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Fate of pioneer home uncertain

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DRAPER — Without the barn, chicken coop and front lawn she remembered from her childhood, even parking can seem lonely.

Outside the Sorensen home where Velora Whetman spent her youth, weeds have choked her parents' vegetable and flower gardens, and random shrubs have sprouted where stately pine trees once stood. Next to the gravel driveway, the front lawn and decades-old pine trees has been replaced by a sand volleyball pit.

"My dad would be ashamed to have it looking this bad," Whetman said. "He was meticulous."

The Sorensen home has become the focus for preservationists in Draper who hope to save the dilapidated house. Touring the home, Whetman is almost brought to tears because of both the current state and the possibilities for its repair.

While haphazard care can be blamed for a leaking roof, crumbling walls and corners filled with spider webs, the most significant problems have happened because of vandalism. Many of the antique features, such as chandeliers or hand-carved shelves, have been taken. Holes have been smashed in doors and windows. Smoke from a small mattress fire in the kitchen still stains the walls.

"Oh no, they took my mom's closet!" Whetman said after entering her parents' former bedroom. "It was beautiful. I would have loved people to be able to see it."

If the attempt to move and renovate her family home succeeds, Whetman may actually be able to walk through a building eerily similar to the home she remembers, albeit in a different location. The first step toward saving the home will be to move it, foundation and all, to an empty lot three blocks south. After that, the home will be renovated, and some adobe sections will need rebuilding.

All told, the preservation will cost about $180,000. The City Council has committed $90,000, but only if the Draper Historical Society can raise the other $90,000 by Aug. 1. Currently, the society remains almost $80,000 short of that goal; failure to raise the money means that the home will probably be demolished.

Part of the challenge has been the humble nature of the home, which doesn't inspire awe like a historic mansion, Draper Historical Society member Katie Shell said. However, the simplicity of the home is what makes it so important for pioneer history.

"It tells the story of a regular family," Shell said. "You warp things if you just preserve the big homes. Kids really need it, so they can see that a family with 10 people can live happily in a small house."

Shell, who is co-chairing the fund-raising drive, said a big push is planned for the coming weeks. Organizers plan to have a booth at Draper Days and will also visit many people interested in Draper history with their plea.

"People tell us they don't want to have these historic buildings torn down, so they need to support us," Shell said. "This is so important. It will really represent Draper."

Tours of the Sorensen home will be provided between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during Draper Days on Saturday. For more information about the efforts to save the Sorensen Home, contact Katie Shell at 576-8537 or Bill Moedl at 571-4708.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com