Old Lehi Hospital on its way down

2009-03-07T23:00:00Z Old Lehi Hospital on its way downCathy Allred - Daily Herald Daily Herald
March 07, 2009 11:00 pm  • 

LEHI -- After standing on State Street and 200 East in Lehi for 118 years, the "Old Lehi Hospital" is being demolished, bit by bit.

The pigeons appeared at a loss Saturday morning, perching on nearby wiring and on what was left of the hospital where they had often found shelter. The brick skeleton of the upper-level-entry window frame extended like a battered tiara from the second floor as workers began a few more hours of demolition.

The Lehi Historical Commission had hoped the building could be restored into a diamond on State Street, but city officials, afraid the hospital would collapse the way another pair of old Lehi buildings did in January, gave the go-ahead for demolition.

"As sad as it is, we're taking it down brick by brick," building owner Todd Vincze said Saturday on site.

There are regrets, he said, mostly that of seeing a dream begun in 2001 never be completed. He had wanted the structure restored to its original grandeur. "I've never quit anything. I've always followed through in things," he said. "It hurts."¬ 

They are using a sledgehammer and other hand tools to take the historic building apart, instead of the faster backhoe. Vincze hopes to recover some of his losses from his investment in the building by selling bricks and wood to a developer looking for materials to restore another old structure in Utah County.¬ 

"Not that long ago, part of the building fell down and we told him it just wouldn't work, and before we knew it he had a [demolition] permit and was tearing it down," Mayor Howard Johnson said during a Saturday phone interview. "He had a building that couldn't be restored. One of the impetuses on that was when the building on Main Street fell down, then people started thinking about the other one and that it could fall down." ¬  ¬  ¬  ¬ 

Termed the "Old Lehi Hospital" by Lehi natives, the structure was built in 1891 for the Lehi Commercial and Savings Bank after the establishment of the sugar-beet industry and Lehi Sugar Factory, which paid its workers in cash instead of script as was previously done for goods and services purchased by the People's Co-op in the town. The Deseret Telegraph Company office, managed by Mosiah Evans, moved its office to the building.

After the bank began to fail, the building was sold to N. O. Malan in 1923. He operated a funeral parlor and automotive repair service on the main floor until 1925, when Dr. Frederick Worlton purchased the building and moved his Lehi Hospital onto the second floor. The following year, the ground floor was also renovated to become part of the hospital.

The large building has also housed the Utah Sugar Company offices, a notary public, an attorney, a photo studio, a school and a ballroom. In 1989, the building was vacated, and since then there have been a few attempts to either condemn the building and raze it or to renovate it. A full history of the building up to 1990 can be found in "Lehi: Portraits of a Utah Town" by Richard Van Wagoner.

The Lehi Historical Commission members present at a May 2008 meeting on a prospective buyer's proposal said they were excited about the project. "It's going to be a diamond on State Street," historical commission Chairwoman Connie Nielsen said at the time.

Carl Mellor, another member of the commission present at the meeting, said the building was the site where early pioneers wrote up the Utah State Constitution.¬ 

"Many people don't realize the historical significance of that building," Mellor said.

History or no, neighbors of the now-wobbly structure say they feel relieved the old building is coming down.¬ 

"I'm excited about getting it torn down. It's such a mess," said Katy Veach, whose home is south of the building, on Saturday. "The biggest thing is, somebody's going to get hurt in there," she said

Since the demolition began, people have regularly passed by to take a brick. Most of them were older and didn't want to be identified for this report. "I remember this place 55 years ago, so it's that important to me," said a visitor. "This is where I was born."

He said it would be too embarrassing to say who he was, because people know him.¬ 

Sometimes, if Vincze is there working, visitors ask for a brick.¬ "I have people come by everyday now [and say], 'Oh, can I buy a brick?' " he said.¬ 

He initially tried selling bricks from the building as a way to raise money for the renovations.¬ 

"I sold a few, not very many, like a hundred bricks," he said. Each brick was engraved with a person's name and birth date and came with a certificate of authenticity.

Vincze also tried raising money for his dream of restoring the old building by turning it into a haunted house from 2004-2006. Neither attempt at building a restoration fund was too successful. He said he is looking forward to one day being able to return and build on the site.¬ 

"One step at a time. Let's get it down first," Vincze said.

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