If you were to open up an issue of the Utah Chronicle during the early to mid-1940s, you might find an advertisement in large, looping scroll advertising the next big jazz band in town. There were two “hoppin’ places” in this time, The Empire Room and The Rainbow Randevu, which later become known as the Terrace Ballroom. So, what happened to these iconic spots that, for decades, played such a large part in the music and nightlife culture of Utah?
The Empire Room was hosted in the impressive and iconic Hotel Utah — this was all the rage for students and non-students alike. Hotel Utah, in this era, served as a symbol of cooperation between the often-sparring LDS church and the non-Mormon entrepreneurs of Salt Lake City. (Boren)
Although Utahns were still subject to wartime restrictions and rationing, the war didn’t keep people from going out for a night on the town in the 1940s, unlike during previous decades. Hotel Utah, sometimes called “the Grande Dame of hotels,” opened in 1910. (Robinson) It even carried a slightly controversial reputation for its lavish bar and opulent parties. (Malouf) Visiting U.S. presidents stayed in Hotel Utah, and a number of LDS prophets were known to have lived in it.
Joining the Empire Room at Hotel Utah, sandwiched between 400 and 500 South on historic Main Street, was the Coconut Grove. The Grove was advertised as the largest ballroom dance in the country. At the start of World War II, the name would be changed, yet again, to the Rainbow Ballroom and eventually became Jerry Jones’s Rainbow Randevu — or The Rainbow colloquially. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it was ultimately given the name Terrace Ballroom.
At the same time, significant cultural changes were taking place at Hotel Utah. The Empire Room retained its popularity throughout the 1940s with big-name bands regularly being advertised in the University of Utah’s newspaper, the Utah Chronicle, and drawing large crowds to dance late into the night within the ballroom’s elegant walls.
After 76 years of hosting visiting celebrities, politicians, parties and enjoying “minor celebrity status” in Utah, the LDS Church announced the closure of Hotel Utah in 1987 and it was converted into what we now know today as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building — an exceedingly elegant office building and visitors center. (Davidson) Coincidentally, this same year the Terrace Ballroom fell accident to a building fire during its demolition. The Provo, Utah, Daily Herald at the time called the demolition “an inelegant and unfair epitaph” for the beloved political and musical site that was enjoyed for over five decades. (“History Comes Tumbling Down”)
An article in the Salt Lake Tribune describes the venue in its “heyday” saying, “Jerry Jones and his orchestra played big band sounds and hosted regular dance nights. For many in the 1940s and ’50s, it was the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.” (Smart) This venue continued to shape Utah’s counterculture. In another interview with the Tribune, Steve Williams, jazz host for decades at KUER, said of the scene in the 1960s, “I had no idea how many hippies were in Utah. It blew my mind.” (Smart)
The Rainbow remained open until it finally closed its doors on December 31, 1981, going out with a bang after celebrating a final New Year’s Eve party. The building eventually fell victim to a fire during its demolition in 1987. All that’s left of its legacy are the shiny memories. Next time you take a stroll around Salt Lake City, you can visit the decaying parking lot remnants of the once-grand Terrace ballroom and just a few blocks to the north, the pristinely preserved Empire Room outside of Temple Square. You might close your eyes and try to hear the distant echo of jazz playing by a swinging 1940s band.
Alaynia Winter is a graduate of University of Utah with a B.A. in communication. She enjoys writing, photography, and videography. She works as a production assistant in digital media at KUED Channel 7 and in her free hours spends time with her dog.
Boren, Ray. “Hotel Utah, 100 Years of History,” Deseret News, June 7, 2011.
Davidson, Lee. “Whatever Happened to the Hotel Utah?” Salt Lake Tribune, January 11, 2016.
“History Comes Tumbling Down,” The Daily Herald, August 6, 1987, 5.
Malouf, Mary Brown. “Buzzed in the Beehive: A Brief History of Drinking in Utah,” Salt Lake Magazine, January 1, 2018.
“Rainbow Randevu P.1.” Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, March 18, 2009, https://bit.ly/2L0fEbV.
Advertisement, Rainbow Randevu, Salt Lake Telegram, September 10, 1937, 12.
Robinson, Ryland. “Hotel Utah: Grande Dame of Salt Lake,” Temple Square Blog, July 7, 2015.
National Park Service, “Sacrificing for the Common Good: Rationing in WWII,” June 3, 2016.
Smart, Christopher. “Whatever Happened to … The Terrace Ballroom?” Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 2015.
Advertisement, The Empire Room, Utah Chronicle, January 7, 1943.