In 1957, Tracy Insurance Company purchased a vacant lot at 780 East South Temple to construct a simple one-story brick building. In 1964 the Western General Agency purchased that existing lot and one-story building on one of Salt Lake City’s most prominent street. The New Formalist building seen today modified the existing 1957 building in phases from 1965-1974. When its initial modification was complete it was perhaps the purest representation of the New Formalism style in the state. Its primary character-defining features – and those most closely associated with New Formalism – are its geometric forms; smooth, white walls; and various arched motifs.
Purchased in 2012 by Lear Holdings, they needed to design modern office space for expanding their law firm across the street, while maintaining the overall architectural character of the existing building. The major features of the interior were adapted and preserved including the original lobby area and the second floor residence areas. A new circular glass and steel stair was integrated into the lobby, new restrooms, conference rooms and offices were integrated on the main floor. The existing building was upgraded to meet current accessibility guidelines. The existing single pane windows were replaced with an efficient insulated window system and the whole building envelope was upgraded to meet modern energy requirements.
The restoration of the Western General Agency building represents a changing attitude toward traditional historic buildings and how modernism is being recognized by the historic preservation community as a significant and valuable part of our built environment. Mixing old and new in a building as unique as this one carries the risk of creating an architectural folly, but the Western General Agency building retains aspects of the buildings to tell the entire “story” while giving it a contemporary use.