Businessman M. Walker Wallace, who shaped Utah sports and culture, dies

Real estate investor, who helped plant the seeds for 2002 Winter Olympics, died April 6 at age 97.

(Ryan Galbraith | The Salt Lake Tribune) M. Walker Wallace in 1996.

During his lifetime, M. Walker Wallace — a Utah businessman and real estate investor with a well-known family pedigree — helped lay the foundation for Utah’s sports, culture and tourist industries.

Wallace — who died April 6 from causes incident to age — was part of the 1966 team that pitched Utah as a site for the Winter Olympics. He was 97.

Sapporo, Japan, would get the bid that year and it would be more than three decades before Salt Lake City would actually host the Games, said his son, Matthew Wallace. But that trip to Rome planted the seeds.

Walker Wallace — whose U.S. ski team career was cut short by a broken leg — also helped establish Snowbird and Park City ski resorts. He was part of the committee that created Salt Lake City’s Downtown Alliance. He donated time and money to dozens of community organizations from the Utah Symphony and Ballet West to the Nature Conservancy, Planned Parenthood of Utah and the University of Utah Eccles School of Business.

“He wanted Salt Lake City to be a vibrant place,” said Matthew, “and he helped put it on the map.”

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Jack Gallivan, Calvin Rampton and M. Walker Wallace at the Alta Club in Salt Lake City Feb. 1, 2002. Forty years ago, they were part of a small group that tried to bring the Winter Olympics to Utah.

While he never held political office, there was nothing that Wallace relished more than his meetings at the Alta Club for political dialogue with the Damned Old Democrats. Wallace was one of the original members of the group, along with former Gov. Calvin Rampton and then-Salt Lake Tribune Publisher Jack Gallivan.

The men would sit in the card room and have lunch, Matthew said, all the while looking across the street at the headquarters for the Republican Party and living at the seat of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Later, younger Democrats joined the group, including U.S. Rep. Karen Shepherd, former Salt Lake County Mayor and state party boss Peter Corroon, and former University of Utah law professor Ed Firmage. “They were like-minded,” said Matthew, “and they often lamented the lack of a two-party system in Utah.”

M. Walker Wallace was born Jan. 7, 1924, into what can only be called Utah royalty.

His father, John McChrystal Wallace, was president of Walker Bank and Trust and served as Salt Lake City mayor. His mother, Glenn Walker Wallace, is considered the First Lady of the Arts in Utah for helping establish Ballet West and the Utah Symphony.

He spent his formative years in Salt Lake City but attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy in San Diego and received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University.

(Matthew said his father was “always conflicted” when his alma mater played the U. in football.)

Wallace received a master’s in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked as the principal planner for Boston before he and his first wife, Connie, returned to Utah to work for Walker Bank.

The couple had two children, Matthew and Anne McChrystal Wallace-Maulding. Connie died in 1980, and Wallace later married Susan S. Rilling and became stepfather to her three children.

During his time at the bank, Wallace is credited with adapting the iconic 64-foot tower on the Walker Center building at 175 S. Main into a weather station. “The colored lights — that was his doing,” Matthew said. “He got the idea from a building in Boston.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Walker Center sign in the middle of the Salt Lake City skyline.

The sign is still part of the Salt Lake City skyline, and people can look at it and immediately know the forecast. If the lights are solid blue, it’s clear skies; flashing blue means clouds; red is for rain; flashing red is snow.

Later in his career, Wallace started Wallace-McConaughy Corp., a real estate investment firm that developed properties across the Wasatch Front. He also was president of the Idaho Television Corp. (the ABC affiliate in Boise and Pocatello) and president of the Arizona Ranch and Metals Co. in Scottsdale and Salt Lake City.

He was an avid golfer and skier, hitting the slopes well into his 80s. He also was an accomplished viola player, often performing for family and friends in his Holladay home, not far from the Cottonwood Country Club, which he also helped establish.

The Utah landscape “would look much different without him,” Matthew said. “Utah is better for having him around.”

The family will bury Wallace in a private service, adding that a public celebration would be held at later date.