July 09, 2016

Victorian-era Fisher Mansion: a treasure in limbo

Victorian-era Fisher Mansion: a treasure in limbo
By The West View

Photos by Ashley King and Ray Wheeler

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Fisher mansion would have fit perfectly amongst the row of stately homes on Brigham Street (now South Temple) east of downtown Salt Lake City. Sadly, that is not the case today as this prominent building, located alongside the Jordan River on 200 South, has been allowed to degrade to a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, it is still worth visiting the site because most of its significant architectural features are still visible.

On the exterior, although the house is a good example of Victorian architecture, it is missing such classic Victorian features as a corner tower or turret. It could be categorized as Richardsonian Romanesque because of the heavy use of masonry; rough-faced stonework at the base, columns and lintels; the round arched decorative elements; the rounded southeast corner and the low-sloped roof. It is easy for the onlooker to walk all the way around the home to get the full experience of all four sides.

Notice the magnificent stone-framed bay windows. There is also a little bit of flamboyance in the tall, patterned masonry chimneys and the large eaves overhangs, but this is a much more down to earth Victorian-era home than some of the more ostentatious mansions which began to grace Brigham Street on the east side of the city at the turn of the century. The Fisher mansion is no less important however, as the architect, Richard Kletting, was also renowned for his design of the Utah State Capitol complex.

Although the mansion is boarded up today with no interior access except by prior arrangement, it is worth getting inside if you can. More Victorian splendor is evident on the interior. The bay windows are again strongly expressed, this time with wood trim. You will see the arch theme again in the doorways. Extensive use of wood paneling and glass insets in doorways and interior lights allow natural light to penetrate the inner spaces. Even more natural light floods down from the skylights above the dramatic open stair atrium.

The mansion has unfortunately lost a significant degree of its original grandeur over the past century due to a series of neglectful proprietors. Salt Lake City Corporation purchased the mansion in 2006 and commissioned a report in February 2010 to determine potential future use for the building. In 2011, according the to the SLC Mayor’s Office, the City received a $150,000 federal “Save America’s Treasures” grant, which they matched. $300,000 was used for repairs to the carriage house. Renovation on the mansion itself seems to have stalled, although the Utah Heritage Foundation and the City recorded a preservation easement in 2015 that protects against undesirable development and alterations of the mansion.

As the 2010 report suggests, “The Fisher Mansion presents a number of opportunities as a demonstration of what can be accomplished when adaptively using an existing historic landmark for contemporary use.” It would be wonderful to see this Salt Lake City landmark recapture some of its former glory and at the same time be a useful amenity for residents and Jordan River trail users alike.