Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.
SALT LAKE CITY — A plan for major renovations to turn a century-old structure into an outdoor recreation hub received a thumbs-up from an important Salt Lake City history commission last week, marking another step in moving the project forward.
The Salt Lake City Historic Landmarks Commission unanimously passed the building alteration plans during its meeting on Sept. 3. The Salt Lake City Council approved $1.3 million in funding for the project last year.
The Fisher Carriage House, located at 1206 W. 200 South in the city’s Poplar Grove neighborhood, was constructed in 1893 on the same lot as its neighboring Fisher Mansion, first owned by brewer Albert Fisher. It served as all carriage houses do: a place to park a horse and carriage and other equipment. Both buildings were deemed eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 but weren’t officially added until 2008.
They’ve stood the test of time since their construction. It’s not just the March 18 earthquake — which caused some building damage — but Salt Lake City’s growth over the past 127 years, including when crews knocked down nearby homes to construct I-80 in the 1950s. The buildings served as various uses before the city purchased the structures in 2006.
"I think this kind of work is a clear example (of) adaptive reuse," said Salt Lake Historic Landmarks Commissioner Mike Vela, during the Sept. 3 meeting. "It’s possible to breathe new life into historic structures and provide enjoyment to future generations, as opposed to sitting dormant and empty."
Alterations to the building
Salt Lake City senior planner Kelsey Lindquist outlined the plans for the Victorian eclectic-style building during a presentation to the commission last week. The alterations include adding a multi-panel glass frame on the first floor, modifying the carriage doors with historically-accurate replacements, restoring damaged sills and historic windows, and cleaning of the building's brick exterior.
The 5.7 magnitude earthquake that rattled the Wasatch Front on March 18 did damage to the building’s chimney and some mortar joints, which will also be repaired as a part of the renovation. John Ewanowski, senior project manager for CRSA Architecture, said the building’s windows are believed to still be at the building, although they’re currently boarded up.
"They’re double hung — for the most part — wood windows, kind of traditional to what you’d expect out of an 1890s carriage house," he said, adding that storm windows will be added to create "thermal value" to the building and ensure it is up to current energy standards.
Within the interior, the plan is to remove parts of what was once a walk-in cooler so the original plaster look can be restored. Project leaders also discussed anti-graffiti coating on the building, but that was not submitted as a part of the proposal within the Sept. 3 meeting. Lindquist explained that there are still questions about hether the coating would alter the appearance of the building’s masonry.
Some of the images presented during the Sept. 3 meeting were released last year but still paint an accurate representation of the renovations in mind, Ewanowski said.
The alterations won’t affect the Fisher Mansion, which also received damage from the earthquake. Vela said during the meeting that he hopes the carriage house project may someday lead to funding for similar renovations to the mansion.
A new hub for recreation
The Fisher Carriage House is now inching closer to having a new life as a recreation hub. Many of the details about its new purpose — including service as an office space for Salt Lake Trails and Natural Lands Division employees — were released in August 2019, after the city council approved spending to renovate the building.
It’s adjacent to the Jordan River Parkway and stands near the future terminus of the upcoming Folsom Trail, which is expected to be completed next year. The former of the two trails draws in many runners, bikers and those out for a stroll daily. The latter will create a pathway to connect downtown Salt Lake City with the Jordan River Parkway.
Lewis Kogan, program manager for the trails and natural lands division, pointed out that the city and county spent $7 million in recent years to complete a project to connect the Jordan River Parkway and make it an over 45-mile continuous trail through Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties.
But what doesn’t exist as much is river recreation options, which is where the city’s next recreation focus appears to be — and what makes the Fisher Carriage House the prime location for a river recreation and community engagement hub.
The city has plans to build a new canoe and kayak ramp to the river adjacent to the historic Carriage House and other places along the river in the near future, Kogan said.
KSL.com reached out to the division for an exact timeline for the project but did not receive a response by publication time. A report filed by the Salt Lake City Planning Commission in July stated that parts of the overall recreation project, including three new boat ramps in Salt Lake City and improved wayfinding signage on the parkway trail, were expected to be completed by the late fall of 2020.
The report also noted that the city received a grant from the National Park Service to conduct a feasibility study for a possible paddle share program — sort of rideshare program for canoes and kayaks across the river.
During the Sept. 3 meeting, Salt Lake Historic Landmarks commissioners lauded the reuse plan. Commissioner Victoria Petro-Eschler said her concerns, such as bike lock safety in the future, fell outside of the realm of the commission’s responsibility.
"I’m absolutely in love with this project, especially because on the west side we’ve kind of been getting pummeled with just relentless negative news," she said. "Rehabilitating the Jordan River Parkway factors heavily into it."