in Salt Lake City
, that was the largest open-air ballroom
in the world. Saltair was the inspiration for the 60
's horror movie Carnival of Souls
, and they rented the whole thing for a week, for fifty dollars.
The Mormon church formed the Saltair Beach Company in 1891, and had it built in 1893, owing mainly to their fear that other area resorts were too unwholesome. Their intentions were twofold:
- create a recreational safe haven for Mormon church members, free from "the rough element" that they believed inhabited existing lakeside resorts
- to establish Saltair as the "Coney Island of the West."
The latter objective took precedence. Saltair was at its height of popularity in the 1920's, and closed in the late 1950's after having been resurrected several times over for things like fires, flooding, economic downfall. It was built by Richard K.A. Kletting, who was born in Germany in 1858. He also built the Utah State Capitol Building, the Utah State Mental Hospital in Provo, and the New York Hotel in Salt Lake City. Saltair was a Moorish-influenced design with onion domes, mosque-like towers, and intricate latticework arches. Construction took five months, and the structure was on a platform held up by 2500 ten-foot wood pilings, which were driven into the bottom of the lake. The entire complex measured more than 1100 feet, and the pavilion rose more than 100 feet skyward. 300 tons of steel girders supported the large dome, which was similar to the Tabernacle on Salt Lake City's Temple Square.
Saltair's premiere on Memorial Day in 1893 was rolled out to its 10,000 guests with a merry-go-round, restaurants, snack bars, men's and women's parlors, dressing rooms, bathhouses, etc. They added new attractions every year: silent movies; the roller coaster known as the giant racer; a funhouse (also called a Gee Whiz); a roller rink, pool halls, a Ping-Pong Parlor, and a shooting gallery. By the early 1920s, Saltair was brining in about a half-million people a year. Trains went to and from Saltair every 45 minutes beginning at 0930. The last train back to Salt Lake City left Saltair at midnight.
The first of Saltair's disasters was in April of 1925. A fire broke out in the "Ali Baba Cave" concession and the resort was destroyed. A new pavilion was built the following year, and though the design resembled Kletting's original plans, the resort never regained its popularity.
Since 1906, Saltair's ownders were a group of individuals, not the Mormon church itself. The Great Depression had brought down revenues, and there was yet another fire in 1931. In 1933, drastically receding lake levels left Saltair a half-mile from the lake's edge. It was closed for most of WWII, was reopened after, but struggled continuously through the late 40's and 50's with high maintenance costs resulting from wildly fluctuating water levels and a sewage contamination scare. It was officially given to the state of Utah on January 9, 1959. A third fire burned it to the ground in November of 1970.
A new pavilion was built in 1981 (Saltair III), and opened in July of 1982. Within two years, the Great Salt Lake would reach its highest level in history and the pavilion's main floor was submerged in five feet of water. After the water receded in the late 80's, the Great Salt Lake Land Company bought the resort, restored it, and added a concert stage. It opened in 1993 but has since ceased operations. There is a book entitled Saltair, by Nancy D. and John S. McCormick (1993, University of Utah press).
Herk Harvey on how he came up with the idea for Carnival (though the plot and all ideas that went into it after were screenwriter's John Clifford's): I was on location in California shooting an industrial film for Centron, and decided to travel home by car. Driving back, I was passing Salt Lake, and I saw for the first time an abandoned amusement park called Saltair. Saltair was an amusement park that was built probably at some time in the 30's, a terrific park in its day, built right on the edge of the lake. They had all of the amusement park facilities there also - a roller coaster, games, and a big pavilion. Well, with the sun setting and with the lake in the background, this was the weirdest-looking place I'd ever seen! I stopped the car and walked about a half or three-quarters of a mile to the place, and it was spooky indeed. And I thought, "Gee, what a tremendous location!" because it's completely isolated from everything and everybody, and at the time it was completely defunct. But most of the things were still standing - the only thing that wasn't was the roller coaster. I came back and talked to John Clifford, who was a writer at Centron and a co-worker, and told him that I needed a horror script that would revolve around Saltair. So basically in talking we came up with some of the general plot, and he wrote the script in a matter of a couple weeks.