The Alrasool Islamic Center of Utah is a vital place of worship for members of the Shi'a Muslim faith throughout the Intermountain West, not just for Salt Lake County's congregation in Taylorsville.
The 129-year-old building that originally housed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only place of worship available for members of the Islamic sect in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming. It also helps many refugees coming into the region from the Middle East in addition to the Utahns it serves.
However, an earthquake that rattled the Wasatch Front in March 2020 exacerbated some of the structural issues that began to arise with the building's age. Hassan Mardanlou, a senior clergyman and member of the Alrasool Islamic Center's board of trustees, said the damage was "disruptive" to many services the center provides on top of the COVID-19 pandemic challenges that were beginning about the same time.
"A lot of the ceiling plaster had fallen not only in the prayer hall, but also in the dining hall, which is an educational (space) and then Sunday school," he told KSL.com last week, recalling the initial impacts of the earthquake.
The center had tried — though ultimately unsuccessfully — to receive a grant that could help preserve the building at 1247 W. 4800 South.
That's not the case this time around. The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced last week that the Alrasool Islamic Center of Utah is one of 16 places of worship across the country to receive a National Fund for Sacred Places grant. It's the first house of worship in Utah to ever win the prestigious grant, as well as the first mosque in the U.S. to receive one since the program began in 2016.
The honor allows the center to collect up to as much as $250,000 and "hands-on" technical assistance for any major preservation projects. These funds, Mardanlou says, will help the center as it seeks to repair the historic building's foundation and restore other key elements of it.
"The value of this building is a lot — not only for our congregation but also ... (the community)," he said. "This is great news for the state of Utah and for, especially, the Wasatch Front."
A building’s unique history
The story of this building dates all the way back to the end of the 19th century with a completely different congregation.
Archibald Frame Sr. designed the meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a late Victorian Gothic style. Pressed clay bricks of various shades were used to complete the church, which opened in 1894, according to a report of its history compiled by the Utah State Historic Preservation Office for the National Register of Historic Places.
Frame learned his architectural skills in Scotland before emigrating to the U.S. and trekking to Utah along with many other Mormon pioneers, said David Amott, a state preservation expert and former director of Preservation Utah.
"When this was built, it was a small community really associated with Murray," Amott explained. "It was this sort of this little output, sort of agricultural center by the late 19th century, but it had grown large enough to merit its own chapel."
As what is now Taylorsville grew, the meetinghouse also served as a community schoolhouse, political center, gymnasium and entertainment venue. Frame and his sons went back to design an addition to the meetinghouse in 1910, and this is most of what people see when they view the building today.
The Taylorsville Meetinghouse remained a fixture for Latter-day Saint faithful for decades until the church decommissioned the building in 1978. By then, the community had grown large enough that it needed a bigger building to serve the congregation, state historians note.
Officials sold the property to the Mount Cavalry Assembly of God, which used it for its congregation up until about 2000. It also served as a space for weddings, receptions and other types of gatherings during this time. The building was sold again in 2008, leading to the creation of the Alrasool Islamic Center of Utah that uses it today.
The building was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.
While the structure itself is unique, Amott said the history of who has used it and how they have used it for over a century also makes it stand out in Taylorsville's history.
"The building has really operated as a bridge for many generations of immigrants," he said. "While the religion has changed, it's still this bridge for all these people who have — more recently — come to the United States and have sought out a piece of their culture ... and, with that community, build a new life here."
Saving the building
Mardanlou said an effort to preserve the building began about four years ago, as the structure's age began to pose problems for its future. Its application to receive grant funds to assist in the efforts was ultimately denied in 2020, the same year as the disruptive earthquake.
That's when the center reached out to Preservation Utah and CRSA Architecture to "polish our application," he said. Amott explained that foundation is one problem. With the help of the historic designation and an improved resume, the center applied for a grant again last year.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which offers grants for historically significant houses of worship across the U.S., announced Monday that the Alrasool Islamic Center was a winner this time around.
While excited, Mardanlou quickly points out that the work isn't over. The grant allows for the preservation project contributions for every dollar the center raises, up to $100,000. It then provides contributions on a one-to-two ratio for up to another $150,000.
That means the center is still raising money to help cover the cost of renovation. The center is accepting donations on Zelle (email@example.com), Venmo (@Alrasool-center) and by checks that are sent to the Alrasool Center (PO Box 26821 / Salt Lake City, Utah 84126).
The project aims to help shore up the building's weakening foundation, as well as other needed repairs. This includes repairing the brick walls and mortar, some of which has been damaged by water over time, Amott said. This is on top of the plaster damage partially caused by the earthquake.
Mardanlou said his goal is to have construction begin as soon as possible. Once underway, it's expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete. However, the renovations would help stabilize the building and keep it standing for decades to come.
"We're very excited and overjoyed," he said. "This grant will significantly aid in restoring (the building)."