Categories: Community

Downtown Rising: The Transformation

For five years, cranes and construction dominated the urban heart of Salt Lake City. Now, a few years after City Creek Center opened its doors, we take a look at how downtown transformed through the lens of a local photographer .

By Marcie Young Cancio | Photography by Jon McCarthy

Hired by Salt Lake’s Downtown Alliance to document a vibrant urban city center amid the construction of the massive City Creek Center, photographer John McCarthy was enthralled by the blending of history and modernity during one of the nation’s largest redevelopment projects.

“It was the biggest Easter basket of a project I could imagine,” recalls McCarthy, who holds a degree in urban planning and redevelopment. “I saw the daily evolution of an almost cartoon-like city with skeletons of buildings wrapped in sheets of rigid foam insulation in a range of colors,” he said. He didn’t finish shooting until the mall opened a year ago. These photos he has shared are his most compelling.

“This could have been shot at almost any point during construction. Anytime someone was in a fixed position, their eyes were staring up at the sky. It shows a perfect moment and almost looks composed, rather than a group of anonymous people. They’re tied into the communal experience of being downtown.”

“With any project like this, there’s always a line of people waiting to do their work–the next guy in line to pour concrete or tighten a bolt. To catch someone in such a state of repose was a great way to show some humor. Construction is pretty serious work, and there was such an emphasis on safety. This was a way to see the lighter side of it.”

“This was all about color. Most of the time, I was shooting panoramas, but with this, I just kept the camera where it was. There was enough of a story, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with this one little tree amid all this construction and steel. It was a brief moment in time and had the city center and a [TRAX train], and it’s under the sky bridge right after the frame went up.”

“In this picture, I tried to show the integration of the artwork and this building that’s under construction is art, too. There’s a wonderful harmony of color that’s taking place. This was very much ‘in the now.’ I knew this art piece wasn’t going to be there forever and the building wasn’t going to look like this forever so it was a study in the temporary.”

“This shows the spit-and-polish final days after the structure was completed. The crowds hadn’t really started to come back at this point, and the streets were kind of vacant, like they had been during the construction.”

“This was shot from the First Security Bank building roof, which is a pretty old building. You could see this old microwave transmitter and had to navigate through all the exposed electronics of the elevators on the way up. This is one of the most beautiful views and ties in the deep commerce factor of two banks.”

“One of my favorites. It was taken [in small bits], so it’s really a series of shots that are stitched together to make up the final picture. It was around the Fourth of July, and they had the American flag flying. The color and shape of things was wonderful. There’s a nice equilibrium.”

“[In Salt Lake], there’s the importance of ZCMI marching on as America’s first department store. They went our of their way to restore this structure, and it shows the succession of commerce throughout downtown and the strength of that. When you see those guys[at work on what is now the Macy’s facade], you can’t help but think about how it must have been in the old days. There’s something heartwarming that ties it all together.”

“This guy and his wife, with a kid behind them, look hell-bent on getting somewhere—like they’re still looking for the great, iconic American prairie. Mormonism’s success comes from the pioneer iconography, and this statue embraces holding onto the past so dearly. The construction gives it a new meaning. There’s this modernism in the background and the hard persistence of the people in the statue.”

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