Living history: Ogden's Ben Lomond keeps on as the grand dame of Utah hotels
When the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads drove the last spike at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, they connected East to West and put Ogden on the map as a bustling metropolis.
Called "Junction City" for its extensive network of railroads and short lines, the former farming community was a hub of trade teeming with agricultural, livestock and industrial activity. It also was home to one of the state's earliest skyscrapers.
"Among the 'three grand ladies' built during the state's heyday, Ogden's Bigelow/Ben Lomond Hotel is the only one still operating as a hotel," said Sarah Langsdon, Weber State University Special Collections curator.
In Salt Lake City, a second grand dame, the Hotel Utah, was shuttered in 1987 and later converted to offices and meeting space for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1983, demolition charges razed to rubble the third the Newhouse Hotel.
The Bigelow/Ben Lomond Hotel began its history as a five-story brick and stone structure called the Reed Hotel. Built in 1891 on the corner of 25th Street and Washington Boulevard, it was run by two Missouri hoteliers and catered to businessmen and tourists. In 1916, shops and the Ogden State Bank, owned by H.C. and A.P. Bigelow, occupied the ground floor. Expansive windows in the fifth-floor dining room offered panoramic vistas of the Wasatch Range and the Great Salt Lake.
In 1926, A.P. Bigelow purchased the old Reed and with 300 stockholders constructed a "community-backed" luxury hotel from the ground up. Designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style by the Salt Lake/Ogden architectural firm Hodgson and McClenahan, the renamed Bigelow was made fire proof, modernized and dressed up to illuminate Ogden's symbol of prosperity.
An eight-story L-shaped tower featuring ornamental terra cotta was constructed for 350 well-appointed guest rooms. Exquisite antique chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Its dining room accommodated a thousand guests. The coffee shop reflected Arabian themes. The ballroom was gilded like a Florentine palace. The businessman's club offered a glimpse of Old Spain. Dark wood paneling in the English Room waxed nostalgically of Britain's Bromley Castle. Murals by Utah artist LeConte Stewart paid homage to Macbeth in the Shakespeare Room, and neoclassical interior designs defined the Georgian Room in the sumptuously detailed mezzanine.
In 1933, Marriner S. Eccles purchased the hotel and changed its name to Ben Lomond. Although it changed hands often, Ben Lomond remained a hotel for some 40 years, was briefly repurposed and then restored.
With Ogden's boom-and-bust past, the hotel's eclectic style and sheer volume of guests, Bigelow/Ben Lomond was fodder for tales.
Some say Ogden's infamous system of underground tunnels created under 25th Street sidewalks went from Union Station to the hotel's basement and that during Prohibition alcohol, gambling and prostitution were easily accessible. Langsdon and others question the feasibility of an underground tunnel making it across the street without collapsing.
"It's a good story, and tunnels do exist between the hotel's three basements," she told me, "but I doubt they went beyond that."
Stories about ghosts are a different matter, according to Langsdon.
"There was a story about a Mrs. Eccles who was living in the hotel waiting for her son to return from the war," Langsdon said. "When Mrs. Eccles learned he was killed in an accident on his way home, she killed herself. It's been said she haunts the hotel by randomly pushing the elevator buttons. People sense her presence by her perfume smell."
Pausing slightly, Langdon drove closer to home. "My ex-husband worked night security at the hotel. Patrolling the halls, he often saw ghostly figures. On the second floor, he felt something grab his leg even though, he insisted, no one else was in the room."
But then, what grand hotel doesn't have a tale or two to tell?
Eileen Hallet Stone, author of Hidden History of Utah, a compilation of Living History columns for the Salt Lake Tribune, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.