Wagner Prosthetics Manufacturing Company building

Feature Story: Catch 22


Over the last couple of years, many of you have rented rehearsal space in the building located at 375 West and 400 South in Salt Lake and are wondering why the city chose to close it down. Here, in a nutshell, is the ultimate game of catch-22.

On October 18, Wagner Prosthetics Manufacturing Company, Inc. was ordered to “vacate all areas except ‘Raunch Records,’ which is located on the northwest corner of the building, by October 22, 1990.”

There has been an ongoing battle between the owners of the building and the city, dating back to the spring of this year, over whether or not the current use of the building complied with zoning codes and safety standards.

Eugene Wagner, owner of the building since the 40s, has been caught in what building manager Russell Schmit termed “a bureaucratic nightmare.”

According to Schmit, the building had been sold six years ago to a third party which eventually defaulted on its payments. Over those six years, the building was subdivided, without rhyme, reason or proper building permits, into 35 rehearsal spaces–a number eventually reduced to 20 when the Salt Lake City Building and Housing Department ordered the basement portion closed due to fire safety and sanitary concerns–rented every month to areas musicians without first obtaining the necessary building permits, he said.

Upon regaining control of the building, Wagner was confronted with several problems, the main one being that the third party had never won permission from the city to convert the building to its present use. Therefore Wagner has to secure permission to continue operating the building as a rehearsal facility. Needless to say, the city’s game of catch-22 ensued. “Before any structural changes can be made, one must secure building permits, and if structural changes are made without approval, the city can ask you to scrap the whole project and start over,” said Schmit.

In May of this year, the Fire Department became involved in the quagmire when a woman fell out of the upper window on the north side of the building, claimed Schmit, who explained that the Fire Department requested the building be inspected to determine whether or not persons were living in the building—something it is not zoned for.

After that incident, Schmit was made a registered agent for the property and went about cleaning up the place by removing some of the “less desirable elements.”

On May 9 of this year, he was informed that since the building took up nearly all the space available on its lot, off-street parking would need to be secured for approximately the number of people using the building, he said, adding that receiving a conditional use permit hinged on this fact. Catch-22 again. The city didn’t have a formula for determining how much off-street parking would be required for the building, explained Schmit, who said that you can’t get permits without parking and you can’t get parking without permits.

Additionally, in a letter Wagner wrote to Lawrence Suggars at the Department of Building and Housing, he pointed out that in the decades Wagner Prosthetics has owned and used the facility, the city had never made an issue of acquiring off-street parking.

Suggars gave Schmit the names of three people who might know of a way to determine a fair market value for off-street parking under the viaduct north of the building. However, none of the three had any idea either.

Eventually, the city was willing to grant a revocable off-street parking permit under the viaduct for $350 per year, Schmit claimed, but by then it was too late.

After the closure on October 26, attempts were made to secure a restraining order to continue operating, said Schmit, who added that the city pulled Wager Prosthetic’s appeal without notifying him because the city thought it could handle the problem administratively.

“We worked with them for six months, trying to hammer out a plan acceptable to all sides,” he said, “but in the end, it appears the city had its agenda.”

Built in 1908 by the Armour & Company, Wagner Prosthetic Manufacturing, Inc. acquired the building in the 50s to manufacture prosthetic appliances for amputees around the world, said Schmit. He noted that while the company retains the same business name, it has been a property management company since the 70s.

Mostly rented to local bands and musicians for use as rehearsal space, Raunch Records set up shop in the building six years ago and has survived to the surprise of many city officials. Due to the close of the building, Raunch was forced to relocate and can now be found at 820 S. Main Street, next to Cafe Trang, said owner Brad Collins.

“The new store is slightly larger, at 1,200 square feet, and gives Collins the chance to do “fane” window displays, he said. You’ll still be able to find all the stuff you’ve come to expect from Raunch at the new stores—alternative music in the album, cassette and CD form from the likes of Fugazi, Chaos U.K., Sonic Youth, and local bands like the Bad Yodelers and The Stench, skateboard stuff, some jewelry and T’s.

Regarding the local music in stock, “I only sell what I like,” said Collins. An attitude that goes without saying for the rest of his inventory, too.

“The move will be good; it’s the first street-level location for the store in plain view of people passing by,” said Collins, who hasn’t done much to advertise the new location. Still, “the kids know where it is and word of mouth will let people know,” said Collins.

Back to the building itself.

“We wanted to fight for the retail store [Raunch],” because they’ve been a really good tenant, concluded Schmit, but in the end, it couldn’t be done.

Since the closure of the building, Wagner Prosthetics has been charged with failure to obey an order, i.e., to make the necessary repairs it was ordered to make but couldn’t without the necessary permits which were unobtainable until parking had been secured, which couldn’t have a formula for determining a retail space and price.

Schmit claimed he went ahead with some repairs without first obtaining the necessary permits but with what he alleges was the full knowledge of Suggars.

As of press time, city officials were unavailable for comment.

But never fear, Schmit would like to see the building end up in the hands of its former tenants. He said that he has been approached by a group of individuals interested in acquiring the building if the planned upgrades are completed. Whether or not those upgrades are allowed to occur is apparently in the city’s hands.

In the meantime, Schmit said he will fight the city and its charges of non-compliance, and will proceed with litigation of his own against it and several city employees he alleges went out of their way to shut the building down.

If you are interested in contacting the arts group that wished to acquire the building, contact Russell Schmit at 278-9176 for more information. 

Read more 1990 SLUG Archives:
SLUG’s April Feature Band: Da Neighbors
The Mission UK Review/Interview