Utah’s earthquake took its toll on at least 77 historic buildings

(photo courtesy Utah Division of State History)The Jackson Apartments in the western part of downtown Salt Lake City sustained a dangerous chimney collapse in Wednesday's magnitude 5.7 earthquake. It was among the historic buildings hardest hit in Salt Lake City.

At least 77 historic structures in Salt Lake City and Magna sustained damage in Wednesday’s magnitude 5.7 earthquake.

Among those hardest hit in Salt Lake City were the Jackson Apartments, 274 W. 200 South, and the Crane Building around the corner on 300 West, according to Christopher Merritt, the state’s historic preservation officer.

“In the Jackson Apartments [a four-story 1915 building], a large chimney sustained a catastrophic crack,” Merritt said. “I don’t know if they have to move residents or evacuate a certain area.”

Downtown’s First United Methodist Church, which showcases one of the oldest organs in the West, also suffered significant damage. The quake shifted parapets and separated walls from ceilings in the 1906 house of worship.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Larry Hjalmarson, First United Methodist Church member and maintenance overseer, talks on the phone to the city inspector in the church sanctuary, March 19, 2020. The 115-year-old church's walls separated from the ceiling in places and needs repair work and seismic upgrades, due to damage sustained during the 5.7 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday. The church will remain closed until the scope of the damage is determined.

Three crews from the Utah Division of State History toured Magna and Salt Lake City’s historic neighborhoods on Friday checking those cities’ iconic older buildings for exterior damage. Merritt said half the 24 buildings known to have sustained heavy damage in Magna, just a few miles from the quake’s epicenter, will likely require major work to save.

The crews also roamed Salt Lake City’s older neighborhoods, documenting visible damage Friday. Homes and businesses in the Avenues appeared largely unscathed, while Sugar House and Liberty Wells showed isolated damage, according to Merritt.

The farther west, the greater the damage appeared in historic structures. The Crane Building looked fine in front, Merritt said, but a structural crack was evident on the rear of the five-floor building, erected in 1910.

(photo courtesy Utah Division of State History) The 1910 Crane Building in the western part of downtown Salt Lake City sustained a structural crack in a magnitude 5.7 earthquake that struck Utah on March 18, 2020. It was among the historic buildings hardest hit in Salt Lake City.

“The Warehouse District seems to be hardest hit,” said Merritt, who was in his office in the historic Rio Grande Depot when the shaking started. “Downtown to I-15 took the brunt of it.”

Also hard hit was the Fuller Paint Building, now serving as Big-D Construction headquarters, on 400 West. Built with reinforced concrete in 1922 in response to the San Francisco earthquake and fire, it was the first large-scale, all-concrete building in Salt Lake City and the first all-concrete warehouse west of the Mississippi, according to the Society of Architectural Historians.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday issued a declaration of emergency, his second in a week, in connection with the earthquake, noting that it poses a threat to life and property just as Wasatch Front communities are reeling from the coronavirus epidemic.

“We are grateful that we had no major injuries and no fatalities as a result of this quake, but now we need to focus on helping our communities repair damages," Herbert said. "This declaration will help in that effort by expediting the use of state resources, as well as federal resources, should they be needed.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The former Fuller Paint Building, now serving as Big-D Construction headquarters, on 400 West is among the historic buildings most damaged by this week's earthquake.

Orion Goff, director of building services and civil enforcement at Salt Lake City, estimated that fewer than a dozen of the city’s homes were uninhabitable after Wednesday’s earthquake.

Damage “hasn’t been as bad as what I would have expected,” given the large number of brick homes in the city, Goff said Friday. The number of uninhabitable homes, however, could rise.

Utah’s capital received about 150 requests for evaluations and is working to complete them. Inspectors had to triage the requests. Some homeowners asked for an inspection even though they could not see any damage.

The homes deemed uninhabitable are older houses with unreinforced masonry, Goff said. A house near 1900 E. 400 South, for example, had a brick gable tumble into the yard and the chimney fall onto the roof.

No one was injured.

Goff said his department was working to create an interactive map showing the homes and businesses that suffered damage in the earthquake.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roberto Duran talks about damage to his mobile home park in Magna, Utah, after many were knocked off their foundations during a magnitude 5.7 earthquake that hit the area on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Salt Lake City homes appear to have weathered the earthquake better than West Valley City, where 49 homes in a mobile home park have been condemned.

A dozen Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouses, mostly located in the Magna area, appear to have sustained structural damage and will require further assessment, according to information provided by the church. Some of the church’s west-side humanitarian and commercial buildings are also closed due to damage.

Some larger places of worship experienced damage, too, especially downtown Salt Lake City’s historic Cathedral Church of St. Mark. The Episcopal Diocese of Utah is keeping people out until the church can be deemed safe.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crews assess damage in Magna, the epicenter of a 5.7 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday morning, March 18, 2020, along historic Main Street.

In Magna, near the magnitude 5.7 quake’s epicenter, officials still were assessing the damage to the community’s historic Main Street.

Greg Schulz, administrator of the Magna Metro Township, said owners of historic buildings have been told not to demolish anything; there might be special federal or state money for them to rebuild or refurbish.

One historic structure, the Panama Building, might reopen soon, he said. An artifact from Magna’s mining era, the structure has since been converted into office space and apartments.

“Structurally, the building is fine,” Schulz said. “There’s just some cosmetic interior damage.”

Schulz was feeling the aftermath of the earthquake firsthand — literally. The gas to his office was shut off Friday. The office had no heat and Schulz said his fingers were cold.

As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, instruments at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations have recorded 214 aftershocks since the magnitude 5.7 jolt Wednesday at 7:09 a.m. Records show 36 exceeded magnitude 3, with three topping magnitude 4. Friday’s largest rattle registered magnitude 2.2 at 2:54 a.m.

Shaken Utahns, grappling with self-isolation from the coronavirus pandemic and the aftermath of a powerful earthquake, will be relieved to hear that the U.S. Geological Survey has lowered the likelihood — already relatively low — in the next week of another temblor greater than magnitude 5.7 to less than 1%. But residents can expect hundreds of more aftershocks.