Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

The Salt Palace and the End of Salt Lake’s Japan Town


Dublin Core


The Salt Palace and the End of Salt Lake’s Japan Town


A small area of downtown Salt Lake City used to be “Japan Town”, an area that served as the focus of the city’s Japanese American community. The area was demolished in the 1960s in order to make room for the Salt Palace.

These days, if you turn west onto First South between Second and Third West, you'll encounter all that is left of the old Salt Lake neighborhood known as Japan or Japanese Town. Today only the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and the Japanese Church of Christ stand as reminders of the neighborhood that served as the focus of the city's Japanese American community. The rest of what had been Japan Town was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Salt Palace.

The thing was Salt Lake already had a Salt Palace—a giant building built in the Beaux Arts style that commanded the block between State and Main on Ninth South. Built by one of Utah's premier architects, Richard Kletting, the old Salt Palace was topped by a monstrous dome and hosted a variety of popular amusements, including bicycle races, dances, plays and concerts.

By the late 1950s, however, many of Salt Lake's influential citizens began clamoring for a new civic auditorium that could inject the city with new life. Preliminary plans called for a coliseum at the State Fairgrounds, though an advisory committee eventually settled on a parcel of land owned by the LDS Church where today's Salt Palace now stands. According to historian Linda Sillitoe, Salt Lake County was given a 50 year lease on the land at a dollar a year, and the LDS Church was given exclusive use of the facility for as many as twenty-four days each year.

What Salt Lake City lost in the deal was a vibrant community full of laundries, restaurants, fish markets, and cultural venues. There is new talk, however, about reviving Japan Town and just this year the city council renamed the old 100 South Block west of the Salt Palace Japantown Street.


Brandon Johnson for Utah Humanities © 2007


Image: Japantown. The New Kimpa Cafe was located in Salt Lake City's Japantown. Pictured are Mary Doi and Kiyoko Nishida. c. 1940. Courtesy of Densho Digital Repository. 

See Linda Sillitoe, A History of Salt Lake County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Salt Lake County Commission, 1996), 8, 135, 141, and 219-220. Also see Elaine Jarvik, “S. L. Street May Honor Japantown,” Deseret News, January 22, 2007 and “100 South Block Now Called Japantown,” Deseret News, March 7, 2007.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org