Millie and the History of The Kirk Hotel

Millie’s story picks up with an article taken from the Utah Holiday Magazine, December 1986 about the Kirk Hotel, a major part of Millie’s history. “ Tooele’s weekly newspaper, the Transcript-Bulletin, began reporting on the hotel’s construction in the fall of 1927: “Immense, even more than at first supposed, and modern to the last letter, the new hotel is easily the peer in the building history of Tooele city. From the modern heating plant under the basement floor, to the large, spacious ballroom on the top story, no city of our size can now excel us for class in hostelry.” The plush Hotel Utah, a few miles to the east in Salt Lake City , had been open for fifteen years, but Tooele was nonetheless agog over its pet project, financed by Philip Kirk. Kirk, a hometown boy with a penchant for gambling and prospecting, made his fortune in one of the family mines near Tooele when he struck a stope of gold, silver, and lead. Ron Kirk, Phillip’s grand-nephew, remembers him as something of an eccentric. “He used to pay me a nickel if I could make it across the lobby of the Kirk Hotel riding his father’s big German police dog.” Kirk and his mortgagee, Zion’s First National Bank, had good reason to believe their $100,000 investment in the building would pay off. As early as the 1920s many in the Salt Lake valley were already concerned about pollution from smelter smokestacks in town, and wanted them located elsewhere. Complex ores – comprised of lead, zinc, copper, gold, and silver – were abundant in the mountains near Tooele, particularly in Bingham Canyon. Expansion westward was a certainty. Also by the early 1920s, companies such as International Smelting and Refining, Bingham Consolidated, Deseret Salt and Mine, Utah Lime and Stone, and Combined Metals Reduction Company were processing the minerals being chiseled and leached within a ten-mile radius of Tooele. That town, after reading months of Transcript-Bulletin articles about the Kirk’s construction – culminating with a report on the “immense task of arranging the furniture – was well primed for a closer look at the finished product. The tabloid encouraged business owners to declare a holiday on May 22, 1928, for the grand opening, since the new hotel was “truly a community project and the heart of every citizen should enter into making the opening an historical event.” A crowd of 1,000 attended the dedicatory ceremonies and was escorted through the building. Two hundred well-heeled Utahns dined for five dollars each on Peerless Mist, filet of sole, au gratin potatoes, and strawberries and cream. Later a throng broke in the 40 by 110 foot dance floor, serenaded by Norm Terry’s ten-piece orchestra. “This is a ballroom and not a dance hall,” remarked one over-awed guest. Tooele, everyone felt, had arrived. The Kirk quickly became the social center of the community, offering fine dining and dancing each week for anyone with “a clean collar” and a few dollars to spend. Neither Phillip Kirk, Zion’s Bank, nor the rest of America foresaw Black Thursday. On October 24, 1919, the stock market crashed, marking an end to years of optimism and prosperity and the onset of the Great Depression. Kirk, unable to meet his mortgage payments, soon closed his hotel. By 1932, at the age of 37, Camilla Anderson Jones had seen enough adversity to last most women a lifetime. She’d lost two young sons – one to diphtheria, the other to pneumonia – as well as her husband, Alma. He had contracted tuberculosis, then endured lingering complications caused by a serious auto accident, and finally died following an appendectomy in 1931. Perhaps Millie reflected with irony on her misfortunes as she stood on a Bingham Canyon hillside, September 9, 1932 watching Highland Boy burn to the ground. “Jinxtown,” they called this place – Bingham and its adjacent mining camps – because of its regular dates with calamity. Ore trains tumbled from their tracks, crushing everything in their paths; floods and snow slides cascaded down the gulch; and fires, like the one raging below, swept the hastily constructed matchbox buildings away in flames. Down in that inferno was Millie Jones’s $80,000 uninsured boarding house. More than likely, though, Millie was already thinking about what to do next. She had always gotten by somehow. An anomaly of her day and a woman with little formal education, she had an innate and uncanny business savvy. Her ability to consistently earn more than her fortune-seeking husband had long been a source of contention between them. First came her flourishing bakery business, then the boarding house which she’d enlarged to accommodate 250 miners. Of course, all of that was ashes now. Although her one surviving son, Garth, was raised, Millie still had adopted daughter, Donna Mae, to feed. And 1932 was a very bad year to be unemployed widow. Nearly 9,000 American banks had failed by the end of 1932. Zion’s First National, which had taken the Kirk Hotel into receivership, was ready to try anything to get the idle building off its hands. One banker, acquainted with Millie Jones’s reputation as a businesswoman, had a unique proposal: she could open and run the hotel as long as she kept up interest payments on the old loan. It was precisely the sort of break Jones needed to get back on top. Against all advice, other than encouragement given her by J. O. Elton, president of the International Smelter, she took Zion’s up on the offer. The Transcript-Bulletin welcomed Millie to the community and gushed over the reopening on November 1, 1932: “the free dance in the ballroom was crowded to capacity. The Kirk Hotel once more swings into function as a community asset. . .” By 1937, Jones was able to purchase the hotel from Zion’s, and the war years which soon followed added impetus to her thriving business. Tooele now became a prime focus of governmental interest with the construction of the Tooele Army Depot, Deseret Chemical Warfare Department, and Dugway Proving Ground. In the decade between 1940 and 1950, the town’s population increased by 63 percent. Millie coaxed longtime friend and former Bingham employee, Ina Cook, into opening a coffee shop and dining room at the Kirk in 1942. Cooks’ daughter, Rae Harker, also worked at the restaurant and remembers these as high times for the community, the hotel, and for Millie. Live music and dancing brought the crowds on weekends. Harker says, “Hotel regulars played pinochle, bridge, and canasta in the lobby. The parties and luncheons were scheduled nonstop. “We had to close