Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Battling the Elements at Saltair Resort


Dublin Core


Battling the Elements at Saltair Resort


The Great Saltair Resort is often remembered for its glory days as a dance hall and amusement park. But it was constantly at war with the harsh, saline environment that gave it its claim to fame.

In 1893, the LDS Church built the Great Saltair pleasure resort on the shores of Great Salt Lake. This was the start of a long, fraught, and constant battle between the resort and its surrounding environment. 

With onion-top domes and Moorish decorative elements, the original building looked like an Eastern mirage in the desert. Its completion took over $5 million in today's dollars and included a dance hall, bicycle track, and bathing houses. During peak seasons, up to 500,000 people visited every year in their woolen, modest swimsuits to float in the famous “American Dead Sea,” where one could never sink due to the water’s salinity. With the addition of a rollercoaster, restaurant, and boxing matches, Great Saltair became known as the "Coney Island of the West.”

But within ten years water receded from Saltair's piers, so much that owners created a cable line to take visitors to deeper waters for swimming. Thousands of dollars were spent annually on repainting each wooden surface after harsh winters of salt erosion. In 1925, a devastating fire put Saltair out of business for four years, and efforts to rebuild the racetrack in the 1930s were halted as fires and strong winds devastated construction sites and killed two workers. 

After World War II, Great Saltair couldn’t compete with its freshwater rivals like Lagoon. Salty waters were perceived as strange and grimy, especially after surrounding cities started to dump their sewage into the lake. Its final year as a resort and amusement park was 1957, just before another fire and high winds tore away its structures. Its ruins stood unrepaired for years before burning to the ground in 1970. 

Today, a concert hall hosting musicians from around the world goes by the name Saltair. But in a cruel joke from nature, this Saltair was flooded by five feet of water just two years after opening in 1982. It reopened to the public in 1993, signaling one last attempt to create paradise amongst the brine shrimp.


Megan Weiss for Utah Humanities © 2021


Image: The great Saltair resort was constantly battling the elements of fire, wind, and salt water that tore away its structures. This picture was likely captured after the 1957 fire forced it to be virtually abandoned, before it completely burned to the ground in 1970. Image courtesy Utah State Historical Society.

See John D.C. Gadd, “Saltair: Great Salt Lake’s Most Famous Resort,” Utah Historical Quarterly 36 (1968); John S. McCormick, “SaltairUtah History Encyclopedia, accessed February 2021. 


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