Group shared plans to turn Fifth Ward into new ‘queer community space’ shortly before its partial demolition

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A group planned to acquire and convert the Fifth Ward Meetinghouse in Salt Lake City’s Granary District into a “queer community space” when a wrecking crew illegally tore into the 114-year-old protected structure in a dramatic end to Easter Sunday.

Craig Sorensen and Jacob Buck told Building Salt Lake they spoke with the building’s owner, Jordan Atkin, on Monday about how the building they hoped to buy from him was partially demolished yesterday.

Craig Sorensen

“He said it was a dramatic miscommunication that caused the demolition,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen and Buck had presented plans to leaders and developers involved in revitalizing the Granary District in recent months. Those meetings included Atkin, who bought the building in December and was preparing to sell the building to Sorensen and Buck, the two said.

Buck was in the area on Sunday when he saw the excavation crew ripping into the building.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re tearing down our building, Craig,”” Buck said. “He thought it was an April Fools’ joke, but it was March 31.”

The building was built as the Fifth Ward meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1910. The church hasn’t been involved in the building since the 1970s. Since then, it has been home to a photo studio, martial arts school, music venue, escort business and more. It was also added to the national and local historic registries for protection from demolition.

Sorensen, a comedian who was named Utah’s best by City Weekly readers last year, and Buck, the founder of the Salt Lake City chapter of Stonewall Sports, still hope to combine their skills to create a community space in the building at 740 S. 300 W.

“We really want this space to still exist,” Buck said. “We’re still full steam ahead once we hear about what happens with the property.”

The two said the building faced civil enforcement issues with the city as a result of the property’s condition.

“There was a letter on the building saying they had to clean up the building and it was an eyesore,” Buck said.

Jacob Buck

Atkin told Building Salt Lake on Sunday that he didn’t know why the wrecking crew was demolishing the building before an employee with the city’s Redevelopment Agency noticed the illegal work and alerted coworkers who abruptly stopped the demolition before it reached further into the building’s core.

A classroom on the front of the Fifth Ward building, which may have been an addition built after the original structure was completed in 1911, was demolished and lay as a pile of bricks on the property Monday.

Residents stopped by the property late Sunday to retrieve historic elements that lay strewn across the front yard for safe-keeping while city staffers frantically worked to understand what happened and what would happen next.

Atkin, who is a Building Salt Lake advertiser, told us it was “incredibly unfortunate,” and said he didn’t own the building even though county and state documents show him as the sole owner. He didn’t respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Looking into the Fifth Ward meetinghouse at 740 S. 300 W., which was partially demolished illegally on Easter Sunday. Photo by Austin Taylor.

Sorensen and Buck said they’ve been in calls, meetings, texted and emailed Atkin and his team about their idea to acquire the building and turn it into a space they would call The 3rd Space.

The idea is to host events, comedy and other community gatherings in a space that’s safe for people who are queer and people of color, Sorensen said.

The plan comes amid a vacuum created within Salt Lake City’s LGBT+ community created by apparent turmoil at the Pride Center, as reported by the blog

The pair said they’ve been in contact with the city’s Redevelopment Agency about their plan to acquire the site and retrofit it. The RDA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

But Sorensen and Buck’s comments make clear the incident on Sunday may not be the end of the building.

“We had already talked to investors and people who wanted to go in on it with us,” Sorensen said. “We’re still full steam ahead but we’re just waiting to see what happens with the city legally and what can happen.”

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.