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Spill plays wedding crasher at LDS 'Garden' spot

Published June 18, 2010 4:00 pm

Like a wedding crasher, oil spoils popular east-side reception site -- for now.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While walking through the lush landscape of east Salt Lake City's Garden Park LDS Ward on Tuesday night, the bride-to-be got a headache.

An oil-spill headache.

Racine Raile and her fiancé, Robert Warner, decided that they could not subject their approximately 400 guests on July 1 to the toxic fumes emerging from Red Butte Creek, which streams by the popular wedding reception site in the Yalecrest neighborhood. They would have to switch locations, another headache of its own.

"Weddings in general are difficult, as far as family dynamics go, but trying to change a location and please everyone was really, really stressful," said Raile, a University of Utah nursing student. "We were so sad about it, because [Garden Park] is absolutely beautiful, one of the top spots in Utah for wedding receptions. Plus, that's where we fell in love, so it had a lot of sentimental meaning for us."

Chevron has been as "helpful as they could possibly be," agreeing to pay for a reception at Log Haven in Mill Creek Canyon, she said. "I am really disappointed, but I can't dwell on it."

Most of the other 25 receptions planned for later this summer at Garden Park are taking a wait-and-see approach while several set for this week and next have canceled, said Ralph Robbins, the ward member in charge of scheduling.

Until Thursday, Stephanie Tibbs, whose reception is on June 25, was sticking with the original plan, but Chevron contacted her, and she reluctantly agreed to switch locations.

"I cried when they called," Tibbs said Friday. "I was devastated at first, but after meeting with Chevron's wedding planner, I'm feeling OK about it."

She has dreamed of having her wedding reception on the Garden Park grounds for several years, while belonging to an LDS singles congregation that met there.

"It's such a neat place that you have to be in the ward to be able to use it or else everyone would want their receptions there," she said. "You can't put a dollar amount on how beautiful it is. Nothing compares to it."

Indeed, it is tough for Mormon brides to find a more picturesque locale for their most important day than the 2.5-acre site at 1150 E. Yale Ave. The grounds, once a private residence, feature century-old maple trees, a carriage house, a duck pond and a bridge over the creek. The chapel, built in 1938, was renovated and retrofitted in 2007, while the grounds were relandscaped. LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the historic site in January 2008, just days before he died.

Members of the Garden Park Ward or Bonneville LDS Stake (a collection of congregations that includes Garden Park) can use the grounds for only $250, which pays for maintenance. It's so appealing that some young people have moved into the neighborhood for a few months just to be able to have their reception there. Anyone, though, can take wedding photos amid the gardens and grasses.

That's what Erin Swensen was doing just two days after the spill.

Swensen, whose wedding reception is elsewhere Tuesday, was posing for her bridal photos while Chevron cleanup crews were dabbing oil off the creek just below the bridge. The men in blue or beige coveralls placed giant absorbent pads one at a time on the water's surface, waited for each pad to become blackened with oil, then removed and bagged the soaked pads. During the arduous process, Swensen traipsed around the grounds, carefully avoiding photos that would show the oily residue.

"We are not going to use more water in the photos," said Swensen's photographer, Collette Wagstaff. "But she will get to be known as the bride who braved the oil spill for her photos."

Dana Anderson, soon to be Swensen's mother-in-law, said the smell was "awful."

"It makes me sick," she said.

Wendy Davis and her daughter, Ali, stopped by to assess the damage to the grounds of their beloved ward.

"It makes me really sad," Ali Davis said, "especially for the brides."

It could have been worse, though.

On June 10, just days before the spill, Calvin Close, Garden Park's bishop, had drained the pond to do some work on it, then began refilling it. When he returned to the site Saturday at 7 a.m., he spied a "white sheen," he recalled. "I knew instantly it was oil, and I diverted the water from entering the pond."

Because of his quick thinking, the pond, which was once a swimming pool, escaped the spill's worst effects. Chevron workers again drained it, but it now has been refilled, its water crystal clear and its stone banks power-washed.

The work was completed by Friday, a Chevron manager told Close, who was surprised to hear that the company had no plans to return to check whether oil had seeped into the river's soil and rocks.

"Most of the oil was on the sides and top," Close said the site manager told him.

No matter how clean the water, the LDS bishop said, "the smell remains potent."

One neighbor was sickened from it; another moved out temporarily.

As for the brides, they continue to be drawn to the Eden-like site, hoping the odors will dissipate as the summer wedding season gets into full swing. The bishop hopes so, too, because these parties are financially crucial to continuing the gardens' wonder.

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About the Garden Park Ward

Created on Sept. 13, 1936.

Elder Sterling W. Sill, a future general authority, was its first bishop.

Site at 1150 E. Yale Ave. originally was owned by LeGrand Young, a nephew of Brigham Young.

Tract between Yale and Harvard avenues later belonged to John C. Howard, who deeded it to the LDS Church in 1938.

Segment included its trees, walks, ornamental brick-tile wall, carriage house, swimming pool, bath houses and pagoda for bandstand and performers.

Multimillion- dollar renovation in 2008.

Site of last public address by LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Source: Garden Park Ward 1936-1961