimming with architectural character. My suite featured one room that looked out on snowy mountains, and another that looked out on an interior corridor with windows to the outside on the opposite wall. Instead of a normal window, the room windows on the corridor all featured large historic prints placed in a mock frame and lit with the natural light. I’ve never seen anything like it in a hotel.
Just a block or two from the hotel is the historic core of the city, which, like many Western towns, has seen its share of colorful personalities over the years. Founded in 1846 and the first permanent Anglo settlement in the Great Basin, what is now the state of Utah, Ogden was the closest city of any size to Promontory Point, where the pounding of the golden spike completed the transcontinental railroad in 1869.
The city has worked hard to restore a three-block section of the historic 25th street corridor leading to Union Station and the area has become a vibrant economic and cultural center. Excellent signs interpret the street’s history using old photos and other historic records. From visiting Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Wiliam Taft, to author Zane Grey, boxing legend Jack Dempsey and gangster Al Capone, many famous people have walked the street. Like most neighborhoods, it has changed over time from seedy to respectable: from bars and brothels, to bistros and arts stores. Union Station, anchoring the end of the street, was a major stop on the transcontinental journey and during World War II thousands of soldiers stopped here on their way to the Pacific Theater.
The interpretive signs also tell of legendary underground tunnels that aided bootlegging efforts during Prohibition. While no evidence of these tunnels exists, eyewitnesses have sworn the tunnels housed opium dens and other nefarious activities. Today many of the basements do include connecting doorways. One sign explained that a group of Japanese businessmen was stranded in the city during a snowstorm and the men were so impressed that they encouraged a small Japanese emigration to Ogden.
While the larger community of Ogden sprawls outward in variable degrees of zoning and some unkempt residential neighborhoods, like many cities, the historic core sparkles and was an excellent base for skiing two very different ski areas in the nearby Ogden Valley: Snowbasin, where the Olympic downhill ski events were held, and Powder Mountain, a no-frills skier’s paradise featuring the largest acreage of any resort in the country.
Have you been to Ogden? What did you think? Do you have a favorite historic hotel? Tell about it.