For every child that imagined opening the wardrobe door found in C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" there is enchantment waiting in the Center Court of the ZCMI mall.
Think about pressing the right spot on a child-size skyscraper that is faced with miniature slabs of granite and looks exactly like One Utah Center, the new building nearly finished on Main Street. A hidden door pops out and the child can enter the building, sit on one of the benches and look out the smoked glass windows from an "executive suite" - a secret hideaway just begging for soft pillows and lots of books.How about a ride on a magic carpet? Well, not exactly a magic carpet but a playhouse that is actually a transportation "transmogrifier," as cartoon character Calvin might say. An airplane, hot-air balloon, boat, car and rocket ship all in one playhouse! With a couple of kids inside, this magical playhouse could be off to Adventureland in a matter of minutes.
There's also a playhouse built over a sandbox with a swing and slide donated by Adventure Playhouses. And a blue-and-white little cottage that looks like a home the Three Little Pigs might have built. Wait until you see the playhouse that will take to the high seas of imagination, transformed into a boat that even has a "tuna tower" on it.
But even better than all this childish enchantment is the love that radiates from these five playhouses. They will be raffled and auctioned off at a gala dinner May 18 to raise money for the Family Friends Project of Easter Seals.
Easter Seal's mission is to aid those people who have disabilities. Family Friends matches volunteers age 55 or over with families who have a child with a disability or chronic illness. The nurturing "grandparent" relationship that is formed with the special needs child also benefits siblings and parents of the child, who can enjoy the quality time together or a few moments alone.
The "Playhouses for Friends" project that resulted in these five enchanting playhouses began with architects, designers, contractors and interested community members. Designs were developed that would cost thousands of dollars if the time hadn't been donated. Valentiner Architects Sean Onyon, Dan Bowles and just-out-of-school Jeanne Jackson reached deep to create the designs of the playhouses. Jacobsen Construction recreated the massive new skyscraper on Main Street but on a child-size scale. Badham & Associates built the tuna boat playhouse.
Big-D Construction Co. of Ogden donated the time and expertise of building project superintendent Randy Brady to create the airplane/
rocket/boat/etc. playhouse. Brady estimates they invested more than $5,000 in creating the intriguing little building. "This was framed just like a house and if maintained should last 25 years," Brady said. "The wood is pressure-treated, water-resistant, and we made most of the parts removable for easy transportation."
Brady and Viggo Villadsen were the principal carpenters, but also helping were Brady's sons Justin, 19, and Brian, 14. It even took weekends to complete the details, which include toggle switches for the airplane, a ship's bell and rope ladder for the boat, and engine gauges for the little auto. Even the slide was handcrafted at a sheet-metal shop.
Big-D Construction Co. sent two flat-bed trucks and a huge extended-boom forklift to maneuver the playhouse into the ZCMI Center. It took two days to transport and assemble. There is just enough kid left in 14-year-old Brian Brady that as the roof was lowered onto the playhouse, he couldn't resist poking his head out from a second-level porthole and waving at the crowd that had gathered to watch.
After three non-stop weeks of building, Randy Brady couldn't help wondering who would buy his project. "I really hope it ends up at Primary Children's, IHC or Ronald McDonald House, where thousands of kids can enjoy it," he said.
Thirteen-year-old Brad Forsgren of Bountiful built the blue-and-white cottage as an Eagle Scout project.
After two hectic weeks and delays caused by unseasonable snow, Brad's playhouse, designed by Connelly/
Cannon Architecture/Planning, also sits in the ZCMI Center awaiting the lucky ticketholder who will win it for the $1 raffle prize. Brad's mom, Susan, said Brad needn't have worried about putting in the 30 hours required by Scouting; the project took well over that to put on the finishing touches.
Maxine Shoell, who oversaw the project for the ZCMI Center, hopes parents will bring their children to the mall during the next two weeks to see the little houses love can build.