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History of the Mansion

The Historic Governor's Mansion

Built in 1902 by the prominent mining magnate, U.S. Senator Thomas Kearns, this elegant and opulent home was often a political debating center where the Senator conducted official business. Using the finest craftsmen and materials available, the residence was comparable in quality and style to eastern mansions like those of the Vanderbilts and Carnegies.

The Kearns mansion also served as a grand and elaborate place of entertainment where guests would dance to the music of live orchestras. President Theodore Roosevelt, a personal friend of Senator Kearns, dined there in 1903, as did many political and religious dignitaries throughout the period.

A new phase in the mansion's history began in 1937 when Senator Kearns' widow, Jennie, donated the mansion to the state. For the next twenty years the governors of Utah resided at the mansion during their terms of office. In 1957, Governor J. Bracken Lee thought a new governor's mansion in the Federal Heights area of Salt Lake City would be more appropriate as a governor's residence, and the Kearns mansion was turned over to the Utah Historical Society. The society moved into the mansion after the Lees moved out, and the mansion became the home for the society's offices, library and museum. Governor Scott Matheson proposed restoring the Kearns mansion as a governor's residence in 1977. After extensive work restoring the building to accommodate daily living and state functions, the mansion became a residence again in 1980. Governors Matheson, Bangerter, Leavitt, Walker, Huntsman and Herbert have lived in the home.

The Historic Governor's Mansion

A holiday fire shortly before noon on Wednesday, December 15, 1993 destroyed much of the mansion, but thankfully spared the lives of the first family and staff (Mrs. Leavitt and some members of the family and staff were in the home at the time of the fire). Quick response by Salt Lake City firefighters, the Utah Disaster Kleenup Team, and state employees kept the building from suffering greater damage. Their efforts, such as getting the heat turned back on that day, became the first steps in the remarkable restoration of the Governor's Mansion.

Crucial and conclusive discussions by the Division of Facilities Construction and Management (DFCM) and other state agencies found that enough of the mansion's original materials remained to warrant a comprehensive restoration and conservation of the building. DFCM and the construction team interviewed all the craftsman, artisans and other trades before carefully selecting the team for the restoration project. Prime focus was to restore the building to its original state and to salvage as much of the historical interior as possible, improve the architectural soundness and capture the splendor of the turn-of-the-century period.

In keeping with the quality and craftsmanship of its original construction, artisans and craftsmen from all over the state and country have been involved in:

  • using state-of-the-art techniques in removing soot and smoke damage,
  • restoring or replicating wood carvings and millwork damaged or destroyed by the fire,
  • replicating & repainting the dome and finishing to the original gold Dutch metal surfaces,
  • stenciling walls and replicating other decorative, turn-of-the-century work which enriches the overall elegance of this unique building

"This is one of the most outstanding historic restorations in the country," said Governor Mike Leavitt. "The painstaking work of the many artisans and craftsmen to restore this architectural treasure is remarkable. This is one of the great treasures of the state of Utah. Its reopening is a grand moment in our centennial celebration."

The building has been restored to its 1902 original style while upgrading it to current safety standards. There is now a fire sprinkler system, new wiring and plumbing, new heating and cooling system, security system, and seismic upgrades. The family living quarters have been redesigned to provide more security and privacy, and fire exits have been added to the second and third floors. The two and half year restoration has been completed largely with insurance dollars. Total cost of the restoration and upgrades totaled about $7.8 million.