Grantsville couple saves historic Deseret Mercantile drug store

May 20 2012 - 11:08pm

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MAEGAN BURR/The Associated Press
Travis Warr stands in the Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall building as he and his wife Jill Thomas work on cleaning out the building on May 1 in Grantsville. The Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall joint building, on the corner of Main and Hale streets, is undergoing a $15,000 renovation directed by Jill Thomas, owner of office services company DigiDocs, and her husband, Travis Warr. Thomas hopes to move the Grantsville location of DigiDocs into the building by the end of the year.
MAEGAN BURR/The Associated Press
Jill Thomas shows the original soda fountain pieces at the bar. Travis Warr  and his wife Jill Thomas work on cleaning out the building on May 1 in Grantsville. The Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall joint building, on the corner of Main and Hale streets, is undergoing a $15,000 renovation directed by Jill Thomas, owner of office services company DigiDocs, and her husband, Travis Warr. Thomas hopes to move the Grantsville location of DigiDocs into the building by the end of the year.
MAEGAN BURR/The Associated Press
Travis Warr stands in the Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall building as he and his wife Jill Thomas work on cleaning out the building on May 1 in Grantsville. The Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall joint building, on the corner of Main and Hale streets, is undergoing a $15,000 renovation directed by Jill Thomas, owner of office services company DigiDocs, and her husband, Travis Warr. Thomas hopes to move the Grantsville location of DigiDocs into the building by the end of the year.
MAEGAN BURR/The Associated Press
Jill Thomas shows the original soda fountain pieces at the bar. Travis Warr  and his wife Jill Thomas work on cleaning out the building on May 1 in Grantsville. The Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall joint building, on the corner of Main and Hale streets, is undergoing a $15,000 renovation directed by Jill Thomas, owner of office services company DigiDocs, and her husband, Travis Warr. Thomas hopes to move the Grantsville location of DigiDocs into the building by the end of the year.

TOOELE -- A Grantsville couple is working to breathe new life into a town historical landmark.

The Deseret Mercantile and Johnson Hall joint building is undergoing a $15,000 renovation directed by Jill Thomas, owner of office services company DigiDocs, and her husband, Travis Warr. Thomas hopes to move the Grantsville location of DigiDocs into the building by the end of the year.

Thomas said the couple has always wished to see the building preserved but did not think they could undertake such a project. After months and years of passing the building, largely vacant since Grantsville Drug closed in 2004 upon the retirement of pharmacist Bob Halladay, who had worked as the town's pharmacist since 1958, Thomas said the couple decided to take the plunge at resurrecting the prominent landmark.

"The building has so much character and so much history attached to it that right after we first saw it we couldn't stop talking about it," Thomas said.

Even in its preliminary stages, she said, the project has drawn a lot of curiosity from residents.

"We have people stop almost every day when we're working and they want to look, so we take them for a tour," she said. "Some of the old residents get a kick out of it. Everybody wanted it preserved and we're going to try to do that as much as possible."

The couple purchased the building, which is on the national historic registry, from Patty Halladay, widow of pharmacist Bob Halladay, in December.

Warr is a general contractor, so most of the work can and will be done in-house. The pair is also consulting with an engineering firm and a historian to help maintain the character of the building while implementing safety measures.

The western portion, Deseret Mercantile, was built in 1890, while the eastern portion, Johnson Hall, was built eight years later. The two buildings are joined by a common wall. The upper portion of Johnson Hall was originally used as a dance floor, and also saw use as a meeting area and roller-skating rink.

The three layers of brick -- two adobe, one fired -- forming the outside walls have generally stood the test of time, though reinforcements to assist aging brick will have to be made to some sections.

In the 1880s, though, buildings were not earthquake-proof.

Thomas said retrofitting the building with added safety measures is at the top of the list of priorities in renovating the structure.

"What we're doing is trying to prevent the building from killing people inside, basically, so we're going to build an entire structure inside with beams and concrete and two-by-sixes to keep (the brick) from shearing," she said.

After the structure has been reinforced, progress will be gradual, perhaps taking as much as a decade to complete, Thomas said.

The couple plan to restore the old soda fountain on the ground floor as part of a general store-like business and restaurant. Upstairs, three apartments, still bearing the distinctive art deco wallpaper of the 1930s, will likely be used as office space. The erstwhile dance floor and roller rink, is planned to become a reception hall, Thomas said. But for now, the large, open room has a colony of bats living in its high ceiling.

"We have hundreds of bats, evidently, and we've tried to get rid of them," she said. "That's one of the things that we have to do: finish getting them out of here."

For Warr, a lifelong Grantsville resident, the building and the remnants of the old store conjure up memories from childhood.

"The old prescription file boxes back there, I'm sure I was in there when I was born," Warr said.

Though the challenge ahead is daunting, Thomas said they're up for it.

"It's a neat old building, it will just take a lot of work," Thomas said.

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