Taking the Waters: Beck Street, Baptism and Thirdspace
My father worked for the Union Pacific railroad for nearly thirty-five years. For most of my life, he was a yardmaster , a job that entailed maintaining perpetual radio contact with trains approaching and departing the railyard, ensuring that there were no accidents and that the endless train traffic was routed for unloading, repair, or continuation as efficiently as possible. Much like an air traffic controller, he worked in a tower. It was perhaps six or seven stories tall, straddled by tracks on either side, and it gave him a birds-eye view of the yard and nearly every human, animal, or mechanical movement within it. Every day for most of his working life, he climbed the zig-zagging stories of steel grate stairs to the small box overlooking an enormous hub of simultaneous movement and stagnation, the flux of capitalism and the slow rot of industry. Since the day he retired over eight years ago, I have never heard him utter a word about his career or workplace unless asked about it. When told that Top End, the yard in which he worked most of his career, was shutting down and that his tower would be demolished to make way for an enormous Utah Transit Authority hub, he merely shrugged and moved on to the Roper Yard in South Salt Lake, where he spent a couple more years guiding trains.
Occasionally, when I begged him or when his and my mother's work shifts overlapped, he took me to work with him. In retrospect, I can appreciate what a claustrophobic and cacophonous place the tower was to spend such an enormous portion of one's life. But for me, as a child, it was magic. The infinite stream of trains lumbering all around him far below, on their way to places I could only imagine, carrying car after car of treasures that were likely far less glamorous than what I believed they held. Everywhere in his small office were flashing lights and beeping devices and the constant disembodied voices of conductors over his radio. Many of these men had known my father for years and spoke to him as such, using nicknames and cursing in friendly terms that reminded me of my uncles and grandfather.
The climbs to and from his tower were both a highlight of each visit and a source of terror. Those steps were my introduction to aerial views, a first glimpse of cartography, a preoccupation that would manifest again and again in both my professional and creative ventures. I didn't fly in an airplane until I was well into my teensso, aside from the mountain roads my parents frequented each weekend, the tower felt like the highest place I'd ever been. On windy days, it seemed it might topple at any moment. The fact that I could see straight through the grate stairs gave me vertigo and made me cling to his legs. I could make it up the first two flights myself, but often he would carry me the rest of the way, pointing out parts of the strange landscape that surrounded the railyard.
While the tower itself obsessed me as a child, it was its environs that would come to haunt me as I grew. Even as my father carried me up those steps, I knew there was something entirely foreign about this place he disappeared to every day and the streets he navigated to get there. It was far than the neighborhood in the suburbs where I was raised and it seemed that everywhere there was fire – sparks from the train wheels, torchlights from the nearby welders and foundries, and towering infernos from the stacks of the refineries to north. At night, steam poured from the ground and storm drains all around. Small, scattered homes peered out between the factories and warehouses, but the few people we encountered seemed larger and louder somehow, less at ease than the family and friends I knew. Only many years later could I begin to reconcile these fleeting impressions with a portion of my city that, by that time, had become far more familiar.
The Top End yard sits about two miles northwest of downtown Salt Lake City just a few blocks west of Beck Street. Beck is a remnant of another time, a small piece of Highway 89, which ran from Wickenburg, Arizona, all the way to the Canadian border in Glacier National Park. Highway 89 has since been dissected and overshadowed by interstates such as I-15 in Utah, leaving something resembling a Morse code of pieces across a continent. Beck Street is one of the few of those pieces remaining in the Salt Lake Valley. It was named after John Beck, a mining entrepreneur who lived in the northern end of the city and who established several business ventures in the area. Like its namesake, the ten block diagonal strip between 800 North and 1800 North is predominantly given over to industry and has been for most of its history. It has garnered a reputation as a dirty and largely forgettable area of Salt Lake City.
