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Grand America getting ready to unwrap its Christmas windows

Published November 18, 2013 8:47 am

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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's about to look a lot like Christmas at the Grand America Hotel — but they haven't opened the packages yet.

They're in the final stages of installing their one-of-a-kind holiday window displays. The big unveiling will come the day after Thanksgiving — Friday, Nov. 29, at 8 a.m.

"It's becoming a tradition here," said Brent Watts, executive creator director at Struck: A Creative Agency, and the man in charge of the Grand America's displays, which are, quite simply, works of art.

Art takes a while. The work on this year's displays began in January, just after last year's displays were taken down.

"We started immediately to come up with the theme for this year," said Watts. "We have 13 windows to work with here, and we wanted to create the story behind Santa's workshop. And it has to be the magic of elves and the story they tell."

There are a total of 36 elves — at least three in each of 13 windows — varying in size from eight to 15 inches, depending on the scale of each display.

"It's all one-of-a-kind, all hand-crafted," Watts said. "You won't see anything else like this anywhere else. There's so much attention to detail, and every little detail means something."

Months were spent coming up with conceptual drawings, ideas and plans. Fabricating all of this began in August and continues at a pair of workshops that resemble the Muppets creature shop — complete with the occasional creature.

Each of the 13 windows inside the Grand America Hotel feature a different part of the elves' efforts to create Christmas. In one, they're grabbing ornaments from under the nose of a yeti — an abominable snowman constructed of faux fur, with marbles for eyes and press-on nails for teeth.

It's really cool.

"It's for the kid in all of us," Watts said. "That's what's great about the holidays. We're looking to provoke the emotions of your childhood."

Last year, about 20,000 people came through the hotel to see the windows. They're hoping for at least that many again this year.

And putting it together is a lot of fun for the folks building the displays.

"It's the dream job," lead production designer Monte Blunk said with a laugh. "Nobody gets to do this. It doesn't happen."

Blunk and the other designers are building everything from toy ray guns to elf flying machines out of parts salvaged from, well, lots of things. Fishing reels. Spray-can caps. A motor from an old fan Buttons from old computers. A light-switch housing. And much more.

"We think every window is going to have its own separate feel and separate interest," Blunk said. "You're not going to get bored. I think they all have their own unique flavor."

Literally thousands of man-hours have gone into fabricating the displays, with thousands of man-hours of design before that. More than 30 people have worked on the project.

It's all brand-new, but it harkens back to Salt Lake City's past.

"We're from the old ZCMI window days," said designer Dennis Wardle. "We're part of that group. So it's nice to bring some magic back into the city."

With a couple of weeks to go before the unveiling, the pressure is ratcheting up.

"It's really comfortable and casual right now, but it will be intense," Watts said. "There are 13 of these. And we'll be racing to finish."


Twitter @ScottDPierce —

Grand America

The 13 holiday windows at the hotel, located at 555 S. Main St. in Salt Lake City, are all located indoors. The public is invited to view the free display, which opens Friday, Nov. 29, at 8 a.m. and runs through New Year's Day.