History of the Delta Center

Jami Balls

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Utah experienced a tremendous influx of immigrants to work in the booming mining and railroading industries. Thousands of the immigrants were Mediterranean and experienced intense discrimination. Greeks specifically were paid less, segregated in railroad gangs, assigned the more dangerous work, and prohibited from living in certain areas. Therefore, they usually concentrated in small ethnic neighborhoods near the railroad tracks where they fostered benevolent and fraternal societies, bakeries, restaurants, hotels, newspapers, coffee houses, boarding houses, and grocery stores that sold imported cheese, olive oil, salted fish, and sweets.

At its height, Greektown consisted of over sixty businesses along 200 South between 400 and 600 West Streets. In 1905, the Church of the Holy Trinity was dedicated, becoming a center for the Eastern Orthodox community. The families lived in the neighborhood as if in a Greek village. Women baked bread in outdoor earthen ovens, planted large vegetable gardens, and helped one another with births and illnesses, while raising families of usually seven to eight children.

In 1908, city officials purchased the block between 500 and 600 West and 100 and 200 South Streets to build a prostitution stockade. As pressure mounted to move Salt Lake City’s red light district away from the downtown businesses, this area of Greektown seemed suitable, according to Councilman Mulvey, because they were looking for an area where it would have as little negative effect as possible. He said, “…Most of the better class of residents were leaving the area anyway, because of the influx of Italians and Greeks who live in that neighborhood,” therefore concluding that the “foreign element” had already destroyed the area. The stockade operated near Greektown for three years, facilitating the city’s “necessary” evil. Following its closure and over the next several years, the area became a contaminated “brown field” full of abandoned buildings.

Decades later, the area served a new purpose. The Salt Palace arena was built in the late 1960s to become a center for entertainment and conventions. The arena eventually became the home of a professional basketball team, the Utah Jazz. In 1985 and 1984, the Jazz organization drafted Karl Malone and John Stockton, respectively. Tickets quickly became a hot commodity and sellouts were taken for granted since it was the smallest arena in the NBA at a capacity of 12,666. The Jazz’s owner, Larry H. Miller, initiated conceptual design meetings and negotiations to construct a larger arena. Sumitomo Trust and the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City agreed to help fund a new multi-purpose arena that would also house the Utah Jazz.

Construction of the Delta Center began on June 11, 1990 with only about sixteen months available for its completion before the Utah Jazz 1991/92 season opener. Hundreds of individual subcontractors and suppliers along with literally thousands of workers cooperated in the “fast-track design/build” construction necessary to complete the structure on time. By this method, design is completed as construction goes on. So, as the twenty-four hour excavation of 170,000 cubic yards of soil began, engineers worked vigorously to complete the design for the footings and foundation. This method continued until its completion in October of 1991, building a 20,500-seat arena with a 3,000,000-pound roof structure and exterior skin of 2,692 individual panes of insulating glass.

Today, the Delta Center houses not only Jazz games but major touring concerts, rodeos, ice shows, family shows, circuses, motor sports, and other events. The Delta Center has also been selected to house the short track speed skating and figure skating events of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Constructed in an area of Salt Lake City with such a rich history, the Olympic events will significantly add to its already colorful past.

Sources: John S. McCormick, “Red Lights in Zion: Salt Lake City’s Stockade, 1908-1911”, Utah Historical Quarterly L; Helen Zeese Papanikolas, “Greeks in Utah” Utah History Encyclopedia; Dave Blackwell, “Utah Jazz” Utah History Encyclopedia; Linda Sillitoe, History of Salt Lake County; The Delta Center website www.deltacenter.com