Beck Street is a borderlands in many respects. It is a threshold – between the rigid street grid of Salt Lake proper and the meandering interstate 15 that follows the Wasatch range, between counties (Salt Lake and Davis), between cities (Salt Lake City and Bountiful), between overlapping patches of industrial, residential, and seedy commercial/entertainment zones that provide the area a grittiness that is nearly unrivaled in a city known nationally as one of the cleanest and safest areas in the country. Often, it is practically impossible to discern which businesses are operational, which houses are inhabited, as many windows are boarded up and broken down cars blur the lines between the commercial junk yard and the merely forgotten or abandoned. Novelist and essayist Andy Hoffman calls Beck Street "the edge of the city" and engages with it in his essay "Beck Street" from the point of view of Dostoevsky's Underground man who:
...lives at the edge, the border of every city. He lives here in my city, in the shape-shifting fog of Beck Street. He lives between the train tracks and oil refineries, knows every alley and abandoned warehouse...He drinks from the greasy river and bends to shit upon broken glass. If by chance I meet him in passing, it's natural to look away, and in doing so, I can't help but ask how deep the loneliness can go, how high and sturdy the fences (8).
Beck begins right at the point that 300 West, an almost perfectly straight road for nearly ten miles, makes an abrupt curve into a sharp, northwest diagonal. This curve stands in stark contrast to the grid of the city and, while necessitated by the Wasatch foothills and Capitol Hill neighborhood to the east, it has proven dangerous and often deadly for drivers year after year, particularly for those unfamiliar with the area. It feels an appropriately risky welcome to a street bordered on the south end by an enormous abandoned building that served for many years as a municipal bath, and later as the Children's Museum, and on the north by Southern Xposure, a strip club that is the last respite before the interstate. These poles, and the countless garages, foundries, warehouses, and storage lockers (mixed with a smattering of bars) between them, are a perfect illustration of what is on offer on Beck Street – sin and ablution, beginnings and endings, nostalgia and neglect. More poignantly, it offers transience at every turn –ephemeral trains, the tease of the lap dance, the short-cut to the interstate, row upon row of storage units tiding people over to the next home or collection, the bars that never close but always seem closed, the transients who manifest as the truly homeless and the just passing through. This is nothing new to Beck Street. Perhaps it has developed a more sharply-honed edge, but it has always been a place of perceived opportunity, the next great deal. It was and remains a point of crossing or wintering, a junction of the world below and above.
My great-grandfather came to America as a stowaway on a freighter. He started his life in Utah as a miner in Park City but followed the railroad to Salt Lake City where he took a job with the Union Pacific. My grandfather also spent his life with the Union Pacific. My father, too, spent nearly his entire working life with UP. When I applied for a job with the railroad after a period of unemployment, my father looked pained but said nothing. When I was not hired, I couldn't help but think he had tried to sabotage my application in some way because months later he told me, "I was so relieved when they didn't take you on. I want a cleaner, safer, less noisy place for you. That was not my world."
It was true. Much of his career was spent on swing or graveyard shifts. His world was loud, chaotic, and often dangerous. He had many stories of teenagers jumping trains and losing limbs or being cut clean in half. He told me of conductors that hit people on the tracks, whether by accident or because of suicide, and how often they made eye contact with the doomed. Those moments never left them. A steady stream of transients would trudge up to my dad's office, asking for directions or with other requests. When I was young, these encounters seemed exotic, but as I grew older, I began to be relieved each night he came home safe. But none of this stopped me from becoming nostalgic each time I drove Beck, past the turnoff down Everett, the artery of what used to be called Swede Town, or when, on particularly cold nights, I'd hear a far off train whistle.
At night and on particularly cold days, steam pours out of the ground all around the Beck Street. It creates great walls of fog that seem impenetrable to drivers and workers in the nieghborhood. It is one of the reasons that the freeway overpass just north of Beck has been designated one of the most dangerous in the United States. The hot springs simmering everywhere just below Ensign Peak on both sides of the road and interstate is what differentiated this area in the first place. Most notably, there was Hot Springs Lake – a series of spring-fed lakeletsequidistant between the shores of the Great Salt Lake and what is now I-15. During spring runoff, so much water would collect there that it would transform into a massive warm lake with up to 3-4 miles of sandy shoreline. During periods of lower water, the lakelets were surrounded by marsh and their waters reached temperatures between 120-126 degrees Fahrenheit. Little more than a few scalding puddles of Hot Springs Lake remain as it has largely been "reclaimed" by freeway and industrial parks.
