SALT LAKE CITY _ It is, of all our cities, the most American and the least typical.
It stubbles the wide open spaces of the West, its signature landmark an off-limits temple. (Rising, rumors have it, above underground tunnels). Settled by pioneers, seat of apostles.
It is laid out in the standard grid system but, unlike all our other major cities, it retains a definable epicenter, an undisputed heart. There are metropolises like New York, with competing focal points, and sprawling conurbations like L.A. that defy the idea of a centralized hub.
But in Salt Lake everything revolves around Temple Square; it reigns like the deity in the middle of a Tibetan mandala painting. Numbered streets shoot out from it to the four points of the compass, linking the university to the east, the City and County Building to the south, the lake to the west, the State Capitol to the north. If your house is in the city, there's a good chance your address will tell you exactly how far, and in what direction, it sits from the square. It is to Salt Lake what Red Square is to Moscow and Tiananmen to Beijing, the only difference being that they are open expanses in historically closed societies, while Temple Square is the opposite.
As in other cities, buildings shrink as you move away from the center. ("No one builds anything taller than that," your local friend tells you, pointing to the 28-story office tower of the Church of Jesus Christ of …