A Brief History of the Utah County Building

by Richard G. Thayne 

In the early part of 1919, the citizens of Utah County and Provo City respectively voted bonds for the erection of a new joint city and county building to be built in Provo. The agreement between the two corporations was that the county should pay for two-thirds of the building and occupy a corresponding portion of it, while the city should pay one-third and occupy one-third of the building. 

The city and county officials jointly engaged Joseph Nelson of Provo as the architect for the building. 

The Historic Utah County Courthouse, via wikipedia

It was decided that a tour of the west coast be taken to see what had been done in other communities in the way of administrative buildings. On July 9, 1919, a party of city and county officials and the architect left for California. Visits were made to various localities of interest from Los Angeles on the south to Everett, Washington on the north. This trip largely determined the type, size and cost of the building that was to be erected. 

On October 13, 1919, a meeting of city and county officials and an appointed building committee was held wherein sketches of the building were presented by the architect. After discussion and suggested improvements, the sketches were accepted and the architect was directed to get the working drawings completed as soon as possible, and to get bids for the lower portion of the building. In the meantime, the question of location and—finally—the direction the building was to face was decided. 

Bids for the construction of the ground floor of the building were called for on June 18, 1920; bids were opened and contract for this portion of the building was let to Rudine and Chytraus, contractors of Salt Lake City, they being the lowest bidder. 

The cornerstone of the building was laid in the presence of a large gathering on December 14, 1920. During the progress of this portion of the construction, minor contracts were carried on in connection therewith for heating, plumbing and electrical work. 

In the meantime, the work of finishing the plans and specifications for the entire building was carried on, and bids were advertised for the completion of the superstructure. On June 22, 1921, bids were opened by the commission and the contract was awarded to Rudine and Chytraus, [again] the low bidders. 

The work was carried on by Rudine and Chytraus and mainly finished at the end of 1922, but some carving and other minor jobs carried into 1923. In the fall of 1922, bids were taken for the completion of the building and contract was again awarded to the low bidders, Rudine and Chytraus. In the spring of 1923 [the contractors] returned from California to take up the work. Upon their arrival the chairman of the county commission refused to carry on the contract and settlement was finally made with the contractors and the agreement cancelled. 

Bids were taken for the roughing of the plumbing and heating, and a contract was let on September 30, 1924 to P.L. Larsen of Provo. On November 30, 1924, a contract was let for the putting in of the lower floor to C.A. Tolboe of Provo. Bids for the completion of the building were again advertised and opened on June 14, 1925. The general contract was awarded [again] to C.A. Tolboe.

The work was begun in the spring of 1919 and completed in the late fall of 1926, so that the time consumed in the work is a little more than six and one- half years. 


  • It cost $576,495.30. 
  • The building is more than a building; it is a work of art, a monument that has been set up in the county to the men and women whose industry has made it possible. 
  • The column-caps and the cornice are an adaptation from the Temple of Minerva on the Acropolis at Athens. This adaptation made by the architect has been met with very favorable comment from creative architectural artists who have seen it. 
  • The exterior of the building is classic in design. That is, it follows the general lines of the master artists and architects of Greece who have been rated as the world’s masters in the art of building. 
  • The lower or ground floor has been treated as the pedestal upon which have been placed the two upper floors which form the interior of the magnificent order. The whole is surmounted with a classic balustrade.
  • The center pavilion is brought forward and surmounted with a pediment backed up by a rather high attic, which permits the interior dome effect and also provides for an interesting art gallery. 
  • The steps of granite are the full width of the central pavilion. They lead from grade level to the first floor, the entrance being through the portico produced by the bringing forward of the central pavilion. The portico, like the entire order, is two stories high and consists of six columns, the outer ones on each side being coupled. The spacing of the central two is slightly increased over the outer ones. These pillars are three feet in diameter and are 25 feet high. Columns and bases are 27 and one-half feet high. 
  • Under the portico, the entrance doorway and windows have some fine carvings as have also the window spandrels. 
  • The pediment is filled with an exceptionally fine group of sculptures designed by architect Joseph Nelson and carved from the solid stone in the full round by Joseph Conradi, sculptor of Salt Lake City. This group is symbolic and has been made to tell the story of the building. 

