How JFK helped turn Park City around
Ryan Summerlin November 20, 2013
The Park Record
The Park Record ran the story without a headline on Oct. 17, 1963. It was buried on the third page.
"Treasure Mountains recreation center at Park City, Utah’s new year-round resort, will open its first facilities in December," the story began, "and no one could be happier about this news than the President of the United States."
A photograph with the story showed President John F. Kennedy and Utah Sen. Frank E. Moss studying what appears to be an artist’s rendition of the base area of Park City’s new tourist attraction. The photo may have been taken during a visit that Kennedy made to Salt Lake City the previous month.
"The President expressed satisfaction that it was a $1,232,000 loan from the Area Redevelopment Administration, a Kennedy administration program, that helped financially to launch the new Park City resort development," the story continued.
According to The Park Record, the project’s developer, United Park City Mines, was confident that the new resort would be "comparable in appeal" to Sun Valley and Aspen.
On Dec. 21, 1963, Treasure Mountains – now Park City Mountain Resort – welcomed its first customers. But the man whose program had provided the seed money for the new resort wasn’t alive to celebrate it. He had been assassinated less than a month before the grand opening.
The story of Kennedy’s role in the creation of the resort – which included a White House luncheon for Jack Gallivan of the Salt Lake Tribune, H.C. McConaughy of The Park Record and other Utah newspaper publishers – is now a celebrated part of the history of Park City’s renaissance. But Kennedy’s campaign for the White House wasn’t universally viewed as good for the mining town’s struggling economy, which was still heavily dependent on the production of lead, zinc and silver.
"Senator Bennett Says Kennedy Policies Could End Utah Mining," a Park Record headline shouted days before the November 1960 General Election. The Park Record, whose publisher was an unabashed supporter of Richard Nixon, faithfully reported a speech by Utah Sen. Wallace Bennett at the Memorial Building (now the home of Park City Live) in which he accused Kennedy of consistently opposing depletion tax deductions for mining.
Domestic production of lead and zinc had been in trouble since the late 1940s, when prices started to drop on national markets. In the first nine months of 1949, Park City mines laid off 875 workers. Many would never collect local paychecks again.
In March 1954, the Summit County Commission wrote an open letter to Utah’s congressional delegation that painted a grim picture of life in the old mining camp. Enrollment in the public schools had dropped from 1,052 to 449 in the previous 12 years, the letter said. More than 200 properties had been sold to the county for back taxes in 1953 alone. The commissioners blamed an influx of foreign metals and asked for a revamping of the tariff structure to protect domestic industries "rather than to enrich foreign producers."
In Washington, it was a familiar refrain. Every president from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson was asked to shore up the domestic lead-zinc industry, either by imposing tariffs on imports, supporting domestic production, or both. But nothing they did could satisfy their critics or turn the industry around.
In December 1962, S.K. Droubay, vice president and general manager of United Park City Mines (UPCM), lamenting the Kennedy administration’s lack of support for domestic lead-zinc mines, announced the company was planning to lay off another 100 workers the following January. "This is the last of an operating crew that once numbered 2,000," he told the assistant secretary of the Interior at a meeting in Denver.
But by then Droubay and other mining company officials were looking at other ways to pump money into their ailing underground operations. The new bonanza, they had decided, was recreation. They envisioned a four-season resort with facilities for skiing, horseback riding and golf. To finance the new resort, they applied for a low-interest loan from the federal Area Redevelopment Administration (ARA), which had been created by Congress and signed into law by Kennedy on May 1, 1961, as a way to bolster the economies of depressed areas.
The underlying rationale for the ARA was to help distressed communities make the transition from one economic state to another. The ARA identified development areas by looking at local income and unemployment statistics, along with other characteristics.
In the fall of 1961, the Utah Department of Employment Security recommended that Summit County be formally designated a redevelopment area, citing county jobless rates as high as 13.6 percent in the previous four years. In January 1962, The Park Record was notified that the ARA had added Summit County to its list of eligible areas.
Summit County organized a development committee with Droubay as its chairman. The Park City Land and Recreation Development Co., formed by UPCM and several partners, asked the ARA for a 25-year low-interest loan.
In the summer of 1962, while the ARA application languished in Washington, Jack Gallivan of the Salt Lake Tribune got a lunch invitation from the White House. Gallivan was asked to assemble a team of Utah newspapermen to meet with Kennedy in Washington. Among those chosen for the team was McConaughy of The Park Record, then president of the Utah State Press Association.
"Saturday morning I got the wire," McConaughy wrote in a tongue-in-cheek column, The Ant’s Eye View, on Aug. 9, 1962. "JFK needs my help. He must exchange views with me on various problems. He wants me to be his guest Friday noon at the White House for luncheon. So I’m going."
In that column, McConaughy also revealed that he had promised his wife he’d steal a gold demitasse spoon from the White House.
Photos of the Aug. 10 luncheon show McConaughy sitting at Kennedy’s right. Gallivan is facing the president from the other side of the table.
"When the meal was over, the president said, ‘What can I do for you?’" Gallivan told interviewer Larry Warren years later. "I was spokesman for the group, and I said, ‘Well, we have an application in for an Area Redevelopment Administration loan that is going to revive the city of Park City.’"
Kennedy "instructed his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to check on the status of the application," McConaughy reported in the Aug. 16 issue of The Park Record.
the end of August, the loan had been approved.
And, yes, McConaughy confessed in his column, he had lived up to his vow to steal a spoon.
In a September 1962 interview, Droubay told The Park Record that "we are working very hard to keep up our ore reserves and our mining crew, in the face of low metal prices. We hope that the recreation project will afford us funds with which to fight our mining battle." To match the 25-year 4-percent loan from the ARA, UPCM and its partners agreed to put up another $660,000.
At 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21, 1963, while the country was still mourning the loss of its president, Park City Mayor Will Sullivan cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of the new resort.
As it turned out, UPCM struggled to make money in the resort business. "They didn’t have the expertise (and) I don’t think that they had the heart to make much more of it than they did," said Phil Jones, who joined the resort in its second year as a ski instructor and rose through the ranks to become president and general manager.
In 1971 the mining company sold the business to a new company, Greater Park City Corp., headed by New Orleans businessman Edgar Stern, but retained title to the property underlying much of the resort. The ownership of the resort changed twice more in the following 22 years.
This December the resort that UPCM started with Kennedy’s help will celebrate its 50th anniversary. However, the mining company’s decision to retain the title to the ground ultimately led to a legal dispute that has cast a cloud over the future ownership of the resort.
Background for this story came from The Park Record’s digital files (http://digitalnewspapers.org ); a history of the ADA published by MIT (http://povertyinamerica.mit.edu/products/publications/ ); "From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah," edited by Colleen Whitley; "Park City, Mountain of Treasure," a history of Park City Mountain Resort, written by Larry Warren; and Warren’s video history of Park City, "Silver & Snow, The Park City Story."