Created by LDS settlers, the Salt Lake City grid emerged as part of a grander plan to turn the new city into a spiritual utopia. LDS founder, Joseph Smith, developed the Plat of Zion, which provided details regarding road sizes, lot arrangement, and how many people would reside in each block. (The original document is on display at the Church History Museum, located in Temple Square.)
The original Plat of Zion allowed for equally sized, but especially large blocks -- 660 feet wide -- set at right angles. The only exception involved blocks found in the city's center, where Joseph Smith imagined twenty-four temples would be located. The spacious city blocks had a purpose: Smith envisioned a city as populous as New York or Philadelphia and include modern infrastructure, education, and community, but without sin or crime because it would be less crowded. Smith hoped to build a city where each church member would own a house on a plot of land sizable enough to support gardens and fruit trees.
Joseph Smith never had the opportunity to turn his utopian vision into a reality, however, as an anti-Mormon mob killed Smith in 1844. As a result of his death, church leadership fell to Brigham Young, who led LDS members to the Salt Lake Valley; they established Salt Lake City in 1847.
Brigham Young mostly believed in the spirit of the Plat of Zion but understood that it might not be that pragmatic to adhere fully to Smith's utopian ideal. For instance, instead of building twenty-four temples, Young started with one. Young also felt that a modern city could not rely on a home economic model, so Young planned for commercial and industrial districts.
Neither Young or Smith, in the mid-nineteenth century, could have foreseen the development of the automobile or the modern skyscraper, let alone the declining influence of Mormons on secular politics and culture. Nonetheless, the Base and Meridian center point is a lasting example of how LDS members traversed the U.S. and then settled, founded and built Salt Lake City.