Social Hall Site and Museum
For seventy years, pioneers gathered here to shake off the hardships of frontier life with music, dancing, parties, theatricals, lectures, and good company.
For seventy years, pioneers gathered here to shake off the hardships of frontier life with music, dancing, parties, theatricals (President Brigham Young had starred as the high priest in the production of Pizarro back in Nauvoo and was a patron of the arts), lectures, and good company. The Social Hall was dedicated New Year’s Day 1853, only five and a half years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in Salt Lake City. Special legislative sessions were sometimes held in it as well. It had the capacity to seat three hundred fifty people, though four hundred people often crowded into it. Eventually, the surrounding area evolved into a thriving business center, and in 1922 the Social Hall was razed. In June 1933 the MIA and the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association erected a marker on the sidewalk explaining the important contributions the Social Hall made to early cultural life in Salt Lake City: This monument marks the site of the social hall, the first recreation center in the intermountain west. Built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the direction of Brigham Young. Made of plastered adobe walls with native wood floors and roof. Auditorium 40 by 60 feet, seating 350 persons— stage 20 by 40 feet—dressing rooms and banquet hall in basement. Dedicated January 1, 1853. Here the Deseret Dramatic Association conducted many home talent theatricals, musicales and other festivities. Sessions of the legislature, official meetings, receptions, banquets and other social functions were held here. The Mutual Improvement Associations used it as theatre, library and gymnasium. In 1922 the building was razed.
Emmeline B. Wells described the first Christmas party at Social Hall: When the Social Hall was built [in 1852], Christmas was sometimes celebrated there with dancing parties. . . . [President Young] was foremost in making the affair a grand success. . . . Hon. John W. Young, then only a boy, handed the presents down from the tree, and I recollect Brother Brigham standing and pointing with his cane, and telling John just which to take down, and so on; the children werewild with delight and some of the mothers were quite as much elated, though not as demonstrative. After the Santa Claus tree was stripped of its gifts, the floor was cleared and the dancing commenced, and there was good music, too, and President Young led the dance, and cut a pigeon wing, to the great delight of the little folks. In fact, I think the evening was almost entirely given up to the children’s festivities, and the older ones, the fathers and mothers and more especially President Young, made them supremely happy for that one Christmas eve.
In May 1991, during construction of a tunnel which ran under State Street to the ZCMI Center, workers uncovered the original sandstone foundations of Social Hall. Since a replica of Social Hall already existed at Pioneer Trail State Park, a glass enclosure was placed over the remains to preserve them. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the site at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 9, 1992.