A short distance to the southeast, another large spring tumbled out of the base of the foothills near the current site of the abandoned Children's Museum building. This was Warm Springs and long before the Great Salt Lake or the Wasatch Mountains made Salt Lake City famous, Warm Springs was the shining star of the city. Left to its own devices, the spring formed a large shallow pool at the base of the hill, the temperature of which fluctuated in the very comfortable range of 96-104 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result of its cooler and less brackish waters, Warm Springs was destined to become a haven for thousands of Salt Lake residents and travelers from all over the country and world. It would serve as the Beck Street area's first source of entertainment, commerce, as well as a rare site of comingling for Latter
Day Saints and gentile travelers.
The first description of the area made by white explorers was provided by Edwin Bryant, who describes both the Hot Springs Lake and Warm Springs sites, but did not share in the awestruck and gracious views of the waters that would come later, calling the "water of most of them bitter and nauseous" (213). While the sites were likely not visible from the initial Salt Lake settlement, it did not take long for Brigham Young and his colleagues to discover the springs. Erasmus Snow was the first of the Mormon settlers to discover the springs on July 22, 1847 and four days later Snow returned with Brigham Young, William Clayton and other church leaders to explore both Hot Springs Lake and Warm Springs. While the scalding waters of the lake were unusable without a means of controlling temperature, these early visitors reported that they "bathed in the warm springs [and] found it very pleasant and refreshing" (Jones & Dixon, 215).
Medical geography – the notion that particular spots, especially hot springs and other bodies of water, had healing powers – was a wildly popular trend at the time the Mormons arrived and it didn't take long for reports of the healing qualities of Warm Springs to draw in early settlers and travelers alike. Thomas Bullock reported that Dr. Willard Richards recommended hot mineral springs for their health benefits and that "every person who was sick that bathed in [Warm Springs] recovered" (215). Such claims increased traffic to the site, so Bullock and others dug out significant portions to make a larger bathing area that could accommodate about a dozen bathers at a time.
Its increasing popularity led local leaders to create a bathing schedule that allowed women to visit the springs on Tuesdays and Fridays only while men were welcome the other days of the week, a situation likely necessitated more for modesty's sake (since there were no facilities for changing on-site and most bathed nude anyway) than from any absolute separation of genders (Jones & Dixon, 217).
However, the notion of the site as sacred was not isolated to the Utes and Shoshones. In addition to, and likely as a result of, the belief in the healing powers of the waters, the Mormons quickly began utilizing the site as a place for baptism and, even more importantly, rebaptism (marking one of the few times in Warm Springs' early history that co-ed use was permitted). Many church members were baptized in places such as Nauvoo, IL and Independence, MO, as well as many European countries from which many early converts emigrated, prior to their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Despite this, many felt compelled to be rebaptized upon their arrival in the valley as a means of confirming their entry into Zion and the Kingdom of God. The obvious place for these rites was in the springs bubbling out of the mountains that protected their new homeland. Rebaptism was the first of many activities in the springs, ranging from spiritual to medicinal to recreational, that would come to known by the faithful as "taking the waters," a phrase as sincere in its original intent as it was ironic in its colonial and environmental undertones. (Farmer, 106)
In 1849, Brigham Young appointed James Hendricks bishop of the newly-formed nineteenth ward, whose boundaries included Warm Springs. As part of his duties, Hendricks was commissioned to build a public bathhouse next to the springs with water diverted from the springs to the baths via wooden pipes and combined there with cold water to moderate temperature. The original bathhouse sat approximately where Reed Avenue meets 300 West near where it curves in to Beck Street. On July 1, 1850, the Deseret News ran the headline "THE BATH HOUSE is now open for the accommodation of gentlemen." Despite the copy, it appears that women were welcome in the baths as well (Jones & Dixon, 219). In addition to the baths, the building contained a large meeting space used by both the nineteenth ward as well as for large social gatherings.
The bathhouse marked a departure for the Church in a number of ways. Initially, it served as one of the first public works projects begun by Brigham Young intended not only to improve the community, but also to keep his followers occupied and cooperating with one another. Despite their current abhorrence of all things communist or socialist, the early settlement was one of the more successful communal experiments in American history, though it would ultimately give way to commercial and capitalist ventures necessary to achieve statehood. Young, Hendricks, and others realized early on that the popularity of medical geography and of hot springs in particular could serve as a financial boon for the fledgling community.
