Utah Arts Alliance moves Art Castle plan forward, acquiring 121-year-old church building

The arts nonprofit raised $1 million to buy the Poplar Grove building, and plans to raise another $4 million.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Arts Alliance has acquired the historic 15th Ward Chapel, at 900 West and 100 South in Salt Lake City's Poplar Grove neighborhood, the alliance announced on Oct. 13, 2021. The photo is from an event on April 16, 2021, when the alliance unveiled its plans to turn the former chapel into a community art center called the Art Castle.

A 121-year-old former church building on Salt Lake City’s west side is a step closer to becoming a community gathering spot and art venue.

The Utah Arts Alliance announced Wednesday that it had raised $1 million to acquire the old 15th Ward Chapel, at 915 W. 100 South — part of its plan to create a community performance venue called the Art Castle.

That $1 million came through private donations and a state appropriation, the alliance said in a news release Wednesday. The state’s share amounted to $412,000, legislators said in April.

The alliance is in the midst of a fundraising campaign, with a goal of $5 million to renovate the Victorian Gothic building that was once a ward meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now that the first million has been spent acquiring the building, the rest will go toward stabilizing the structure, renovating it and adding restrooms that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Derek Dyer, the alliance’s executive director, said in April that the Art Castle will be an incubator for creative businesses and groups as well as a community art center, with an outdoor sculpture garden and amphitheater. There are also plans for an immersive art attraction, similar to the alliance’s walk-through Dreamscapes exhibition in The Gateway.

The former chapel was built in 1900, and the adjoining cultural hall was added in 1931. The Poplar Grove neighborhood was cut off by the rise of interstate highways — Interstate 15 runs a block east of the Art Castle, and Interstate 80 a block south. The church consolidated the 15th Ward with the nearby 34th Ward in the mid-1960s and sold the building.

The building found new life as a recording studio, opening as LA East Studios in 1987. LA East was a branch of Warner/Chappell Production Music — and was used by such recording stars as Dolly Parton, B.B. King, Elton John and Eminem until it closed in June 2020. The studio also was where soundtrack music for films including “The Lion King,” “Toy Story,” “La La Land” and “Wonder Woman” were 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.

The alliance will throw a community celebration on Saturday, Oct. 23, from 2 to 6 p.m., at the Art Castle, 915 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City. The event, which advertises “food, art and fun” is free and open to all ages.

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