Few things look their best at nearly 150 years old.
But that’s the plan Kelly and Macae Wanberg have in mind for Grantsville’s old First Ward Chapel as they near completion of their renovation of the landmark.
The Wanbergs, both 52, purchased the historic building in December 2011. Though they knew it would be a big undertaking, it was also the realization of a life-long dream.
“My husband has always wanted to remodel an old church and live in it,” Macae said. “We walked through it a lot just dreaming, not sure if we could do it.”
After more than a year of dreaming about the building, the couple decided to dive into the project, and bought the historic landmark.
The previous owners had remodeled everything but the chapel of the church, located on the corner of Clark and Cooley streets, so the Wanbergs and their children could move in immediately to the classrooms that had been repurposed as bedrooms. However, the chapel itself was work enough. The 3-foot-thick adobe walls had stood for nearly 150 years, but the west wall had some water damage and was beginning to sag. Macae said because that wall was not tightly integrated with the roof, should the wall cave in, the roof would fall after it.
Because of this, the wall was repaired and strengthened with cinder blocks and better connected to the roof at the same time, Macae said. Pillars were implemented on the east wall to make it more sturdy in the event of an earthquake. Tim Maxwell, an architect who worked on the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, also consulted on keeping the repairs consistent with the original workmanship and style, Macae said, especially in how to incorporate the pillars with the rest of the room.
History was so important in the restoration of the chapel because of the rich and varied significance of the site, according to Macae.
For the first settlers of Grantsville, the ground was the basis for a fort. In 1866, the chapel was built — the first real church in the city — and classrooms and other expansions were added throughout the years. Macae said every Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prophet from Brigham Young to David O. McKay has spoken in the chapel.
The pulpit and rostrum have now been taken out or modified to make a stage space, and hardwood now lines the open floor where pews once sat. The stage was built for the Wanberg’s children’s theater business, After School Drama, to use in performances. Their first performance on the new stage is scheduled for the end of this month.
The stage and floor have also been designed for use as a reception hall for weddings or family reunions. Macae said the first wedding reception, for a family member, was held in January. The chapel has since been zoned to allow non-family functions to be held there, and there are two wedding receptions scheduled for this spring. Current zoning does not allow on-site preparation of food, but the building has a kitchenette to allow outside food to be brought in for receptions, reunions or performances.
Despite the adjustments made to the floor, stage and walls, Macae said other things were left as-is. The medallions on the ceiling, for example, which are actually oil-lamp chandeliers that could be lowered to be lit and then raised back up again for lighting, are no longer used for their intended purpose, but for now merely serve as decoration.
“We can’t have an open flame in there,” Macae said. “We’ve thought of doing that again — they’d be electric, of course. Eventually we’d love to do that but at least the medallions are there.”
Several people have asked whether those medallions are still there, Macae said, including many who remember attending church in the chapel. During the repair of the west wall, she said, many people expressed happiness that the building was being restored, and one woman cried with joy that the historic chapel was being saved. Others have shared their stories and memories of the building. Though not natives to Grantsville, having moved to the city from Taylorsville in 2006 to be near family, Macae said they feel very privileged to be part of something with such great historical and community value as the chapel.
“We kind of feel honored to be a part of redoing and helping it to be available for the community,” she said. “Maybe it would mean even more to me if I was a Grantsville native, but I am honored to be a part of bringing this back for the people of Grantsville, as well as doing it for my own.”
Macae said she could not recall any negative comments about the renovation, but that there had been a lot of support and assistance from their children and family, various community members and different entities during the project. That support, as well as a passion for the project, has helped offset the tremendous amount of work it has required, Macae said.
“There were things about it that have been harder,” she said. “We didn’t expect to have to put the pillars in. We didn’t realize that was an issue when we purchased it, but I feel much better about it now because I was worried when we first bought it about what could happen if there were an earthquake. It’s just been so much fun, just because it’s been our dream, that I’ve hardly noticed the work. It’s been huge, but so much fun that we haven’t noticed.”