Developers overhauling an old building on Salt Lake City’s west side are working with a former “Silver” foundry — not a silver foundry — and its origins date back as many as 160 years, to Utah’s earliest industrial history.
Ellen and Jason Winkler, the project’s backers and founders of a firm called Industry, say when they purchased the 8.3-acre site, they were told the sprawling, barrel-roofed factory at its center was used as a silver foundry.
Instead, the huge and gritty structure worked with iron and steel and was completed in 1907, according to historical research by a design subcontractor on the Industry project, Jay Miller with South Salt Lake-based BHB Consulting Engineers.
“We’re thrilled to learn more about the true history of the space, which ironically even better punctuates Industry,” Jason Winkler said Thursday.
The development company, which has overhauled several old structures in similar adaptive-reuse projects in Denver, aims to turn the building into trendy flexible office spaces that play on a connection with the past. The Winklers say the offices are a precursor to building new shops, restaurants and affordable housing nearby as the area transitions into more of a neighborhood.
Miller, a self-described history buff, found in his research that the original factory was known across the region in its early days as Silver Bros. Iron Works, run for decades by an early settler of the Salt Lake Valley, William J. Silver, and his descendants.
Turn-of-the-century news reports indicate Silver, born in London in 1834 and described as “a mechanical engineer of ability and skillful in his profession,” opened the area’s first iron foundry sometime between 1859 and 1865, located at 149 West North Temple.
A story published Dec. 15, 1900, in the Deseret Evening News said “the name Silver is synonymous with our earliest foundry and machine interests” and called Silver himself “practically the father of the business in Utah.”
Silver also reportedly built the first steam engine constructed in the state. The business was eventually taken over by his sons, Joseph and James Silver.
With rising demand for iron and steel for mining supplies and machinery, rails for expanding railroads and structural steel columns used in construction, the foundry first housed in a cluster of wooden buildings appears to have expanded steadily through much of its life.
The Salt Lake Herald newspaper, on June 23, 1907, published what is likely one of the earliest photos of the building that stands today at about 500 West and 700 South, featuring it with images of other local businesses as part of a Chamber of Commerce campaign “encouraging a more extensive patronage of home industries.”
Seven days later, the Salt Lake Mining Review weighed in with its own story calling the foundry “one of the largest and most complete enterprises to be found in Utah,” saying it was the “most gigantic” iron works between Chicago and San Francisco.
The foundry employed hundreds of workers and housed cranes and what the Mining Review called other “monster machines,” along with a machine shop, boiler shop and forging and casting departments.
Apparently due to a bankruptcy, a reorganized version of the foundry business was taken over by a prominent banker named O.C. Beebe and renamed Salt Lake Iron & Steel Company, according to a Tribune story from 1916.
County property records indicate the brick and steel structure was substantially overhauled in 1943, coinciding with a World War II effort to boost national steel production. A citation on some of the factory’s records at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library say it ceased operation around 1991.
Industry’s first 100,000 square feet of new offices in the building, meanwhile, are set to open in the coming months, the Winklers say.