Likewise, they understood the intrigue their culture created. Providing a resort of sorts for the curious would certainly add to the appeal. Travelers were already curious about Young's "Kingdom of Deseret," ascribing to it an "Asiatic" quality that was reinforced by the idiolect of the Mormons with words such as "Zion" and"Jordan" figuring prominently into their geography and mythos. Their polygamous families were compared to Turkish harems. It was a curious place with a curious people and an enormous dead, inland sea all too similar to that of the Holy Land. Farmer explains, "Where else could you find a mysterious religious capital alongside a sulfurous warm spring and briny inland sea" (105). More importantly, while Warm Springs was modest compared to larger springs complexes such as those in Hot Springs, Arkansas, "the Mormon capital offered visitors the only warm water therapy in a thousand miles" (Farmer, 106). As such, the small resort was popular with travelers, military men, and miners, most of whom were "gentiles," the Mormon term for non-members.
The bathhouse, and the hotels that arose in the surrounding area in later years, marked one of the earliest examples of Mormons comingling amicably with the outside world after their arrival in the Salt Lake valley. Though all the early businesses in the area were owned by Mormons, the location of the resort and its amenities did provide a convenient distance between such visitors and the main settlement of Salt Lake City. The proprietors, under the watchful eyes of Young and other leaders, did not fail to cater to the tastes of outsiders, with one hotel even holding a liquor license, the only one in the city at the time (Jones & Dixon, 222).
Hendricks was a better bishop than he was a businessman because by the fall of 1855, he had left the property, turning over the Bath House and its accommodations to A.H. Raleigh and Golding Tannery. While the owners of the tannery ceased offering rooms for rent, they continued to offer bathing services. Even these reduced amenities quickly fell into disrepair under the new ownership and by 1859, the property had changed hands once again.
However, the tannery's tenure on the site illustrates one of the earliest examples of the multipurpose character of the Beck Street area. Even in the midst of a potentially successful bathing operation, proprietors were always looking for other, typically industrial, uses for the site. Shortly after the development of the springs as a bathing site by the Mormons, several entrepreneurs believed that there was enough flow from the Warm Springs to power a saw mill adjacent to the bathing area (a notion that would be laughable for anyone visiting what remains of the spring today). Jones and Dixon explain that the venture was short-lived, stating the sawmill was built by "brother Archibald and Robert Gardner...[who] wrote that 'due to the water being warm there was not sufficient power to turn the wheel although three boards were turned out" (216). It was more likely that a lack of vertical fall in the springs was the cause of the lack of power.
While the tannery's stay was a bit longer, it's presence next to a public bath seems all the more absurd due to the incredibly toxic and noxious chemical used in the tanning process. It seems unlikely that, for most visitors, the medicinal and spiritual properties of the springs could overpower the stench of animal hides being chemically burned a short distance away. This unfortunate juxtaposition has carried forward into the present day, changing more in scale than in character, with refineries and other industrial ventures surrounding the small patches of residential areas and green spaces as well as the delicate marshlands that remain to the west, blanketing the area in chemicals typically less odorous, but more toxic.
In 1859, the city council turned the Bath House property over to John Tobin who was commissioned to build a new Bath House and make general improvements to the site. In the September 3rd issue of TheMountaineer, Tobin advertised free use of the springs to "emigrants intending to be permanent settlers, on their arrival...[to] enjoy the benefits of the Warm Springs this season; excellent for cleansing the dust and alkali of long road from the eastern states" (6). Few improvements were made and Tobin was out by 1864, when the city again took control of the site. Over the next decade a new Bath House was built a short distance north of the original along with other facilities. These existed on the spot where the small and largely unknown Warm Springs Park now resides.
Many of the early immigrants that John Tobin looked to lure to the Bath House were Scandinavians, particularly Swedes. Due to an enormous missionary effort by Mormon leaders in Sweden between 1860 and 1890 (and an equally large response), Swedes began flocking to Salt Lake in large numbers to be closer to the heart of their religion and to work in the mines, mills, smelters, and on the railroad. By the 1880s, Swedes comprised 5.2% of Salt Lake County's population (Moore, 324). Many of them, particularly those working for the railroad or the Utah Sand and Gravel Co. in the hills north of Warm Springs, began a small settlement north of the springs a few blocks from the railroad corridor.
