Looking Back: 1980 Capitol Windstorm

Alan Barnett History, News and Events

Here along the Wasatch Front, we periodically get some pretty wild windstorms. Some do more damage than others, so some are more memorable than others. In September 2020 we had a particularly strong storm that uprooted hundreds of trees and caused prolonged power outages. Coming as it did on the heels of Salt Lake’s largest recorded earthquake and in the midst of a global pandemic, the event contributed to the apocalyptic atmosphere of the year. Few who were around twenty years earlier can forget August 11, 1999, when a tornado ripped through downtown Salt Lake, toppling trees and demolishing buildings.

Photographs that recently came to the Archives from the State Division of Facilities Construction and Management (DFCM) are a reminder of yet another windstorm that occurred over 40 years ago. Some will still remember it.

On June 29, 1980, winds up to 70 mph tore through Salt Lake, knocking down trees, signs, and power lines. But the most notable damage occurred on Capitol Hill. There the flagpole in front of the Capitol was bent over and wind peeled away portions of the copper dome. At first it was hoped that the dome could be patched and repaired, but soon the decision was made to strip off all the old copper and replace it with brand new copper sheeting. When work was complete the dome was shiny orange for a time.

Snapshots taken by DFCM staff show damage to the Capitol dome, removal of the old flagpole, scaffolding set up to repair the dome, installation of a new flagpole, and dedication ceremonies for the flagpole with Governor Scott Matheson.

A small wooden plaque at the Archives with a Utah-shaped piece of copper attached tells another piece of the story. Newspaper reports reveal that DFCM took salvaged copper sheets to the State Prison, where inmate workers created souvenirs from the “Native Utah Copper.” These plaques were sold over the July 24th weekend for $10 each and the proceeds were to help pay for the new copper dome. Before the weekend even started, orders for 500 plaques had come in. Each souvenir was stamped with a number. The State Archives holds number 0004. Maybe you have one of the souvenirs tucked in the bottom of a drawer or the back of a closet!