Making way for history | ParkRecord.com

Making way for history

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

In a surprise announcement, Spence Eccles told the audience gathered for the Park City Museum’s groundbreaking that his family’s foundation would donate $500,000 to the project this week.

The foundation’s board members had previously planned to match funds raised by the Park City Historical Society, but chose instead to give the money early.

Eccles said that the donation was "an unusual" decision on the foundation’s part. Impressed by the efforts by the museum’s board, however, he said the foundation wanted to convey their enthusiasm for the project.

"This building is the old city hall, the old fire station it is part of the heart and soul of Park City," he said.

Eccles, donning a silver belt buckle stamped with "100%," told the crowd "this is a great day for Utah."

The Park City Museum has called 528 Main St. home since 1984, when it replaced city government offices. In the past, the building served as Park City’s City Hall, fire department, library and jail. On average, the museum attracts more than 70,000 visitors a year to its 2,000-sauare-foot home.

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The groundbreaking is the start of a 10-month $8.9 million renovation and expansion that will more than double the museum’s size, adding approximately 12,000 new square feet of space. The addition will extend eastward from the Swede Alley side and will be made of steel sash windows, allowing the public to peer inside the museum and at the original rear façade. Materials like sandstone will match the old to marry the modern back with the historic front.

In the interim, the museum can be found in the Main Street Mall on the second floor at 333 Main St. The relocation does not disturb much of the daily operations, according to Sandra Morrison, the executive director of the museum. Because of its tight quarters at its original locale, she says a good portion of the museum’s programming has been outdoors with hiking and ski tours, and those events will continue as scheduled during construction.

By spring of 2009, the museum will be able to show 70 percent of its collection triple the amount it was able to share with the public in its former size. New exhibits will incorporate video and interactive features, and re-create the ambiance of historical interiors such as the turn-of-the-century Smith & Brim Mercantile Store. They will also provide information about more recent events such as the Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"The Salt Lake Tribune asked me why we needed so much space," said Park City Mayor Dana Williams. "My response was, well, we just keep making history, so we need a bigger place."

Williams said the museum remains an important feature on Main Street because it gives the public a reason to come to Old Town beyond shopping and dining.

"It’s a gorgeous location and has a fabulous history," said Laura Blake, principal architect for San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero Associates, the firm hired for the expansion. "Our main objective was to protect and preserve the building and be sensitive to the (U.S.) Secretary of the Interior Standards."

Mark Cavagnero Associates was hired in 2005 and have worked with the museum to design its expansion, meet with the public, as well as attend city and county meetings. The firm has worked on buildings such as the San Francisco Legion of Honor, a fine arts museum and memorial to World War II Californian soldiers, and the Oakland Museum.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Phil Notarianni, the director of the Utah State Historical Society and one of the individuals responsible for putting Park City on the National Register of Historical Places, explained the importance of the museum to Park City’s identity.

"It’s important that we have an idea of how Park City began," he said. "History is the backbone of its existence When people come here they want to know about it."

Rich Martinez, a member of the museum’s board and a Park City miner for 30 years, came dressed for the occasion in an old coat, overalls and a hardhat with the words "’ol Miner" written on the front. Though the last Park City mine closed decades ago, Martinez observes that the town’s mining past will live on through the museum’s exhibits and tours.

"I like the work we do here and I think the museum does a great job keeping history alive," he said. "This [expansion] is going to be a great venture."