Building that played 'key' role in saving the University of Utah in 1940s comes down

Demolition has begun on the Annex at the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 1, 2021. The World War II-era wooden building will be replaced by a new 300-space parking lot.

Demolition has begun on the Annex at the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 1, 2021. The World War II-era wooden building will be replaced by a new 300-space parking lot. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)


6 photos

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

Editor's note:This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.

SALT LAKE CITY — A building that played a pivotal role in keeping the University of Utah afloat amid an enrollment "crisis" seven decades ago is coming down.

University officials said crews began work to demolish the Annex Building near the Jon M. Huntsman Center last week. It'll make way for new student use, which is a somewhat fitting end to a building that far exceeded any of its expectations when it was constructed in 1942.

The U.S. Army constructed it as United States involvement in World War II picked up on land that what was, at the time, a part of Fort Douglas, according to Bim Oliver, a historian and architect. Construction only took three months for the 90,000 square-foot building. Much like many of the other Fort Douglas buildings that were quickly built during the war, it was only expected to have a five- to 10-year lifespan.

It served as an administrative building and the headquarters for the Ninth Service Area, which covered the western portion of the U.S. It then became vacant after the war wrapped up.

It would soon become a "key building" in the University of Utah's history, explained Oliver, during a May 12 presentation about the University of Utah in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The university acquired the massive structure in 1948 when the U.S. transferred nearly 300 acres of Fort Douglas land to the university. At the time of the land transfer, the University of Utah had a large surplus of students and nowhere to put them. The situation was severe enough that the university's president at the time publicly considered moving the university campus elsewhere.

The Annex alone accounted for a 30% spike in university building space from the previous year. Its legacy for its remaining years is that it was a place with a "wide diversity of uses," according to Oliver. By 1950, the structure housed the university's business college, as well as its accounting, banking and finance, civil engineering, economics, English, history, management, marketing and philosophy departments.

An undated photo of The Annex, a building the University of Utah acquired in 1948 that became a pivotal structure for its expanded campus.
An undated photo of The Annex, a building the University of Utah acquired in 1948 that became a pivotal structure for its expanded campus. (Photo: Utah State History)

"It was adapted to more uses than any other building in university history — by far," he added. "It accommodated just about every kind of use that the university had at the time and even new uses as the university grew and expanded."

It would go on to house the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps, a credit union and also, at one point in history, the "world's largest turtle collection" among many, many other purposes. Its long history is why Oliver called the decision to demolish it "unfortunate."

"This building is so significant in the history of the university. To see it go away is to really see a piece of the university's history go away," he said during his May 12 presentation.

But its demise means it'll provide yet another use for the school. University of Utah officials say the land will be redeveloped into a parking area in the short term and "an important new university building" sometime in the future. Oliver said that, ironically, traffic and parking was a significant issue for the university at the time the Annex was acquired, too.

Prior to the demolition start last week, Oliver and the Utah State Historic Preservation Office conducted a final review of the structure to ensure its spot in Utah history was properly documented.

The university shared a video of the deconstruction on social media Wednesday. Those who spent time in the building during its history had mixed emotions about it.

"I worked for 10 years in the Annex as part of the U.'s (human resources) team in the mid 80's and 90's. Some good memories there," one person wrote.

Others wrote that the building served its purpose.

"I had to spend six months working in there after my building had a flood a couple years ago. It was not a pleasant experience," another person wrote. "It was time for it to go."

Photos

Related Stories

SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast