SALT LAKE CITY — The Fisher Mansion and Carriage House have been two of the more unique structures in the city for more than 125 years. While the home is vacant and the carriage house’s windows all shuttered, they still muster a quiet charm on 200 South adjacent to the Jordan River Parkway.
Now at least one of the buildings is getting new life. During its meeting on Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Council approved a $1.3 million plan to repair the Fisher Carriage House and turn it into a nature center, Parks & Public Lands division office space, and a recreation program facility where people can rent kayaks to use in the river.
If all goes as planned, residents will have an option to paddle around the Jordan River using a system much like ride-share bikes in the next couple of years, said Lewis Kogan, Salt Lake City Parks & Public Land trails and natural land division director. That said, there’s still much work to be done before that comes to fruition.
“What we’ve heard from the community is we’d like it to be something that activates the area, that allows the general public to appreciate that property and learn about it and also potentially learn something about the river,” he said. “But it’s hard to figure out how to exactly do that on a property that’s kind of isolated.”
The two buildings were designed by Richard Kletting and constructed in 1893 for Albert and Alma Youngberg Fisher. At the time the area was sparsely populated, making it a quick commute for Fisher, who was the president of Fisher Brewing Company. The company was located about two blocks from the home, according to a report by CRSA Architecture in 2010.
CRSA noted more houses were constructed in the area as the city grew, but all of the homes located on the south side of 200 South were demolished when I-80 was constructed in the mid-1950s. The two structures survived even as the pocket of Salt Lake City began to be used more for commercial use. Today, the buildings are sandwiched between I-80 and a busy Union Pacific railroad line. Dominion Energy has a facility to the east, and the Jordan River is located about 30 feet to the west.
The home remained Fisher’s residence until he died in 1917 and stayed in the family for a few decades after his death. In 1945, the family leased the mansion to the Catholic Church, which used from the building as a convent by Our Lady Queen of Peace and Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters until 1970. After that, it became a residential substance abuse facility. Alice Fisher Davidson, Alma Fisher’s daughter, eventually donated the property to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City in the mid-‘70s. It was a treatment facility until 2006, when Salt Lake City purchased the buildings to help extend the Jordan River Parkway.
Its proximity to the river makes it a perfect location for what the city hopes to do with it next.
“The city acquired the property because there were a number of people who recognized the incredible, historic home right on the Jordan River Parkway Trail had a lot of potential — even though there wasn’t a clear vision of exactly it might evolve into,” Kogan explained.
The city received a $300,000 donation to go toward improvements at the Fisher Carriage House in 2013, Kogan said. Since then, he’s eyed ideas to turn the home into something the community can enjoy.
Last year, the division put its energy toward the carriage house instead and planned to save the Fisher Mansion for later because officials found it to be in too rough of shape to repair right away. The division saw the carriage house as a home base for its outreach staff, as well as a place for visitors to learn more about the property’s history, the Jordan River and nature.
The agency also thought it would be a good place for recreation, especially since it received state funds to install a new boat ramp next to the carriage house, which Kogan said will happen this winter.
“We thought this would be a great place to start a paddle share program … where you basically have kayak storage lockers at a couple of easy access points at the river, and people can come and rent a boat and the equipment they need,” he said. “The idea kind of came out because of how few people there are — when you consider that section of the Jordan River is in the middle of Salt Lake City, the recreational resource opportunity that it represents is tremendous.”
A group helped finalize the city’s Parks & Public Lands division design for how the building can be utilized to accommodate all of the division’s ideas earlier this summer. The division estimated work to restore the building would take about $1.3 million.
Construction on the house could start as early as late 2020, but nothing is quite certain at this point, Kogan said. He estimated the project likely wouldn't be completed for about two years.
As for the Fisher Mansion, Kogan said there’s no plan currently in place for what the city will do with it. That said, he said city officials hope to find something that will make use of it like the carriage house. The mansion is the projected western terminus of the city’s Folsom Trail project that has yet to be started.