the place twice a day just to clean up and prepare more food.” Her profit margin always in mind, Jones added a third-story west wing and began converting hotel rooms and the dance floor into apartments. “She never kept books,” says Harker, “but what a memory!” She could tell you who owed her money and how much, and who, by name, was registered at the hotel.” Now that she could afford a few extravagances, Millie started wearing a fox stole everywhere she went and bought all of her clothes at Makoff’s in Salt Lake City. There was a grand piano in her room. But friends knew she wasn’t putting on airs of wealth. Her good and kindhearted nature was the subject of local legend by this time. No man went hungry or without lodging because he was broke if Millie could help it. And every mining town in the West, it was said, knew her as “Mother Jones.” A tale still circulates about the night a miner, Pedro, stumbled into her room at the Highland Boy boarding house. He’d been stabbed twenty-two times in a fight, and stood bleeding at the foot of her bed long enough to say, “Mother, I can go no further,” before he collapsed. His attacker refused to follow Pedro into the sanctum of Millie’s room, and Pedro, the story goes, recovered well enough to murder his assailant on another day. In January, 1957 the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Tooele named Millie Jones its Woman of the Month. At 73, she knew her days as owner of the Kirk were numbered and counted on Garth to succeed her. If Millie had her worries about Garth’s character, she apparently kept them to herself. But years before, during a period of prosperity at Highland Boy, Alma Jones had told relatives his son was “spoiled with money” and the college, clothes, and car it bought. Acquaintances remember Garth, who spent a good deal of time at the Tooele Golf Course he’d help build, as “likeable but lazy.” In April 1958, Millie fractured her hip in a fall and died less than a week later. Garth moved his family to San Diego soon after, leaving surrogate landlords in charge of his hotel. For the first time in 25 years, no member of the Jones family was living at the Kirk. Lucille Syndergaard started working as a maid for Millie in 1950. Installed as the Kirk’s manager in 1960, she remembers a comfortable atmosphere at the hotel in the decade which followed. Although the days of card games and dances were over, locals gathered in the lobby most evenings to watch television. Ina Cook’s good food still drew customers, but Virginia Aldrich, Cook’s granddaughter, adds, that it was obvious the hotel was on the way down. The floors seemed segregated by “lifestyle. The first floor, where rooms rented primarily to transients,” she recalls, “was real scary.” Syndergaard acknowledges that “Garth didn’t care too much for the place. The hotel was a little run-down, but we repainted and bought nice furniture.” Garth, meanwhile, had acquired other rental properties in California and had no interest in returning to Utah. When it came to his heir, Garth, Jr., however, things would be different. To add a few memories from her brother, Ed’s family: In Ed’s autobiography, he writes about his sister, Millie going to the hospital with him in February, 1940. He had developed Osteomolytis in his leg from the injury he had received in the Mercur mine when he was 16. The bone in his leg had decayed to the point of becoming just a shell. Millie watched as they chiseled his bone and removed the black decayed substance and tamped it with gauze. It took 8 months for the bone to grow back. Ed’s son, Jim, remembers Millie as his favorite aunt. He was born in her boarding house in Highlandboy and she assisted his mother, Priel, with his birth. He remembers the many presents, food and clothes she would bring when she came to visit. His favorite thing to do was to go to the Kirk Hotel in Tooele to see Aunt Millie. Ed’s daughter, Mary Kay remembers Millie coming to visit wearing a fox stole with a fox head and suits dressed like a business woman. She always wore high heels. Her hair was always done and she had beautiful big eyes. She would bring suitcases or trunks of clothing from her tenants at the hotel. (If her tenants couldn’t pay their bill, she would lock them out of their room and keep their clothing.) Sometimes the clothes would come from Garth’s wife, Ann. There were formals and fancy dresses and women’s suits. They were made over for school clothes or used for dress-up clothes. Millie was a generous, soft, kind woman. She wanted the children to gather around and reach into her purse. The money they would find would be divided between the children. On Mary Kay’s 10th or 11th birthday, Millie brought a beautiful new blue Schwinn bike with fenders, much nicer than Mary had ever anticipated. She always brought 2-3 boxes of the most expensive chocolates and was literally this family’s Santa Claus for many years. She had a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She never paid tithing but no one ever left her place hungry. In April, 1958, Millie fell, coming from her room into the lobby of the Kirk Hotel. There were just a few steps and a rug on the floor. She broke her hip and never recovered. She died April 28, 1958. Her husband, Al, two sons, Howard and Edward and her daughter, Donna Mae preceded her in death. (Donna Mae died giving birth to her third child at the age of 22.) Obituary, Deseret News, April 29, 1958: Camilla A. Jones, Tooele -- Mrs. Camilla (Millie) Anderson Jones, 74, owner and manager of the Kirk Hotel died Monday at 1:30 p.m. at a Tooele hospital of complication after a hip injury. Born Sept. 27, 1883 at Spanish Fork, a daughter of James and Mary Catherine Hansen Anderson. Married to Alma Jones Nov. 2, 1904 in the Salt Lake Temple, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He died July 9, 1931 at Bingham Canyon. Manager of Kirk Hotel since 1932 and owner since 1937, Mrs. Anderson had previously been a resident of Bingham Canyon since she was 16 years of age. Had been owner Jones Boarding House, Bingham Canyon. Active in Tooele Civic affairs, had been president of local Business and Professional Women's Club. Survivors include a son, Garth LaVelle Jones, Tooele, three grandchildren, one great-grandchild, four half-brothers and four half-sisters. Funeral services Thursday 1 p.m. Tooele First Ward chapel, directed by Bishop A. A. Gillespie. Friends may call at Tate Mortuary Tooele Wednesday 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursday until time of services. Burial in Bountiful Cemetery.