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Look inside this historic LDS church before a $4M plan turns it into Art Castle, a Salt Lake City cultural event space

Poplar Grove landmark also houses recording studios where Elton John and Eminem have worked.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Arts Alliance plans to acquire, preserve and renovate the historic 15th Ward Chapel, at 900 West and 100 South in Salt Lake City. It will become a community art center for the Poplar Grove neighborhood called the Art Castle.

A nonprofit arts group on Friday invited groups inside a 121-year-old church as it shared its plan to convert the building into a performance and creation space on Salt Lake City’s west side.

The Utah Arts Alliance gave tours to the media and public Friday of what it’s calling the Art Castle, in a Victorian Gothic building that was once the 15th Ward meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Art Castle, said Derek Dyer, the alliance’s executive director, will be an incubator for creative businesses and groups. It also will be a community art center, including an outdoor sculpture garden and amphitheater. And it will include an immersive art attraction, similar to the walk-through exhibition Dreamscapes that the alliance now runs at The Gateway.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 15th Ward church in Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood looks like it would fit into a French German countryside, featuring a large star facing east.

As he showed off plans to acquire and renovate the building, Dyer had a message for his new neighbors in the Poplar Grove area: “This is a place for you. This is not a place for a small group of artistic people. … This is your home. So come and participate here.”

The alliance is launching a $4 million capital campaign to raise the money to acquire the property, stabilize the building, renovate it and add restrooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dyer said. So far, the campaign has raised $1 million.

[Read more: Nonprofit aims to transform a historic church on Salt Lake City’s west side into an ‘art castle’]

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said she, Sen. Luz Escamilla, and other legislators worked to secure $412,000 in state money toward the project.

Hollins said the Art Castle fits what her constituents have told her they want on the west side. “They want somewhere where the community can gather under one roof and enjoy each other’s company, have conversations and enjoy the arts,” Hollins said.

The church building was built in 1900, with church members paying for “every brick and window pane that went into this project,” said Dave Ammot, director of Preservation Utah, which is advising the Utah Arts Alliance in its restoration effort. “This building really has the heartbeat of the neighborhood and this city in its very structure,” Ammot said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chandeliers recovered from another chapel will be restored and put to use within the new Art Castle project, at the historic 15th Ward Chapel in the Poplar Grove neighborhood.

The cultural hall, adjacent to the European-style chapel building, was built in 1931. “It was a center of faith, and of art and culture,” Ammot said, noting that it played host to “a killer basketball team” and the occasional boxing match.

When the interstate highways were built in the 1950s and ‘60s, Poplar Grove “got forgotten,” said Andrew Johnston, a Salt Lake City council member who is resigning from his seat representing the west side to become the city’s director of homelessness policy.

The old church, now a block west of Interstate 15 and a block north of Interstate 80, was cut off from the growing city, and the congregation migrated to other meetinghouses. In the mid-1960s, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints folded its 15th Ward into the nearby 34th Ward, and sold the building.

The building found new life as a recording studio, becoming the home of L.A. East Studios in 1987. L.A. East was, until last June, a branch of the Warner/Chappell Production Music — and played host to such recording stars as Dolly Parton, B.B. King, Elton John and Eminem.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Within the 15th Ward church is a 1970s-era recording studio where Emmy-winning soundtracks were created. Artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Eminem have recorded tracks there.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 1970s-era recording studio inside the historic 15th Ward Chapel in Salt Lake City.

L.A. East also was where soundtrack music for such films as “The Lion King,” “Toy Story,” “La La Land” and “Wonder Woman” was recorded.

The Utah Arts Alliance operates seven cultural facilities, including Counterpoint Studios, the Alliance Theater in Trolley Square, the Arts Hub, the Urban Arts Gallery and Dreamscapes. It also operates three annual arts events — The Urban Arts Festival, Illuminate and Mural Fest — and the radio station KUAA.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 15th Ward chapel at 915 West 100 South in Salt Lake City's Poplar Grove neighborhood, Feb. 10, 2021.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Arts Alliance unveiled plans Friday to acquire, preserve and renovate the historic 15th Ward Chapel into a community art center in the Poplar Grove neighborhood.

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