Fabian VanCott was formed by the union of two of Utah’s foundational law firms, each with deep roots in the history of the intermountain west.
World War I was raging across Europe, and two young attorneys, Mr. Harold Fabian and Mr. Beverly Clendenin, were serving in the Army during the war. Clendenin was commissioned a Captain in the Army and met Fabian, a Major, during a portion of their service at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The two became good friends and stayed in touch throughout the war.
Shortly after the war ended, Harold Fabian persuaded Beverly Clendenin to relocate from California to Salt Lake City, and they opened the law firm of Fabian & Clendenin in 1919. They quickly gained recognition as successful, capable attorneys and started to grow their client base. They complemented each other well, with Fabian specializing in transactions and Clendenin in litigation.
Beverly Clendenin ran the day-to-day affairs of the firm – and he is credited with establishing the high standard of excellence for which we are known. He was also extraordinarily active in the community. At various times, he was president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, University Club, and Salt Lake Country Club, well as chairman of the Utah State Indian Affairs Commission, and member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education. The extensive list of his activities is remarkable, producing a far-reaching legacy and a lasting, beneficial influence on the city and region.
We’re proud of the crucial role our firm played in the decades-long struggle to create Grand Teton National Park. In 1926, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, Horace Albright, convinced John D. Rockefeller to quietly buy large tracts of wilderness to start creating a new national park in the Teton Mountains. This was an enormous and highly sensitive undertaking, and the Rockefellers hired our firm to provide the legal and political knowledge and passion for conservation necessary to carry out such a clandestine project.
There was tremendous resistance in Wyoming to creating the park, but Harold Fabian dedicated his full energies to the project. He spent decades traveling away from home, chipping away at legal obstacles, while Congress dragged its feet every step of the way. Mr. Fabian’s life’s work was finally realized when President Roosevelt designated the acquired land as the Jackson Hole National Monument. As a reward for his service, Fabian received a small cabin in the park, where his family spent summers, held law firm gatherings, and entertained distinguished guests like former Presidents Coolidge and Hoover, and the Rockefellers. In 1950, Congress finally included the land in the Grand Teton National Park, where the Fabian Cabin is a historical site.
Because of Harold Fabian’s work with the Rockefellers on the Grand Tetons, he became active on a national scale for other conservation efforts. He was appointed the first head of the Utah Parks Commission and helped create and develop many of the state and local parks we enjoy today.
In the 1950s, Fabian was asked by then President David 0. McKay of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to advise on the new project of restoring Nauvoo, Illinois- a site significant in the Church’s history. His real estate and park expertise provided invaluable direction.
For the next several decades, the firm quickly expanded, struggling to fit in the Continental Bank building that was the firm’s home since 1929, when Mr. Fabian had found a creative solution to a boundary dispute that allowed Continental Bank to erect its building downtown, and the firm was rewarded with new office space. By the 1980s, the firm needed more space, and moved in to the top floors of then a new building downtown, at 215 South State Street.
In 2015, the Fabian firm joined with VanCott, Bagley, Cornwall & McCarthy to form a consolidated union. We continue building upon our historical foundation, with our vision focused on the future, and are excited to announce that we are moving the headquarters of our growing firm to Salt Lake’s newest and most modern office tower at 95 State, at the close of 2022.
VanCott, Bagley, Cornwall & McCarthy traces its origins to attorney Charles W. Bennett, who began practicing law in New York and made his way west to Salt Lake City, where he established a firm and became an active participant in the legal, political, and social development of the Utah territory.
The firm was established around 1874, with the original name of Bennett and Whitney, though it had several names throughout the years to reflect the admission of new partners.
After the death of Brigham Young in 1877, Bennett and his partner Robert Harkness were hired by the executors to represent Brigham Young’s large and complicated estate, which became embroiled in a dispute over the question of whether the assets belonged to the estate, its many heirs, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Following Utah’s statehood in 1896, firm partner John A. Marshall was appointed the first United States District Judge for the district of Utah. He left the firm and served as judge for 20 years.
In 1900, Waldemar Van Cott joined the firm, an attorney who had established his national reputation as a legal advocate when he was selected to represent Senator Reed Smoot in contentious hearings before the U.S. Senate over an effort to unseat Smoot, who had been elected in 1902. Senator Smoot was an ordained apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and shortly after his election, a movement arose to unseat him. His opponents argued that because he was part of the governing body of the Church, his election was part of a scheme by the Church to control Utah politics. After a bitter two-year fight, Smoot was sustained as a U.S. Senator.
Waldemar Van Cott became particularly active in academia and served for several years on the University of Utah’s Board of Regents, including a time as chairman. His partner George Sutherland became a U.S. senator for Utah in 1905 where he served until 1917. Sutherland was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Warren G. Harding in 1922, and served as an associate justice until his retirement in 1938.
During the early decades of the 20th century, the firm’s practice grew and established a strong foundation representing railroads and the mining industry. When the Depression hit in the 1930s, law firms struggled to survive. Waldemar’s son, Mar Van Cott was appointed regional counsel for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and for the Regional Agricultural Credit Corporation. The income from this appointment helped the firm through this critical period.
In 1948, the firm became Van Cott, Bagley, Cornwall and McCarthy, which it remained for almost seven decades, with years of distinguished attorneys and firm leaders, including Dennis McCarthy, Leonard Lewis, David Salisbury, Robert Merrill, Robert Anderson, Steve Swindle, and Greg Williams, all of whom dedicated themselves to building on the firm’s foundation and continuing its tradition of excellence.
In 2015, the attorneys of Van Cott, Bagley, Cornwall and McCarthy joined the firm of Fabian and Clendenin to form today’s powerhouse firm, Fabian VanCott.