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Art Castle set to revive the west side arts community

A photo of the 15th ward chapel.
Ivana Martinez
The 15th ward chapel was originally built in 1900 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A 121-year-old Victorian Gothic revival building on Salt Lake City’s west side has lived many lives; it's been a church, a theater and a recording studio. Now it’s on its way to returning to its roots as a place for the community to gather.

Formerly known as the 15th ward chapel, the building has been closed to the public for years.

Last week, the Utah Arts Alliance announced they had purchased the building through private donations and a state appropriation. It’s been renamed the Art Castle, and the nonprofit has begun the renovation process.

Derek Dyer, executive director of Utah Arts Alliance, said he’s been dreaming about building an ‘art castle’ since he was a kid. Dyer used to live in the neighborhood, and he said he’s always been drawn to the building because of it’s architecture and its deep cultural history.

The building is located in Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood, on the corner of 900 West and 100 South. It was built in 1900 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then sold in the 1960s.

The building was also home to LA East Studios. Dolly Parton, B.B. King, Elton John and Eminem were among the artists who recorded music there.

Dyer said the art that’s been created inside the building has had deep cultural impacts, and he wants to add to that history.

A photo of a crumbling sign that reads '15th Ward Chapel.'
Ivana Martinez
For many years the 15th ward chapel served as a place for the community to gather for church, theater and other events.

He said they plan to build an immersive art exhibit and want to revive the recording studio. The Utah Arts Alliance also plans to add a sculpture garden and a cafe.

It’s part of their vision of bringing more economic growth to the area.

“There will be a lot of economic development opportunities just within our own space here,” Dyer said. “It'll also attract a lot of other people that want to be around something so cool and vibrant. We've seen that happen over and over with other projects that we've been in.”

He said he expects to add about 25 jobs — from managing the exhibit to running the cafe.

Dyer said the Art Castle will also create a space for local west side artists to grow.

“We've seen the transformative power of art,” he said. “We want to make sure that we're harnessing that for the good of the community so that everyone benefits from it. That's kind of the main purpose of this project.”

Melanie Pehrson Noyce, a member of the Poplar Grove Community Council, said the biggest concern from residents was that the project might fall through. She said overall the community has been grateful to see the historic building preserved.

Pehrson Noyce said the west side lacks arts resources, and it’s significant to see an investment in the community.

“The arts — it’s connection and understanding,” Pehrson Noyce said. “It means voices being heard for the first time; it means artists of color and performers of color utilizing this space more fully with art that pertains to their culture.”

For now, the Art Castle is in the midst of renovations. Utah Arts Alliance will hold a celebration there on Oct. 23 to commemorate the progress they’ve made so far.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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