From Street Cars to Shooting Spree: a History of Utah’s Trolley Square

by KYLE K. LEETE

It was a typical Monday night in Salt Lake City, Utah, until gunshots echoed off the one hundred-year-old floors at Trolley Square Shopping Center. Six people were killed including the rampaging shooter, and four were injured; nothing would be the same for people everywhere. This tragedy would become part of the history of Trolley Square, Utah, and the nation.

The Salt Lake Tribune article, “Trolley Square: A Brief History,” gives a summary of Trolley Square: “It is in a historic area of Salt Lake City that Brigham Young in 1847 designated as the 10th Ward when he was gridding the city into neighborhoods.” The area also served as territorial fairgrounds until 1908 when Union Pacific Railroad executive E.H. Harriman made it the base for his new trolley car system. Harriman would invest $3.5 million (roughly $88 million in 2012 dollars) to build the complex including a carbarn building to house the trolley cars, a repair shop, and a paint shop.

The Utah Light and Railway Company was formed and author Jack Goodman noted, The company grew from a merged trio of streetcar companies whose rails once laced the city. One of those antecedent companies had used horsecars at its birth.” (Goodman, 146) The Salt Lake Tribune reported on February 17, 2007: “At one time, more than 144 trolleys operated from mission-style car barns erected at the site.” The new company and street cars went all over Salt Lake and beyond with 146 miles of track. They served the public until they were shut down in 1945.

After the decommissioning of the streetcars, the buildings were used for various purposes. According to “Trolley Square: A Brief History,” “Trolley persisted as a decaying garage for Utah Transit Authority buses and Utah Power maintenance vehicles and the historic block was littered with junk vehicles, old tires and trash contained within barbed wire.” The site became decrepit and was close to being torn down until developer Wallace A. Wright, Jr., was inspired to completely renovate the buildings into a shopping mall with boutique stores. Utah Stories Magazine describes the work:

“The renovations included removing the yellow paint to restore the original brick exterior, adding a second floor to the main building to utilize its height, and decorating the mall with scavenged parts from various locations. These parts included the doors from the Gardo House, balustrades from the ZCMI building, an old elevator from East High School, and a stained-glass dome from the Long Beach First Methodist Church. Perhaps the most unusual second-hand part was a conveyer trestle from an oxide mill east of Tooele, which became the skywalk spanning 600 South. The total cost of renovations was $10 -12 million.” (Razavi)

The renovations transformed a dirty car barn in an old lot to a beautiful shopping destination.

News outlet KSL noted that the 97-foot-tall, 50,000-gallon water tower was changed into a landmark and is now used to indicate the local weather forecast. Goodman noted that Trolley Square Mall had one of Utah’s first skybridges that spanned 600 South to get pedestrians safely from the parking lot, across the busy street, and to the complex. (Goodman, 146) In 1973, after the renovation, Trolley Square was added to the register of historical sites by the state of Utah. It was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Four years ago, in 2008, the mall celebrated its centennial anniversary. The Square quickly became and remains one of the state’s most popular attractions, offering unique shopping, dining and entertainment in a charming, historic atmosphere. KSL reported, “Trolley Square welcomes over 3 million customers each year. Approximately 30% are tourists, making Trolley Square the second most visited tourist site in the city.” With two major malls/shopping districts being constructed since that article was written, that number has surely decreased, but Trolley Square is still a special shopping destination with stores found nowhere else.

Various stores changed throughout the years and specialty shops moved in. Every day was business as usual for Trolley Square Mall, which was why no one expected Sulejman Talovic, an 18-year-old Bosnian refugee, to walk in and open fire with a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver. On February 12, 2007, at roughly 6:45 p.m., “Talovic parked his car in the west parking lot and walked into the mall, encountering two people, whom he shot. He then walked further into the mall and shot a woman,” Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank told The Salt Lake Tribune in the article “Killer identified as 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic.”

This was the first part of this horrible crime. Talovic, it was discovered, killed a father and wounded a son in the parking lot and then ten steps into the mall shot at a man, a young woman and an unarmed security guard. As he roamed the mall, he then killed a young woman, according to the official Salt Lake City Police Department report. The shooter continued through the mall firing his guns and reloading constantly. People ran and hid in fear hearing shots, breaking glass and screams. In “Trolley Square: Emotionless killer gunned down victims randomly,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported, “The gunman made his way down the hallway, where he opened fire once again, this time into a gift shop with several people inside. Gunshots shattered the storefront glass, striking and killing at least three people.” Patrons of the mall fled in fear as the gunshots continued to roar throughout the building.

