The unusual history of a remarkable mansion in downtown Salt Lake City.
Downtown Salt Lake City was once home to a famously opulent Victorian mansion with an extraordinary history. Construction of the Gardo House began in 1873 on the southwest corner of State Street and South Temple. Built by LDS Church President Brigham Young, its purpose was to host traveling dignitaries, but rumors circulated that it was actually for Young’s favorite wife, Amelia Folsom, and was thus nicknamed ‘Amelia’s Palace.’
When the mansion was completed, it had four levels, a tower, a spiral staircase, and intricate woodwork carved from black walnut. Elegant furnishings and paintings graced the rooms. Its opulence would become famous, but Brigham Young, who died in 1877, never lived to see the mansion finished.
John Taylor, who succeeded Young as LDS Church president, was uncomfortable with the lavishness of the Gardo House, but because it was the official parsonage for church presidents, he reluctantly moved in when the house was completed in 1882. But Taylor would soon have bigger problems than public perceptions of excessive luxury. That same year, the US Congress passed the Edmunds Act, which made polygamy a felony. Taylor, who was a polygamist, went into hiding when federal officers arrived in Utah to enforce the new law.
Federal marshals raided Mormon households to search for offenders, and the Gardo House became a refuge for those fleeing the law. The Gardo House itself was raided several times, but Taylor's tough-minded sister, Agnes Schwartz, often held marshals at the door, demanding to see proper warrants. When lawmen did gain access, their searches were often fruitless because the mansion was fitted out with hiding places, such as hollowed walls and mattresses, and even a false ceiling in the tower.
Taylor died in hiding in 1887. That same year, Congress tightened the screws even further and passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which disincorporated the LDS Church and confiscated its property. The Gardo House, along with other Church holdings, was seized by federal authorities.
Image: Gardo House. A large house with detailed architecture. Note on the back of photo reads "Amelia Palace built for his favorite wife, now occupied by President Taylor". c. 1875-1883. Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
See Sandra Dawn Brimhall, Mark D. Curtis, and Alan Barnett, “The Gardo House: A History of the Mansion and Its Occupants,” Utah Historical Quarterly, volume 68, number 1, winter 2000, pp. 4-37.