If our Victorian era Park City forebears, who were around for the Great Fire of June 19, 1898, saw Main Street today they would likely be shocked at how many of the buildings were familiar. The Fire, which began at the American Inn, now the Tesch Law Offices at 312 Main Street, leveled virtually the entire business district from the location of the Treasure Mountain Inn down to the Union Pacific Depot. Yet the buildings were rebuilt with a shocking rapidity, financially backed by some of the wealthiest industrialists in the West.
Four buildings had already been reconstructed in the minuscule timeframe between the Fire and the July 2, 1898, Park Record: Berry Brothers (current site of 602 Main), the old Park City Hotel (573), A.H. Fueling' bakery (570), and R.C. Williamson’s business (location unknown). For various reasons, these vanguard structures have been demolished over the years. The following week's Record showcased four new rebuilt buildings, all of which have also been lost to history.
It was the July 16, 1898, Park Record that mentioned the first rebuilt structure that is still around today. One "Park Float" entry wrote, "Riley & Towey's new saloon building [at 408 Main Street] will be ready for occupancy early next week." Barney Riley and P.H. Towey were pioneering saloonkeepers who ran their tavern for about a decade. The building became the clubhouse of the Women’s Athenaeum Society in 1921. Since the Athenaeum sold the building, it was a barbershop, a fudge store, a mercantile, and the temporary office of the nascent Kimball Art Center. Today it houses Roots, albeit with a much different appearance than in the transformative summer of 1898.
This building is a great example of both the rapidity of the post-fire rebuilding effort and the changing face of Main Street over the decades to accommodate fluctuations in Park City business needs. Built in the Victorian style, the frame building originally had a false front and a shed roof spanning the sidewalk. The porch was removed and the arrangement of windows and the entry door were changed by a 1940s tax photo. A second floor apartment was added by the 1970s to address a growing demand for residential space following the popularity of Treasure Mountain and Park West resorts. In other words, 408 Main has morphed with changing demands and tastes, but it is essentially the same building that was hastily constructed in July 1898.
The July 23, 1898, Park Record bragged that, “Since the fire which occurred one month ago Tuesday the 19th, an average of one building a day has been erected. By the time snow flies Main street [sic] will boast of [sic] in the neighborhood of seventy five new buildings.” This magnificent building boom—chronicled weekly in the Record—did in fact last through the summer, and it gave us some of the more enduring Main Street buildings we cherish today. While a handful of these were built in brick or designed by prominent architects, most structures were simple Victorian frame buildings like Riley and Towey’s saloon—hastily erected by expedient carpenters with little regard to design or durability. It is a bit ironic that these popup buildings now form the glue of the Main Street Historic District, over a century after the Fire. Built in a matter of weeks but standing for over 116 years: true staying power, indeed.
John Ewanowski is an architectural designer and research assistant at CRSA Architecture in Salt Lake City. His interest in Park City arose out of an ongoing historic preservation survey of over four hundred buildings in Old Town conducted by CRSA. A transplant from the Midwest, John is an avid skier and enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and camping as much as possible.