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Murray Journal

Murray City’s journey through time: A history of its city halls

Jul 03, 2023 12:51PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray’s first city hall was dedicated in 1908 and served the city until the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Murray City)

A bustling community known for its rich history and independent culture, Murray City has seen its fair share of transformations over the years. One aspect that reflects the city’s growth and development is its series of city halls. From modest beginnings to the modern-day architectural marvel, Murray City’s city halls have served as the heartbeat of civic life. Let us take a stroll down memory lane and explore the remarkable journey of these municipal buildings.

Perhaps the most inglorious and least friendly of all iterations of Murray City Hall was its first one—the jail in 1903. 

Murray’s third city Mayor Charles Brown recalled the city’s early days to the Murray Eagle newspaper in 1939. “At that time, Murray was building rapidly,” Brown said. “Before the City Hall was constructed, the city officials met in the old city jail, which is located near the smelter dumps on Germania Avenue (which ran west of State Street by Little Cottonwood Creek).”

For obvious reasons, the city, soon after its incorporation in 1903, began plans for an actual city hall on the corner of State and Vine Street. The Murray Eagle reported that in 1906, “the saloons and business houses closed for a day, and the citizenry turned out in their Sunday-best to lay the cornerstone of a new city hall.”

“It is to be a building of attractive design, two stories, and basement, constructed of brick, with stone trimmings,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported in 1904. “The architectural feature will be a clock tower forming the central part of the front elevation. On the first floor of the building will be offices for the Mayor, Recorder, and Auditor, a large vault, and a modern city jail with separate departments for men and women. While on the second floor will be the courtroom, Jury room, and offices for the City Marshal and police Judge. The basement will be occupied by a heating plant. The interior finish will be of hardwood, and the building will in every way be a creditable addition to the Smelter City. The cost will be about $9,000.”

Murray dedicated its first city hall in 1908. This two-story brick structure was more than just an administrative hub; it also housed the police department and even featured a city jail. The humble beginnings of Murray City Hall mirrored the young city’s aspirations and set the stage for future expansions.

In 1914, police officers were dispatched from this city hall to arrest labor activist Joe Hill who was staying with the Eselius family. Led by police chief Fred Peters, the officers surrounded the home to arrest Hill for slaying a grocer and son in Salt Lake City. A scuffle ensued, and Peters shot Hill in the hand. Regardless, Hill’s trial made national headlines while Peters was elected mayor.

One room was utilized as the city library until the Carnegie Library was built in 1912. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Cottonwood Relief Society held a free baby clinic in one of the court’s anterooms. In 1931, restrooms were added inside the facility. 

Local service members were mustered in front of the city hall during World War I and II. So many were being picked up and dropped off while on leave during World War II the city constructed a unique bench out front for when they waited.

By the 1950s, Murray’s first city hall had seen enough, and the city decided to move on. The building would be razed, and the only reminder of its small stately courthouse is Court Avenue which bordered the building—and even half of it serves as a strip mall parking lot.

If Murray’s first city hall was called “attractive” and “creditable,” the second city hall, established in the Eisenhower era, could be described more as economically efficient. However, it was one of its most controversial.

In 1957, the city announced that it had purchased the Soter Furniture building at 5461 State Street. The Soter family sold furniture from the one-story building with minimal windows. The building was not large enough to hold fire, police, and maintenance departments, and the city had to buy Salt Lake County’s then-divested shops on State Street to house them. 

Regardless, the new municipal building was not a popular one. A group of Murray taxpayers filed a suit complaining that city officials started remodeling the new city hall without asking for competitive bids, which they claim is required by law. They also pointed out that the city had failed to file for the necessary bonds. 

Mayor Clifford Hansen and the city council commented, “The five husbands and wives filing this suit have never contacted the commission as a whole or any of its members to inquire concerning the city’s recent transaction or the city’s program for remodeling this property.”

The judge was not impressed with the city’s response and issued a restraining order against proceeding, which lasted a day. The city promised to be compliant. However, the damage was done, and Mayor Hansen was soundly defeated in the next election, never using the new mayor’s office once.

After nearly two decades in the former furniture store, Murray City asked for a bond for a new city hall in 1976. It failed. Mayor LaRell Muir proposed the city buy the recently vacated Arlington Elementary School and convert it into a new city hall.  

Arlington was built in 1938. It served as a school until the 1970s when the school district opened Parkview Elementary School to move off busy State Street. The school’s interior was virtually gutted, and the playground was converted into a parking lot.

Officially dedicated in October 1982, the city hall would reunite with many offices, such as the police department, that had been separated from the previous city hall incarnation. 

After spending 30 years in the old Arlington building, city leaders again considered bringing more Murray offices under one roof. City officials determined they would need 70,000 square feet, and Arlington was only 50,000. The city was also concerned with the number of upgrades necessary to maintain the building.

In 2015, Mayor Ted Eyre announced that the city hall would relocate to downtown Murray between 5th Avenue and 4800 South. He told the Murray Journal then, “We are very determined to start the process of building city hall because the city needs it. We want to make a city hall to be proud of, but we don’t want to do anything extravagant.”

Mayor Eyre would not live to see the completion of his dream. Two mayors, $37 million in bonds, a pandemic, and pesky cell tower delays later, the city’s municipal building is now open for business. λ