A bit of whimsical, nostalgic Christmas spirit remains on the Sugar House Monument Plaza this holiday season thanks to construction, development and architectural elves who volunteered their time and donated materials to make it happen.
Santa's sugar shack is a holiday tradition that dates back to World War II. According to unofficial Sugar House historian Lynne Olsen, the chamber of commerce built the first one during World War II. A more permanent structure opened in 1947 when the monument plaza was redesigned.
In those days, there were often special performances by music groups to entertain shoppers. Kids thought Christmas would not be complete without a visit to the old Southeast Furniture nearby, which put together an animated holiday window each year.
A round gazebo used from 1959 to 1988 was destroyed during the demolition of Hygeia Ice in the spring of 1988 and the continuation of the tradition was in doubt.
The combination of a change in traffic patterns and the building of ShopKo and the Sugar House Center in 1990 caused the shack to be moved southeast, but it never quite caught on with residents who longed for a move back to the plaza.
The shack, literally a Tuff Shed-like building, moved back to the monument in 1993. But the shed, which had to be moved to the Sterling Furniture back parking lot each year, was in disrepair. During last year's move, much of the floor fell out.
Mark Isaac, the director of entitlement and planning for Boulder Venture Development, which has worked to remodel and restore the old Granite Furniture Building near the monument plaza, came to the rescue.
"The idea was we would fix the Santa shack," said the 17-year Sugar House resident, who also has two children. "But when we tried to move the shack, the bottom fell out. It was just weathered and fatigued."
It was determined that the old shack was beyond repair.
So Isaac asked Dino Furano of R & O Contractors, a firm working on one of many Sugar House construction projects, for ideas.
Furano, whom Isaac now calls Elf Dino, got Michael Upwall Design, a Sugar House business, to design the new building. Then R & O Contractors, Nate Rideout and Okland Construction, which is working on the another major Sugar House project near the monument, worked with their subcontractors to get it built in time for the holidays.
Isaac and his firm coordinated the project with help from Jim Detrio; Joseph, Daniel and Abel Wayman; Rich Church; Colton Sweat; Gregorio Yanez and the Zitting Brothers.
"It became a matter of we're not going to let the community and kids down," said Isaac, who estimates that 30 to 35 different volunteers from companies and trades donated close to $10,000 in materials and at least another $10,000 in labor to get the project built."
The new structure has a full metal and heavy timber frame and was designed to be easily moved by a forklift at the end of the season.
It looks much different than the old one. It's not so much a shack as it is a building fit for Santa's North Pole workshop. It is two stories high, with a big exposed ceiling and glass doors and windows so Santa can be seen inside by passing motorists.
"I can't tell you what a gift that is," said Laurie Bray, a professional photographer and member of the newly formed Sugar House Chamber of Commerce. "It was amazing to see the people who got on board. Not everybody allows follows through. It was refreshing to work with people who do."
It took eight days to build the new Santa house, a time period so short it took officials by surprise.
Bray said that after the redesign of the Monument Plaza, the chamber may work with Salt Lake City's Redevelopment Agency to keep the Santa building on site most of the year so it could be used for art walks, as a visitor information center or for other community events.
Santa Shack hours in Sugar House
Monday through Thursday • 3 to 7 p.m.
Friday • 3 to 8 p.m.
Saturday • 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday • Closed
Santa Sugar House shack timeline
World War II • Tradition of Santa in Sugar House began.
1947 • Santa moved to a specially designed house on the Sugar House Plaza. There was also a mechanical Santa in its own house.
1952 • Santa sat in his Sugar House shack on the plaza in a throne-like chair.
1962 • Santa began arriving in a helicopter with a parade through the business district.
1959-1988 • A round gazebo was used from 1959 through 1988, when it was destroyed by fire during the demolition of the Hygeia complex in the spring.
1989 • A Tuff Shed was obtained for Santa.
1990 • Santa's Sugar House shack was moved south and east to the Sugar House Center shopping complex near ShopKo.
1993 • Shack moved back to its original site on the Plaza.
2013 • Local contractors, architects, developers and trade workers donated materials and labor to build a new Santa shack.
Source • Lynne Olsen