The History of Ancestor Square

Majority taken from an article written by Doug Alder for the Today in Dixie Magazine in April of 2007.

The intersection of Main Street and St. George Boulevard is the commercial center of St. George. On its northwest corner lies Ancestor Square, six historic buildings and many new ones, all with a compatible décor to enliven the historical sense of the old city center. The shops, restaurants and art galleries create a favorite place for both visitors and residents.

Visitors to this park-like area might have a challenge deciding which of the buildings are historic and which are new. Talented architects have worked to make it that way. The gardens between the buildings also interweave the atmosphere so the structures seem to fit together.

The oldest building is the Gardener’s Club. It was where pioneers met to share ideas about botanical possibilities in the harsh southern Utah desert climate. They even published a newspaper and attracted serious lecturers on horticulture, sometimes by Joel Hills Johnson who experimented with many plants and trees on that block. It is a small building meant for meetings and has continued to be used for such purposes, including a time when it was the Christian Science Reading Room.

The largest historical building is often called Sheriff Hardy’s House. It faces the Boulevard and, like the Gardner’s Club, has a historical marker. August P. Hardy served as sheriff from 1877 to 1883. His home has been remodeled several times and has served as a restaurant, law office, and other commercial purposes. Notwithstanding the remodels, it has maintained its original 12” to 18” adobe walls and some of the bullet holes in the walls and door jams from over zealous inmates.

Behind the Hardy Home is the Sandstone Building, a building made from red sandstone that likely came from the quarry where the Tabernacle stone was processed. It, too, is in usable condition and has served as a coffee shop and information center. Next to it is a small building constructed of hard lava stone with the original steel bars in the windows. It was reportedly used as the jail, and again, reportedly was the frequent home of Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy). These four structures, the Gardner’s Club, Sheriff Hardy’s home, the Sandstone Building, and Jail House, are in close proximity to each other. Today they are surrounded by a fish pond, bubbling brook, and shaded grassy area which is used frequently for wedding pictures and small outdoor concerts.

The new buildings on the Square have replaced two famous old tourist facilities; the Big Hand Café and the Rugged West Motel. The café was on the corner of Main and the Boulevard and had a neon sign of a big hand with the index finger up in the air. It was virtually the logo of the city for decades.

George Pace operated the restaurant that catered to tourists coming along old Highway 91 from California, Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. The Rugged West Motel was next door, forming an “L” around the café. Life Magazine once claimed that the Rugged West Motel, owned by John Pace, was the oldest motel west of the Mississippi River. For decades, especially during the early automobile tourism, the Big Hand Café was a popular gathering spot.

In 1974, Brooks Pace and his partners purchased the businesses. They operated them for four years and then tore down the motel in 1978. After several years living in Europe, Brooks dreamed of creating a historic project in his native St. George. Once he became an owner of this property, he realized that some of the adjacent buildings had historical value while the café and motel did not. He preserved the historic buildings and then added new ones, using the architectural ideas of Frank Fisher and Wally Cooper.

In 1978, they remodeled the Hardy House and constructed a new building on the corner where the café had been. Today it houses the Twiggs and Moore Art Gallery. In 1979 they built what are today the Pizza/Pasta Factory and an Art Barn. In 1980 they built the Tower at Ancestor Square, which now houses the Painted Pony and Benja Thai and Sushi Restaurants, and several shops and offices. They also built the Panama Grill Restaurant next door.

Brooks Pace continued to acquire adjacent properties, the Grundy House, built of red-fired adobe in 1890, which is on Main Street. In 1999 Bill Randall and Brooks purchased the Miles House, also known as the Fawcett House, built around 1910, also on Main Street. He bought this home from Esther Wasden, daughter of Tom Judd. Their original intent was to tear this home down to provide much needed additional parking space. Some of the building was removed, but they decided to preserve the original adobe portion which today hosts The Mission Art Gallery with an entrance on Main Street.

Not many cities can boast of a commercial complex as convenient and appealing as Ancestor Square. There are food outlets, art galleries, gardens and historic sites with convenient parking. It is right at the crossroads of the City. The development is an example of architecture, entrepreneurship and history nicely interwoven.