More Dogs on Main
December 22, 2011
It’s hard to describe Park City in 1963 to anybody who didn’t see it firsthand. My earliest memories of Park City are from the year or so before the Park City resort opened. The resort proposal drew a lot of attention, and skepticism. My dad and I would sometimes drive through Park City on the way from Salt Lake to the ranch in Woodland. We’d stop for a bottle of pop or an ice-cream bar from Day’s Market on Main Street. Even as a child, the scene was actually disturbing. There weren’t more than a dozen or so businesses functioning on Main Street, including the post office and the power company.
Most of it was boarded up. Abandoned houses were falling over, and some of the occupied houses didn’t look much better. It was wrong to call it a ghost town; there was a functioning community here comprised of determined people who loved the place and were doing all they could to keep it alive. But it’s not an exaggeration to compare Park City in 1960 to photos of the worst sections of Appalachia. By comparison, Kamas was positively bustling.
The only significant private-sector jobs were with United Park City Mines Company. It had come into existence in the early 1950s when most of the failing mining companies merged in hopes of raising the capital necessary to get back into production. It never happened on any significant scale. They spent a fortune keeping the mines on standby so they could be reopened quickly if metal prices soared. But for all practical purposes, the mining era ended at the end of World War II. I don’t think United Park ever made a dime mining silver.
As an objective measure of how bad it was, the federal government made Park City a kind of poster child for a program aimed at relieving rural poverty. The resort was funded with a federal anti-poverty loan.
New businesses opened, a few motels were built, but it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. By 1972, United Park City Mines decided that skiing was worse than mining, and wanted out of the ski business. Edgar Stern, who most people now associate with Deer Valley, came to town looking for a possible condominium development and ended up buying the whole operation.
In those days, if you wanted an architect, engineer, golf-course designer, accountant, hotel manager, or about any other professional service, you’d better bring it with you. None of it existed locally. Stern and his Greater Park City Company rounded up a collection of energetic, talented, and largely inexperienced people who were willing to work for peanuts just for the adventure. Nobody had any intention of staying. It was something to do for a year or two before getting on with life in the real world.
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The story of how we got from that Park City to this Park City is amazing. A core group of people, mostly part of the Greater Park City influx, created what we enjoy today. Their imprint on Park City today is so strong that it’s impossible to imagine the place without them. We simply could not have gotten from where we were in 1963 to where we are now, at least not the way it happened. They physically built a couple of ski resorts, and in the process they built a real town with a deep and unique social fabric.
When GPCC imploded in the mid-1970s, a surprising number of its free-spirited people discovered that they had put down roots. They stayed put and created most of the social institutions in town, from the revitalized schools to all the nonprofits. It was built from scratch by a bunch of kids who didn’t know the conventional wisdom that it couldn’t be done.
We lost two of those founders this week.
Harry Reed was actually ahead of the Greater Park City group, having arrived in the first or second year the resort was operating. He worked as a ski patroller and ski instructor. After getting drafted, he returned from Vietnam and decided to give Park City another try while finishing college in Salt Lake. You get busy with life, and before long 50 years have passed.
Steve Deckert was part of the Greater Park City group. You can’t travel a half mile without driving on roads Steve laid out. Look out any window and you see projects he worked on.
The Tuesday morning ski group Harry put together 15 years ago stopped for coffee this week at Mid-Mountain Lodge, a building that wouldn’t be there without Harry. We don’t often take a break, but this was a perfect place to say thanks and good-bye to a pair of great friends who helped build a great town.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for 25 years.