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Friends of Gilgal Garden
This stone sculpture of a sphinx with LDS Prophet Joseph Smith's face is a signature piece in the Gilgal Garden at 749 E. 500 South in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — It nearly went out of existence a decade ago.

But today, the Friends of Gilgal Garden will celebrate an anniversary for the unique but often undiscovered park filled with stone sculptures, beautiful landscaping and historic significance. The Salt Lake City art park was envisioned, designed and created by former Mormon bishop Thomas Battersby Child Jr. between 1945 and 1963.

Once known as "the secret garden of Salt Lake," Gilgal Garden is now a public city park open daily at 749 E. 500 South.

In 1998, the property was put up for sale and slated for bulldozing to make way for condos. But donors stepped in and contributed enough money to buy the land and donate it to the city. Volunteers rescued it from weeds and neglect over the next four years and work today to keep it lush and vibrant.

Today's event will mark the 10 years since the garden re-opened as a city park.

"It's an open celebration for the entire community," said Kathy King, a Friends of Gilgal Garden board member. "Thomas Child had an idea that speaks to so many people on so many aspects — religious, spiritual, artistic, gardening."

Everything in the garden has a religious tie. Among the 12 original sculptures are a pink quartz sphinx bearing the face of Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, a faceless warrior and four 45-ton books. There are also 70 stones engraved with poems and scriptural messages.

Friends of Gilgal Garden serve as curators and continue to raise money to restore and maintain the park.

The harsh Utah weather is hard on the stonework, and children tend to climb on the sculptures. The Friends consequently need to work constantly to stabilize and protect the art.

Not only have many of the sculptures been restored to original condition but the Master Gardeners of Salt Lake also have planted and maintained a perennial border garden that serves as a backdrop to the 12 original sculptures.

The Sept. 12 community celebration, sponsored by the Friends of Gilgal Garden, includes live music, working artists, an activity where children can build a "monument to me" (similar to the monument to the stoneworker's trade) and light refreshments. The event lasts from 2-6 p.m. In case of inclement weather, the party will be postponed to the following Sunday.

The park, which occupies less than an acre, is "tucked in the middle of the block behind houses and businesses" and "many are still unaware of its existence and enjoy a true sense of discovery when they visit the garden for the first time," according to Gilgal Garden's official website.

King said the Friends are expecting a pretty fair crowd so additional parking has been arranged at nearby Bennion Elementary School at 800 E. 500 South, and the Trolley Corners parking terrace lower two levels.

For further information, call 801-582-0432 or go to www.gilgalgarden.org.

e-mail: haddoc@desnews.com