I remember my father telling me about Swede town as we'd drive north on Beck Street towards his yard tower. I tried to imagine what this meant. Aside from caricatures on television and in other pop culture, I had little idea how a Swede looked or what differentiated them from anyone else, much less what a settlement of Swedish countrymen, from disparate parts of their homeland relocated into a isolated part of Mormon Zion, would look like. In reality, there was little to distinguish it physically from other areas of Salt Lake City. Unlike other communities that arose in Salt Lake, such as Japan Town and Greektown, both of which had non-Mormon churches and grocers or other gathering places that set their neighborhoods apart somewhat, Swede Town was largely Mormon converts who were trying to assimilate. This succeeded in varying degrees. Though Mormon leaders pushed for Swedes to participate in English-language wards to facilitate the process, Swedish language and culture was kept alive in Swede Town and amongst Swedish settlements all over the state though Swedish-language newspapers such as SvenskaHarolden, Utah Korrespondenten, and the Utah Posten as as well the as staging of Swedish plays and other cultural events. These events and publications were often born or staged in Swede Town (Jensen, 1).
There are several small side streets running west off of Beck between 1400 and 1600 West – in the latter portion of the nineteenth century, this was Swede Town. It was larger then, but industry encroached on the neighborhood and little exists besides Swede Town Park, a largely forgotten patch of green space on 1500 North and Swedetown Pub, a dive bar that sits on the corner of Everett and Beck that is connected to the original settlement in name only. Most of the original homes were replaced in the early parts of the twentieth century and a number of these remain though, despite recent efforts by revitalize the area a bit, most are rundown and reflect a kind of neglect that blends well with the commercial and industrial areas around them.
It is not easy to imagine it as a more lively place, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the "Swedish Rebellion" of 1903-1905, Swedes fought the Mormon Church's pushes for them to assimilate and protested their lumping of all Scandinavians into a single cultural group "advocate[ing] for separate Swedish Latter-day Saint organization which might more effectively foster Swedish language, culture and heritage" (Jensen, 1). Though their attempts were unsuccessful, the rebellion points to a willingness in the Swedes to agitate, a characteristic that would become all the more important in the early portions of the twentieth century as labor unions and parties became more and more prominent in Utah and labor disputes became more heated. Swedes were some of the earliest immigrants to work in the mines and other industries and were typically more inclined to join labor efforts. Such efforts were all the more reinforced by the presence of Joe Hill, a Swede himself (he was born Joel Hagglund). Hill was likely the most famous labor organizer in American history and his presence in Salt Lake and nearby communities further emboldened his countrymen while his controversial trial and execution outraged them and galvanized their efforts.
Everett was the street in Swede Town I knew best. I can remember each of its tiny bungalows by heart, as well as its barbed wire fences, dirt lots and rugged, obstinate trees. Here and there, stacks of crushed cars and junk parts loomed like memorials to the old highway before better times bypassed the neighborhood via I-15.It was, and remains, essentially a dirt road leading a few blocks west to the small mound built around the tracks to allow Union Pacific employees access over the rails and into the yard. It strikes me as odd that the road remains unpaved and I've never been able to determine a reason for this. Perhaps it is just the sheer volume of traffic, mostly composed of trucks and tractor trailers, up and down the road every day that makes it unreasonable to pave it, as repairs would be constant. But I can't help but think a statement is being made here, a neighborhood has been forgotten, left to its own slow decay.
What I remember most about Everett is something that, both happily and sadly, does not have to be remembered. It is still there. The Swedetown Pub sits on the corner of Everett and Beck, set far back from both streets. It, along with the Jimax (now closed and renamed) a short drive south, are the two bars that serve the Beck Street area. The Jimax opened in a former garage in the early sixties while no one seems quite sure when the Swedetown Pub began slinging its cheap beer. They were neighborhood bars of the highest order, something I learned the hard way on the single occasion that I went into each. In both cases, I felt like the patsy in a bad Western as each time the bar fell sullen and silent as I walked in, clearly not part of that scene. Hoffman describes the sensation perfectly in "Beck Street" when he says, "It's one thing to visit Beck Street an hour at a time as a sort of pilgrimage to the city's poisoned boundary, quite another to make it home." These were the folks who made it home, however briefly. I thought of what my father told me – "that was not my world."