Here is the story of the group as the architect conceived it: 

“The building is a courthouse, therefore, quite consistently, Justice stands with her balances resting upon the law, in one hand, and with her sword in the other. The building is also to house the city and county offices, therefore, on the right hand of Justice sits a woman representing the County, supporting with one hand a shield bearing the inscription, 

“‘County of Utah,’ and in the other a Cornucopia, or horn of plenty, overflowing with the good things produced in the region. Then the various arts and industries are represented at her side. Her horticulture is represented by the fruit trees; her dairying and stock raising by the front quarters of an animal projecting beyond the tree; her mining by the pick and shovel at the side of the tunnel entrance to the mine in the mountain; and further down, her sheep raising and poultry farming, respectively. 

“On the other side of Justice sits likewise Provo City, enthroned and supporting a shield with the inscription ‘City of Provo,’ emblazoned thereon. She is flanked by the harp and the viol, the vase, the cogwheel, a stack of books and an artist’s palette; these represent her arts, her industries and her educational advantages.” 

The pedestal or ground floor of the main building is faced with granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon. It is similar to that used in the Salt Lake Temple. The super structure is of oolite stone from both the Manti and the Ephraim quarries. It is similar to the stone used in the Manti Temple. The walls of the lower floor are rusticated as are also all of the corners of the superstructure. The main part of the building is faced with pilasters between the windows which are carried the full two stories. 

The interior of the building has been treated in an unusual way. The lower or ground floor has the usual corridor running the full length of the building with rooms and offices on either side. 

The second and third floors, however, have been treated in an unusual manner. A row of columns really form a part of the offices as the public are expected to do their business with officials really from the exterior of the office proper. This leaves the corridors more open and more pleasing. 

The central portion of the building was left open to the top. The second floor, therefore, forms a sort of balcony or mezzanine with marble balustrades between the columns, and with skylights which permit the light to filter through into the central portion of the building over the beautiful balustrades, pilasters, columns and floors. The corridors were then cut off at each end and large rooms were formed to be used for court and commission rooms. The effect of the interior of the upper floor is quite impressive. 

The building has a nave running through the two main floors. This is carried on two orders superposed. The lower corridor is modern Ionic; the upper is modified Italian Renaissance. Inside the portico is an entrance carried out with marble wainscot about eight feet high with marble pilasters and Ionic caps. The ceilings throughout are richly molded and are decorated with cornices of great beauty. Facing the entrance are the marble stairs leading to the upper floor. 

The floors of the main corridors are of Alaska marble tile, laid with borders of gray Tennessee marble. The pilasters and wainscoting are all of Alaskan marble. Many visitors ask about the design in the floor directly under the rotunda. Research shows it to be a popular geometric design of the period although eastern visitors say it is a Star of David. 

The round columns which carry the interior are scagliola (composition marble) slightly pink, which harmonizes with the remainder of the work. The wainscoting down the stairs are also of pink Syros scagliola. The balustrades around the corridors are Alaskan marble. The stairs as well as the toilet partitions are of gray Tennessee marble. 

All interior partitions are of hollow tile. They carry no weight, however, as the entire roof and superstructure are supported by the outside walls and massive columns. The lathing throughout is metal. The building, therefore, is entirely fireproof with the exception of the doors and furniture. 

The best of walnut furniture was purchased for all of the rooms at a cost of $52,000 for the county and $26,000 for the city. The lighting fixtures are made from the best cast bronze and are the best that money can buy. The building is almost everlasting unless some catastrophe should overtake it.

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1990 issue of Pioneer Magazine
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