Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

November 8, 2012
If These Walls Could Talk

Kirk Hotel owner considers his building a labor of love that continues to tell a story of bygone days 

Visiting Tooele’s Kirk Hotel is like stepping back in time. Built in 1928, the Art Nouveau edifice at 57 W. Vine Street is a mainstay of downtown’s historic district. Its spacious lobby, adorned with an eclectic mishmash of furniture and décor, evokes the romanticism of the roaring 20s — with a distinct hometown twist. Locals know the Kirk for its storied heritage and its reputation for being haunted. To passers-through, it’s a quirky, yet comfortable place to lay down stakes for a while. To owner/operator Garth Jones, the 84-year-old landmark is a labor of love.

“We provide a service that nobody else can,” said Jones, 65, as he strolled through the hotel’s lounge last Friday afternoon, flanked by his massive Austrian shepherd, Odin.

The large, sunlit room was quiet save for the rush of an aquarium pump. The air was piquant with incense smoke, which wafted from decorative planters. Specifically, Jones was referring to the kitchens, which 45 of the hotel’s 52 units are equipped with. But the Kirk is unique in many other ways, and Jones has big plans for its future.

The hotel was the brainchild of wealthy miner Phillip C. Kirk. Its main floor included a gourmet restaurant and the third story served as a large ballroom. Upon its completion in 1928, the Transcript-Bulletin deemed the Kirk to be the most modern and up-to-date hotel in the state of Utah.

“No city of our size can excel us for class in hostelry,” the newspaper declared before proposing its opening day to be declared a holiday. The third floor, socialites stipulated to the Transcript-Bulletin, was a ballroom, not a dance hall.

“They’d party on a Saturday night until 3 a.m. and then get up and go to church,” Jones said.

But the hotel’s initial success was short-lived. When the stock market crash of 1929 bankrupted Kirk, the hotel was repossessed. Its doors remained closed until 1930, when Jones’ grandmother, Millie Anderson Jones, was tapped by the bank to revive it.

“She was a highly respected business woman,” Jones said. “First Security came to her and said, ‘If anybody can do this, it would be you.’”

She and her son, Garth Jones, Sr., reopened and breathed new life into the hotel. A third story was added to the west wing in the late 1930s and a pool hall was opened in the basement. Much of the space the ballroom occupied was converted to apartments in the 1940s. Garth Jones, Jr. took over hotel operations in 1972. Today the Kirk caters mostly to longer-term guests, many of whom are in town on temporary jobs. The Kirk does not rent nightly.

“It’s the best built building in town,” said Jones, whose passion for the hotel is equal parts nostalgia and practicality. “It’s just a fortress of reinforced concrete.”

The Kirk’s eclectic character derives from happenstance rather than design. Each room has its own unique style, inspired mostly by whatever décor and high quality furniture Jones can find a good deal on. He augments the building with parts cobbled together from all across the state, with an eye on durability.

“I’m a very fortunate person in that anything I need I can usually find,” Jones said. “I’ve salvaged all of the best buildings in Salt Lake.”

Among other items, the Kirk features stainless steel doorframes and sinks from LDS Hospital, a sprinkling system from The Gateway, and glass doors from the Salt Lake City-County Building. Each bathroom boasts custom tile work that Jones himself creates and installs. A bathroom in the west wing showcases modernist tempered glass panels. Another room has walls specially textured to match the look of the old ballroom. Jones, who has no formal construction experience, credits his ideas to the various craftsmen that stay at the hotel.

“What I didn’t know, I learned,” he said. “I’m really open to advice. If anybody knows more than me, my mouth is shut and my ears are open.”

Jones embraces the hotel’s quirky ambiance and accepts its reputation as a haunted place. Several ghost hunting outfits have conducted investigations of the Kirk over the years. According to Jones, paranormal activity is focused in the basements and the ballroom area.

But Jones insists there’s more to the Kirk than ghosts. He sees the hotel as an ongoing practical project — an attempt to pay homage to its rich history while improving the building. Among other plans for the future, he intends to install an elevator in an existing structural shaft and convert the remaining ballroom area to penthouses. He’s also thinking of converting the west wing basement back into a pub.

Jones said his overarching goal is to provide a unique service to his customers.

“There’s no mortgage involved when you live at the Kirk,” he said. “The bank is not your partner. It’s the concept of giving people what I call the millionaire lifestyle. They can come in and live in housing that would only be affordable to a millionaire. It’s totally worth all the effort I put into it.”

With Odin close behind, Jones climbed the Kirk’s winding concrete staircase to the third floor, where a non-descript doorway led to the remaining area of the ballroom. The wooden dance floor was long ago removed, and the lath and plaster surfaces of the interior walls gave the room a certain skeletal appearance. Yet vestiges of the ballroom’s grandeur were still apparent in thick concrete arches and textured walls. This is where the penthouses will go.

“It’s the only part of the building that hasn’t been rebuilt, but it has the most potential,” Jones said, then glanced at one of the arches with visible pride. “Notice that this concrete is without even the smallest hairline crack — like it was just poured.”

The Kirk’s interiors may continue to change, but the building itself — along with its heritage and charm — are sure to remain around for a good long time.

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