As a child, I couldn't quite discern what the Swedetown Pub was. It seemed like a small motel with a boarded-up restaurant attached. Several times, as we drove past, I noticed women leaning on corners of the building or smoking as they sat on the peeling porch. They would be in the same spots when we drove past later. I remember asking my father what the place was. He sighed but didn't look towards where I pointed. All he said was something about it being a place for people who had bad luck. He said nothing of the bar attached with its windows shuttered or the hourly rates on the rooms. I didn't ask him about it again. I've heard that management shifted to renting the rooms as apartments rather than motel rooms, a move that has seemingly changed little in terms of the flux and desperation of the place.
I refamiliarized myself with Beck Street from the windows of buses. When I was fifteen, I fell in love with a girl who lived in Centerville, a town about twelve miles north of downtown Salt Lake City. I was too old and indifferent to follow my father to work anymore but, as with the girl I was on my way to see, I was taken by its edge. She was older and more than a little troubled, fearless and stupid – just enough dangerous to keep me transfixed. Not long before, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I was a white, middle class, Mormon-born kid living in the Salt Lake suburbs. In short, I felt boring and went looking for stories. She knew where the stories were, and there were always more stories. So every weekend, I climbed aboard the now defunct Route 51 to make the long trek to Centerville. Beck Street marked a transition in the trip, whether coming or going. It was a line of demarcation, the limits of my knowledge of poverty, desperation, or simply resignation. It was the beginnings of urban wilderness.
She alternated between living at home and running away to flophouses in North Salt Lake and the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake, where we partied with call girls, petty and not so petty criminals, and a whole cadre of sick and/or fascinating people, some of whom are dead, many of whom have disappeared, and a few of whom are still quite dear to me. She would disappear for days at a time, turning up suddenly at my high school, or crawling through my basement window late at night and unexpected. Often, there were frantic phone calls from gas stations, pleading for a ride or a place to stay. Many of the places we went skirted this small strip of city.
By that time, I could recognize the silhouettes of barflys in the Jimax and prostitutes working the Swedetown Pub. I understood that the many of these people were, or had once been, my father's coworkers or had serviced some of his colleagues' appetites in some way. Those businesses trying to put on an air of more legitimacy (the garages, the foundries, the pick-and-pulls) seemed isolated behind their chain link, barbed wire, and snarling dogs. But it was the refineries that loomed over the northern border of the street that first caught my attention on these long rides. They seemed endless, each a labyrinth or neocortex of steel and flame against the backdrop of the long marshes leading up to the edges of the Great Salt Lake. I could see cars and trucks everywhere but was never able to spot a man working anywhere amidst the monstrous pipe corridors. These sites seemed perpetual motion machines – something crude piped in invisibly over long distances only to leave impossibly changed, making my own constant pilgrimages possible. Twenty-four hours a day, the flames burst out the top of the stacks, nearly invisible in daylight, but like arcane lighthouses in the dark. Each time I passed them, I stared until I had to crane my neck to still see the last few lights, in awe that a few tired men exploring the remnants of an inland sea could have paved the way for so much need.
She disappeared one night, and that was it. Then she turned up months later, living on Beck's western periphery, a swollen belly and the endless sounds of trains outside her bedroom window. Then she disappeared and turned up again on its northern edge, a happy mother making a go of it. But like that neighborhood, she shut no one and no thing out. The last time I saw her was a stone's throw from that place where 300 West curves into Beck. She approached while I was on a call, waited patiently, and asked if I was me. I said "no, I'm sorry" and walked away.
By 1875, Swede Town was thriving but the hot springs in the area and the Bath House, in particular, was not. The city decided that it no longer wanted control of the facilities, so it passed through a myriad of leases and names, including White Sulphur Springs, until it passed back into the hands of the city's parks department in 1916 under yet another new roof under the name Warm Spring Municipal Baths. (Jones & Dixon, 224). In 1932, it changed a final time, becoming Wasatch Warm Spring Plunge and in 1947, the use of the warm spring water was halted and culinary water was used in the pools for nearly fifty years until the closure of the facility in 1976. The discontinuing of the use of the spring owed largely to developments in medicine, particularly the better understanding of viruses and bacteria. In the early twentieth century, shortly after the discovery of e. coli, the water in Warm Springs was tested and found to be a haven for the bacteria. Though this did not deter many bathers initially, the inevitable shift away from the spring water marked both the end of medical geography's popularity in the Salt Lake valley as well as an end to the mystique that surrounded the springs and their supposed healing powers that had held for over a century.
