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It has all the accouterments of a 19th-century European setting: a three-story mansion boasting elegant spindle archways framed by rusticated stonework and resting on an acre with a carriage house out back.
Perfectly suited for a public art gallery, the mansion features folding French doors, ornate fireplaces, curved-glass alcoves and a handcrafted oak interior as serviceable as it is stunning.
All of this is framed by blue spruce and elm trees by a meandering stream.
Out of place - and context - as it suddenly seems, the one-time home of German brewery baron Albert Fisher is nestled in west Salt Lake City at 1206 W. 200 South on the banks of the Jordan River.
Now, after serving as a convent for nuns and a dry-out center for alcoholics, the 115-year-old home is slated for public use. Thanks to a snap decision by new Mayor Ralph Becker, Utah's capital will keep the mansion with plans to share its splendor as a community gathering place.
"It has so many different opportunities," says Becker spokeswoman Karen Hale, twisting up one of two wood staircases during an impromptu tour Thursday. Early ideas include an art gallery as well as an information center for the Jordan River Parkway.
The city bought the property last year for $450,000 from the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese. The city, which intended to sell the mansion, simply wanted the property to fix up a portion of the adjacent parkway trail. But Becker, an urban planner who pledged improvements on the west side, sees opportunity.
"I see it as sort of The Leonardo of the west side," says Genevieve Atwood in a reference to the science center planned for downtown's Library Square.
A great-granddaughter of Fisher and a former state lawmaker, Atwood has been tapped by the city to help plan public uses at her family mansion. She envisions an outdoor nature-education center - "no child left inside," Atwood quips - or even a nonprofit bicycle shop for trail users.
Perched six blocks west of the city's transit center, the property alongside the parkway could become a hub for cyclists. City leaders also may approach the state about a decorative sound wall to shield the space from nearby Interstate 80. Eventually, the city hopes to raise City Creek, which would connect to the parkway just north of the mansion.
"It's just been a hidden jewel. It could sit next door to the governor's mansion and fit right in," says City Councilman Van Turner, who delivered beer for the once-neighboring Fisher Brewery in the 1970s and now represents the neighborhood.
Turner expects the amenity to draw more interest to the west side, and more people to that portion of the Jordan. "It's the center between Rose Park, Poplar Grove and Glendale," he says. "It will be a good place to learn about the environment there."
That is precisely the hope of Becker and Atwood.
The mansion also has ties to other standout structures. It was designed in 1893 by Richard Kletting, the same architect who conceived the Utah Capitol. And the hand-built lock settings are identical to the doors gracing the City-County Building.
Inside, pocket doors obscure servant quarters that connect to the main floor from a private staircase. A series of additions to accommodate the Catholic Church's group home could be removed without ruining the integrity of the mansion.
"They were totally respectful of this place," city property manager John Spencer says. "We were very, very lucky."
Still, upgrades could be costly. Spencer estimates $500,000 for structural work, including making the mansion accessible for the disabled.
Becker hopes to gather a combination of private and public cash.
Says spokeswoman Helen Langan: "We hope it can become a real gem for all of the community to enjoy."
* 1893: Fisher Mansion at 1206 W. 200 South is built for brewery baron Albert Fisher.
* 1940s: Mansion is turned into a convent for the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Victory.
* Early 1970s: Mansion is sold to Catholic Church; becomes St. Mary's Home for Men shelter and alcohol-rehabilitation center.
* 2007: City buys property for connection to Jordan River Parkway.
* January: Mayor Ralph Becker decides against selling the mansion, names property as his first Salt Lake Solutions project.