Salt Lake history comes alive at stunning McCune Mansion

Published: Saturday, Dec. 25 2010 9:59 p.m. MST

Exterior of the Alfred W. McCune Mansion at 200 North and Main in Salt Lake City.

Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — The Alfred W. McCune Mansion at 200 N. Main sparkles above the city. The architectural wonder is one of the great historic homes of Salt Lake City.

It's all decked out for Christmas — and full of rich tales and treasures.

Philip McCarthy and his family bought the 27-room home in 1999 and restored it for weddings, corporate retreats and other gatherings. When McCarthy first walked into the grand ballroom on the third floor, he was amazed.

"I thought this was one of the most magnificent rooms I'd seen in Utah," he said, showing off the mansion.

Its beauty still stuns him today. The craftsmanship throughout the mansion, he said, had been neglected over the years, but not abused.

"So what it took was some trained eyes and just a lot of love and care," McCarthy said.

He is the kind of storyteller who brings the history to life.

The mansion was originally completed in 1901. Alfred W. McCune was a successful railroad builder and wanted the best of everything in his showpiece of a home.

His wife Elizabeth was a devout Mormon. Her bedroom window overlooked the Salt Lake Temple. His had a clear view of the Utah State Capitol.

In 1920, they moved to California and gave the home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which used it as a music school for decades. As such, many Utah families feel a connection with the mansion: They grew up taking music and dance lessons there.

Detail, opulence and artistry highlight each room. There's a steam shower in the master bathroom, which also features sterling silver on most fixtures.

Shawn Fletcher has managed the mansion since the McCarthys restored it. He says it's always exciting to see people react as they walk through the first time.

"The amount of money that the McCunes spent building the home is incredible," he said. "It's exquisite. When people walk in here, they cannot believe this is in Salt Lake City."

Mrs. McCune actually sought out the design of a so-called bungalow that she admired in New York City. That became the model for the mansion.

White satin mahogany from Santo Domingo fills the first floor drawing room, along with an enormous mirror made in Germany. McCune directed an architect to build a special railroad car and track to deliver the mirror. The McCarthys discovered remnants of the tracks in the yard.

A decade ago, in the midst of renovations, McCarthy said, an electrician swears he saw something in the mirror.

"He was just getting ready to make sure that the electricity was OK, when a little girl came out of the mirror, wearing white," he said. "She came out of the mirror, she looked to her left, looked to her right, decided everything was OK and went back in the mirror."

Just the lighting of the day, maybe an illusion?

"That electrician never came back here to work again," McCarthy said with a grin.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing treasures is a political tale that did not materialize until modern times. Turns out, the McCarthys' great grandfather waged one of Utah's first political wars with Alfred McCune himself.

"In 1901, McCune was convinced he was going to be the second senator from the state of Utah," said McCarthy.

McCune assumed the state's Democratic legislature would choose him over McCarthy's great grandfather, Thomas Kearns. Both were powerful men with growing fortunes from mining and railroads.

"Here was Tom Kearns, the Republican. Here's Alfred McCune, the Democrat," he explained. "At the last minute, the legislature became Republican and went for Tom Kearns."

So the mansion now links two of Salt Lake's early political power brokers.

McCarthy said his family sees themselves as the stewards of a home that is a community keepsake. They hope to share their sense of preservation with everyone.

"We hope that there's at least 100 more years of laughter, love, friendship, good music, a great warm feeling here in this building."

e-mail: jboal@desnews.com

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