In the late 1990s when my husband, Chris, and I moved into our new (old) home in Sugar House, one of the oldest ‘suburbs’ in Salt Lake City, our realtor advised us that our neighborhood was on the cusp of a change. As he unceremoniously put it, "Your neighbors will be either newlywed or nearly dead." And he was right.
In those days, the retail center of the historic Sugar House neighborhood consisted of empty streets, crumbling store fronts, and cratered asphalt parking lots. Only a few eclectic places, which smelled of musty basement, had survived the blight.
And in the middle of it all, on the most prominent corner, stood Granite Furniture.
Since we were expecting our first child, and committed to our new neighborhood, we decided to purchase all of our baby accoutrements at the outdated store. Wandering through the empty showroom (and followed a little too closely by our over-eager salesperson), we tried our best to ignore the ragged schoolhouse carpeting, faded and patched where display furniture had been moved and rearranged over the decades. Chris may have whispered something about chalk outlines of a long-forgotten crime scene. And I may have giggled.
Although it was clear that decades had slipped by without a face-lift for the old girl, the bones of the place were good. The store was an aging starlet.
Granite Furniture opened in Sugar House in 1910. It was built when the small community consisted only of coal yards, feed stores, a library, a fire station, and a sugar mill – an enterprise intended to produce sugar from sugar beets. Interesting fact: the mill never produced any sugar, but it gave the community its name.
The basement was dug using teams of horses, and the entire structure was raised for a total construction cost of $12,000. The front of the brick building was painted to advertise its contents: Furniture, Stoves, Ranges, Carpets, Rugs. As new houses were built nearby, Granite Furniture rode the wave of prosperity. And by 1964, the store had undergone eleven expansions and the showroom/warehouse was a voluminous 330,000 square feet. (Salt Lake Tribune)
About that time, however, newer suburbs further south of the city became the hot place to live. In a freshly built split-level, families could get a built-in dishwasher, an attached garage, and oodles of closet space. In contrast, the dwellings in Sugar House were out of date, the residents were aging, and their small rooms were already filled with furniture. Sales (and the neighborhood) began to decline.
Back to my ‘90s nesting trip, as Chris and I approached the faded faux-brass and cracked-concrete exterior, the iconic Roto-Sphere Granite sign (pictured above) spun in halfhearted, buzzing-fluorescent, faded-turquoise enthusiasm. But that enormous gaudy star, with sixteen aluminum eight-foot-long spikes, was still a beauty – a testament to good times. When the sign was first installed in 1961, it was painted gold and was outlined with orange neon bulbs. The panels that spelled Granite were crimson. Just over 200 of these unusual signs were produced nationwide, and Granite Furniture was prosperous enough in the 1960s, to display one. (RoadsideArchitecture.com)
Despite our hopeful purchases that day, my husband and I weren't able to save good old Granite Furniture, and the place was shuttered in 2004. However, our realtor’s prediction about Sugar House came true. By 2011, the retail center was booming once again, and the Granite Block was retrofitted and rebuilt to house restaurants, art galleries, and live/work spaces. The Roto-Sphere sign was updated to advertise the new trendy occupants.
During the face-lift, I ducked under the chain-link fence to snoop behind the orange cones and hard hat barriers. Behind the faux exterior, painted on the original brick store front, and hidden from the public for decades, it still read: Furniture, Stoves, Ranges, Carpets, Rugs.
At that moment, I knew I must include Granite Furniture in the novel I was writing. I loved the idea that one antiquated furniture store could touch the daily lives and beloved homes of so many families throughout the decades. You see, the furniture we buy to fill our rooms is intimate. It is a statement about who we are and personal taste, but these are also the items that surround us when we relax, love, and live – which is the reason I wove this historic retail outlet into several of the stories in my novel Root, Petal, Thorn.