However, this change in a small corner of the valley also illustrated a larger shift occurring in the city at large – a shift from a hydrocentric culture who recognized the valley as an oasis within a greater desert, to a renewed effort to create a mythos of the valley as a wasteland that caused to bloom through the efforts of Mormon ancestors. This process ran parallel to the ruination of countless aquatic resources throughout Salt Lake and Utah valleys. The ease of travel by the early 1930s made the novelty of resorts on the Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, and the numerous hot springs around the valley less profound. Why get eaten alive by brine flies at an inland dead sea or risk e. coli, when California or other lush playgrounds were much more accessible than before. As Farmer puts it, "concurrently with these two great desiccations – one recreational, one ecological – a related psychic shift took place: in collective memory, post-pioneer Mormons reimagined Utah's land of lakes as a desert, a place where lifegiving aquatic resources—and the natives who once used them—did not belong" (105).
It should be noted that Warm Springs, though the most famous, was by no means the only resort built on the thermal activity along Beck, or along the Wasatch Front at large. Farmer documents the wide holdings of the street's namesake, John Beck, who clearly had a fascination with thermal areas:
An active real estate developer, Beck also bought the hot springs property near Salt Lake City. Previously, Hot Springs Lake had been used for yachting in the summer, bird hunting in the fall, and ice-skating in the winter...Beck launched improvements and advertisements...he turned the property into a proper resort with swimming pools, dance floors, and picnic areas—all with easy railroad access. Like many other nineteenth-century resorts, this one promptly burned down. It reopened around 1900 under different management, and remained popular among local until another fire in 1924. A third incarnation of the resort went into foreclosure in the 1940s. Then, in 1953, the Utah Highway Commission acquired the property under threat of condemnation. Today nothing remains of Beck's Hot Springs or the lakelet, which the state drained in 1915 for mosquito abatement. The site is now occupied by the interchange of U.S. Route 89, I-15, and I-215, a traffic bottleneck adjacent to an oil refinery (111).
Beck also owned a hot springs resort on Utah Lake at the point of its outlet to the Jordan River known as Saratoga Springs. In addition, several nearby facilities (again illustrating a propensity for multi-purpose sites) piped in the water from Hot Springs Lake or Warm Springs for bathing and medicinal purposes including Wasatka Springs, which was also a bottling works, and the first Salt Lake Sanitarium, which stood where Abravanel Hall now stands, piped in the spring water believing it calmed and helped in the treatment of patients (Jones & Dixon, 224).
The Wasatch Warm Springs Plunge building was repurposed a final time in the early 1980s when the city made it the Children's Museum. My sister worked there briefly and would occasionally take me with her on days when my parents' shifts overlapped. I was both amazed and terrified by the hulking building. Every room boomed and rattled with the slightest sound and, though I was enthralled with their insect exhibits and race car models, I always felt uneasy about the building itself. The museum felt out of place somehow. It was dark and everything was concrete and felt incredibly old. There were enormous holes in the floor with stairs leading down to where additional displays were kept. It was only many years later that I realized that these were former pools and bathing areas.
The museum only lasted a little over a decade and a half or so before its eventual move to Gateway. Since then the building has sat empty, a silent and decaying testimony to the heyday of Beck Street as a getaway from the bustling city. The Children's Museum remains the last bit of family entertainment to grace the street though a number of persistent Capitol Hill residents convinced the city to dedicate a small bit of green space around the abandoned and name it Warm Springs Park. As part of this project, one small part of Warm Springs was exhumed and restored in 2000. Though it is a small victory for the residents to have this memorial to the former glory of the springs, all recreational and spiritual characteristics have been stripped from it and care of the site is itinerant. It does still serve a practical, though particularly symbolic function. As Farmer puts it, "although bathing is prohibited, homeless people now take the waters" (401).