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Babs De Lay – Repurposing History

As the old makes way for the new we are left with memories and nostalgia


The Deseret Gym before it was demolished.

I have a home for sale that has hardwood floors re-purposed from the old Deseret Gym. Don’t you love it when people salvage great old hardware, doors, windows, and flooring to put into their new homes? It’s like adding instant history as well as charm.

There are two types of people in Utah: 1) those who went to the Deseret Gym, and 2) those who didn’t. The gym/spa closed in 1997 after operating for 87 years where the LDS Conference Center is now (60 North Temple).

The original gym was the location for the LDS High School and University of Utah basketball games. The High School (aka Salt Lake Stake Academy) was a grooming school for students aspiring to attend the Latter-day Saints University, which is now the LDS Business College.

Senior citizens remember that the gym had an indoor swimming pool where synchronized swimming competitions took place for years, as well as swim meets and diving competitions. There were Greco-Roman wrestling rooms and boxing rooms, bowling lanes, tennis courts, a gymnastics room, a track, and weight training areas.

The LDS Church encouraged men to participate in athletics and the Deseret Gym was a great place to work out, train, and watch a variety of sports and games.

The pool was an all-male club for many years. The guys weren’t allowed to wear swimsuits in the water; they swam in the nude until membership rules changed and women were allowed to enjoy the facility, too, sometime during the 1960s.

In its heyday, the facility was known as THE place to go, and some called it “The Mormon’s House of Sweat.” My friends in the 70s and 80s knew it as a place to cruise other men, and there were a few reported molestations, with at least one perpetrator convicted and having to register as a sex offender.

Times changed. Wrestling and boxing rooms went away while the gymnastics space turned into aerobics for women wearing Jane Fonda-esque spandex outfits with matching leggings.

Synchronized swimming died off, and gym after gym began opening around the Salt Lake Valley. The health club closed to make way for demolition for the new church building, like when the Church closed the Hotel Utah, turned it into a private housing and meeting space in 1987, and renamed it the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Members were sad to see the gym go under the bulldozer.

I sold a home last year for a family whose dad worked at the Hotel Utah. At their “going out of business sale,” he bought flatware, matchbooks, dishes, and ashtrays with the Hotel Utah logo. Much got re-purposed, such as the family dinnerware that has a lot of history to share at family parties. If it could only talk.

Babs De Lay: Broker Urban Utah Homes and Estates.portrait of Babs De Lay


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