Former LDS Church now home for SLC family; Dracula sleeps in the basement

Posted at 7:41 PM, Oct 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-30 16:41:37-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A church built in 1930 stands majestically behind a tall black iron fence near downtown Salt Lake City, but it's not a church anymore.

In 1992, John Robinson was looking for a "project" when he stumbled across an unusual real estate listing. The building, which had served as a Ward House for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and later as a private school run by the Catholic Church, was up for sale.

"My extended family thought I was crazy" Robinson told FOX 13 News.

But his offer was accepted, and soon his family of four was living in the 17,000 square-foot structure.

"We lived in one corner of one room at first" Robinson said, adding "the place needed a lot of work."

Over the past 23 three years, the Robinsons have remodeled one space at a time.

The original Bishop's Office is now a nearly 200 square foot bathroom boasting double sinks, a soaking tub, and a giant shower that can easily accommodate two or more.

A row of seven Sunday School classrooms have been transformed into seven bedrooms.

The church's original chapel is lacking on historical features due to adaptations, which mostly took place before the Robinsons bought the building. It currently houses a massive workshop for John's train collection and also serves as a storage area.

The church's Multi-Purpose room is probably the part of the house where modern-day activities most resemble the gatherings of the past. The Robinson family has hosted dozens, if not hundreds, of parties in the space, which has a dance floor and a set of stage lights.

"Sometimes we'll have small gatherings, 30 or 40 people, and we'll sing karaoke," Shawney Robinson said, adding "You turn on that light bar, and it turns into a dance club in here."

On the day FOX 13 was invited inside, a young grandchild and her friend played freely in the wide open space.

In 2005, the Robinsons oversaw the construction of a tasteful 4,000 square foot addition, in keeping with the church's architecturally significant and unchanged exterior.

The addition houses a five-car garage which cannot be seen from the street, an ADA compatible elevator, and a wide open bonus room which has served as a family room, theater room, and has even hosted the wedding ceremonies of several friends.

The Robinsons have invited thousands of people into their home over the years, and while first-time visitors are typically stunned by it's scale and history, the highlight for many people is the spooky wonderland that exists year-round in a portion of the basement.

Guests can walk through a maze of horrors, past several displays which move or make noise on cue, rivaling the quality of displays found in a professional haunted house. Life sized figures of Dracula and Frankenstein are among the current attractions.

Shawney updates the spook alley from time to time with new features to keep new and return guests on their toes. John helps her with the technical aspects. "It's brought a lot of fun and a lot of happiness to a lot of people," he said.

While only those who are invited are able to take a peek inside the unique structure, you can catch a glimpse in the video above.