Two Utahns and an Arizona businessman have received preliminary approval from the Western Samoan government to restore the island home once owned by famed writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

Verbal confirmation of the approval came two weeks ago in Salt Lake City, where the island's prime minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana, and other government officials had been invited by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.The three Americans, who have formed the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and Preservation Foundation to raise money for the project, arranged to meet the Western Samoan delegation in Salt Lake City. The government officials had been on a 10-day trip to the United Nations and Washington.

"The Cabinet has approved it (the foundation's proposal). Now we must proceed with the details and present the whole package to Parliament in November or December," said Foreign Minister Maiava Iulai Toma, speaking for the prime minister.

The foundation said restoring the world-famous writer's home would attract tourist dollars to the impoverished South Pacific island as well as preserve its culture.

The foundation is not affiliated with or sponsored by the LDS Church. But the foundation's three principals are former church missionaries who served in the South Pacific in the late 1950s.

Since returning to the United States the three have maintained ties to Western Samoa. Those connections apparently intrigued the island's government, which has received proposals in the past from foreign governments and organizations to restore the Stevenson estate.

"We have confidence in these men because of the their involvement" in Western Samoa, Toma said.

Foundation chairman Rex G. Maughn, of Phoenix, Ariz., is known to Samoan officials for his involvement in raising money to build a school and preserve a rain forest in Falealupo. Maughn is chairman and president of Forever Living Products International Inc. in Phoenix and chairman of the Conference of National Park Concessionaires.

The two other principals - Utah County residents Jim Winegar, a vice president with Fiber Dynamics, and Dan Wakefield, an agricultural consultant - regularly arrange tours to the island.

Toma said the government would lease the Stevenson estate to the foundation to restore and operate it. He explained the government wants to restore the home out of respect for Stevenson and to bring in tourist dollars.

Stevenson, a popular 19th century author whose works include "Treasure Island" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," lived in Western Samoa the last five years of his life. In that short time, Stevenson endeared himself to the islanders who built a road to his house near Apia, calling it The Road of the Loving Heart.

"It (Stevenson's home) is already the No. 1 tourist attraction" in Western Samoa, Wakefield said of the home Stevenson called Vailima.

But visitors can only look at the outside of the home and walk its well-groomed grounds overlooking the harbor. The home is the official residence of the head of state, who hasn't lived there in years. Meanwhile, lack of government funding has caused the interior to fall into disrepair.

"All we can do with our hands is perfect," Toma said, referring to the immaculate grounds. "But with money we can do nothing because we have none."

Maughn said the foundation hopes to solicit money for the estimated $5 million undertaking from museums, literary societies, and other organizations and individuals with an interest in Samoa and Polynesian culture.


(additional information)

$5 million project

-Restoration of the Stevenson home and surrounding 17-acres of botanical gardens.

-Developing a nearby 200 acres of forest and lake into a national park.

-Converting a turn-of-the-century court building in the capitol city Apia below the Stevenson estate into a South Pacific cultural museum.