After the massacre in the gift shop Talovic came across an off-duty police officer and his wife. The Deseret News reported on February 18, 2007, that his wife “called 911 and explained to dispatchers that her husband was a police officer, giving them a description of what he was wearing.” Once the police officer was engaged, the standoff began. The officer ordered Talovic to drop his weapon, but he refused. Multiple shots were fired between the police officer and the shooter.

During this time, the Salt Lake Police were in action with officers en route and one already at Trolley Square. The solo officer entered the building, witnessed the standoff and came to the aid of the off-duty police officer. The shooter took cover in a nearby store while the officers hid behind posts. Occasional shots were exchanged between the officers and the gunman. Orders were given and ignored by Talovic.

Finally SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) officers entered from behind the shooter and witnessed him shoot at the other policemen. They opened fire and ended Talovic’s killing spree. Pat Reavy of the Deseret News reported on February 18, 2007, that “it was just seven minutes from the time the first person was shot in the west terrace parking lot to the time the gunman was killed, the district attorney’s office said.” In that brief seven minutes, six people, including a 15-year-old teenager, were dead, and four people were hospitalized with serious injuries.

The Deseret News article, “Mall Massacre,” reported, “Police officers in full SWAT gear went through the mall, discovering more and more frightened people huddling in back rooms, dressing rooms, closets, bathrooms and anywhere else they could hide. One group of people locked themselves in a freezer to stay safe.”

Forensic teams closed off the entire four-block area and started piecing the puzzle together. Police investigators did not have leads as to what Sulejman Talovic’s motives were. The Deseret News reported, “Detectives as of Friday had found no evidence that violent video games may have influenced Talovic. In fact, Talovic did not even own a computer or a video-game system…. Investigators also had not ‘found anything that has religious or political motivation’ or shown that Talovic’s ethnicity was a factor.” (Reavy) His family was deeply saddened by his actions and could not understand why he committed the crime. KSL reported on March 3, 2007, “The family of Sulejman Talovic buried him in his native Bosnia” that same day.

The community was shocked and outraged, but joined together and held candlelight vigils, placed flowers, and raised funds for the victims. Members of the community stood united and mourned together. The victims were honored by the government, by flying flags at half-staff and opening the Senate’s floor session by remembering the victims, as reported on by the Deseret News February 16, 2007. Mall owners eventually opened their doors and people gradually began to shop and dine again at Trolley Square. Attendance and business increased as citizens showed their support.

Recently the incident has been studied extensively and is now being used as an example of police procedure. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on March 20, 2012, “The way Salt Lake City officers and one off-duty Ogden officer responded as Sulejman Talovic shot shoppers and patrons has been considered such a good example of intercepting what police call an ‘active shooter’ that it’s been taught across the country.”

Stores have changed, consumer business has fluctuated and Trolley Square was even sold to new owners, but things are looking up. The new owners are investing more money and have since remodeled and built a massive new parking garage. A large anchor store has also moved in and a popular local bookstore has relocated to Trolley Square. The dark day will always remain in the history of Salt Lake but the future looks brighter for the residents and business owners in the area. Trolley Square will continue as a fixture in Salt Lake City.

Kyle K. Leete is a junior at The University of Utah studying mass communication with a new media emphasis.

Sources

Nate Carlisle, “Police around the nation learn from Trolley Square shootings,” The Salt Lake Tribune, March 20, 2012, 1.

Zacharia Razavi, “Trolley Square—A Salt Lake City Icon,” Utah Stories Magazine, November 6, 2008.

Pat Reavy, “Police, DA give further details in Trolley shooting,” The Deseret News, February 18, 2007, 2.

Pat Reavy, Linda Thomson and Joe Bauman, “More details emerging on Trolley Square gunman and victims: State officials, business owners, clergy extend sympathies, offer help,” The Deseret News, February 16, 2007, 5.

Ben Winslow, Pat Reavy and Wendy Leonard, “Mall massacre: Gunman at Trolley Square kills 5, wounds others before he’s slain,” The Deseret News, February 16, 2007, 3.

“Killer identified as 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic,” The Salt Lake Tribune, February 13, 2007, 1.

“Trolley Square: A Brief History,” The Salt Lake Tribune, February 13, 2007, 1.

John Goodman, As You Pass By: Architectural Musings on Salt Lake City: a Collection of Columns and Sketches from the Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995).

KSL 5 Eyewitness Weather Tower at Trolley Square,” KSL News.

Trolley Shooter Laid to Rest Today,” KSL News, March 3, 2007.

Trolley Square Shooting Incident Investigative Summary,” Salt Lake City Police Department.

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