Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square: Shopping, Fine Dining and a Unique View of the City

Salt Lake City, USA, Utah
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History

Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square offers you unique shopping experiences. The partially enclosed shopping center used to house Salt Lake City’s streetcars. The barns were built in 1908 to support the growing streetcar system in the city. These barns were a maintenance and storage facility for the streetcars. Unfortunately, by the 1930s trolleys were slowly replaced by buses and the last streetcar ran in 1946.

One of the historic trolleys.

In the early 1950s, the barns were painted yellow and got turned into bus storage facilities. As the property fell into disrepair and was threatened with demolition in 1969 a local family bought the property in 1972. The barns got adopted for retail use with Wally Wright as the architect. His vision for Trolley Square was to turn the property into a unique retail experience just like Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, which used to be a chocolate factory.

Besides saving the actual barn buildings, parts from other historic buildings were integrated. One of the most iconic uses of parts from other buildings is the sky bridge to the parking lot. The sky bridge goes across 600 South and is a salvaged ore conveyor bridge formerly in use at the International Smelting and Refining Company facility in Tooele, Utah. The winding hallways, bricks and wooden floors, fountains, and trees give Trolley Square its historic charm.

Unfortunately, the recession in 2008 hit Trolley Square hard and bankruptcy soon followed. The mall just peaked a few years earlier with an occupancy of 96%. In 2013, Trolley Square was bought by a local. The new management is working hard to return Trolley Square to its former glory.

More about the history of Trolley Square can be found on the homepage of Trolley Square or by visiting the Trolley History Museum. A model of how the barns looked before they became a shopping mall can be seen on a 3D model of the area which is located downstairs.

Trolley History Museum

Besides offering many retail shops, there are numerous restaurants here as well. I can recommend you “The Old Spaghetti Factory” which is one of the original businesses when Trolley Square opened. The Old Spaghetti Factory is always busy and you might have to wait a little bit to get a table. The food is fabulous there.

Trolley Square Tower Tours

 

One of the most prominent features of Trolley Square is the 97ft tall water tower. The tower used to hold 50,000 gallons of water for the sprinkler system inside the car barns. In 1972, the water tower was converted into a landmark by adding an observation platform and a spiral staircase along with 6,000 miniature lights. The water tower was used as a “weather tower” for periods of time. The last period ended in 2012 when the tower indicated the forecasted weather for about 13 consecutive years.

The illuminated color of the water tower indicated the forecasted weather.

  • Solid blue color means clear skies.
  • Flashing blue forecasts cloudy skies.
  • Solid red color translates to rain.
  • Flashing red predicts snow ahead.

After another extensive renovation and change of ownership, the water tower was relit on September 13, 2014. Since then the tower is illuminated in different colors according to season and other marketing or aesthetic purposes (such as turning orange on Halloween).

The observation platform around the water tower is open to the public and tours can be arranged through the Trolley Square website. There is a contact form you have to fill out and they will get back to you.

My experience is, that you can just call them, even if you are already at the square, or ask one of the Trolley Square security officers if it’s possible to get up on the tower. I was the only one, besides the security guard, getting up the stairs to the observation platform. Be aware that there is no elevator and you have to climb the spiral staircase you can see going up in the center of the tower.

Trolley Square Tower

From up there, you have a great overview of Trolley Square as well as the whole valley. It’s definitely a unique vantage point and tours of the water tower are free. You will spend about 30 minutes on the observation platform. 

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