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Fundraiser aims at restoring Smith Mansion

The Smith Mansion, a seemingly haphazard arrangement of weathered logs that sits in the Wapiti Valley off of U.S. 14-16-20, is a structure that evades easy classification.

In an effort to restore not only the mansion’s physical fortitude, but also its purpose and identity, Smith Mansion owner Sunny Smith Larsen is hosting a fundraiser at Cassie’s Supper Club in Cody on Saturday.

Proceeds will go toward restoring the mansion, or parts of it, so that it is safe for public entry.

At one time a family home, the mansion — if that’s the right word — has stood more or less dormant for two decades.

During that time, its physical integrity has been compromised by weather, neglect and vandals.

Smith Larsen, who grew up as a child in the mansion, has been planning this fundraising event for more than a year with the help of volunteers and local donations.

“People are really coming behind us on this project. It’s been amazing,” she said. “The support from Cody and local people is just starting to grow and grow. It’s phenomenal, really.”

Smith Larsen will have 15-20 volunteers working at the fundraiser, including Cherie Fisher, who has known Smith Larsen for about four years.

Fisher became interested in the Smith Mansion Preservation Project when she would join Smith Larsen on occasional trips to the mansion to check for damage.

Before meeting Smith Larsen, Fisher had only seen the mansion from the road, always wondering what was inside. Once she saw the mansion up close, she felt compelled to help its cause.

“It’s so intriguing, it can’t help but capture your attention and your imagination,” Fisher said. “(I want to see) if there’s as much interest in the hearts of other people as there was in mine.”

The event, which will feature live music, art, an auction and food, also will pay tribute to Smith Larsen’s late father and Smith Mansion builder, Lee Smith.

Lee, who built the mansion out of logs he gathered from Rattlesnake Mountain, died in April 1992 when, while working on the house, he fell off of the third floor.

Virginia Livingston, another volunteer and longtime friend of the Smith family, got to know Lee while he worked in her father’s business as a draftsman almost 50 years ago.

Lee would tutor Livingston in architecture, drafting and physics, sharing with her his knowledge and passion.

“He was a man of passion for anything he decided to do,” Livingston said. “And that was dangerous. There was danger in that.”

Lee’s passions spanned a wide range of subjects and activities, including art.

For many years he practiced pen and ink drawings, a fact only recently discovered by his daughter. More than 30 pieces of his work will be on display at Saturday’s event, Smith Larsen said.

Her father’s unique and many talents drive Smith Larsen to preserve the mansion, the greatest symbol of her father’s legacy.

“I think she’s just so anxious to see her dad’s dream come true,” Fisher said. “I think it’s something she never thought was possible. She’s more interested in it than ever because it’s finally possible.”

Smith Larsen’s goal is to turn the bottom floor into a showcase room, one that displays her father’s craftsmanship and artistry, as well as other local art.

“So my generation and future generation can see it,” Smith Larsen said. “I don’t think people really get the true aspect until they’re there. There was so much work that went into this. And it was all by hand.”

But she knows that even with the help of a community, it’s not going to be an easy task.

“The economy is bad right now. I hope to make enough to get the restoration and preservation on the bottom floor completed,” Smith Larsen said.

If consistency and drive run in the family, it’s only a matter of time before Sunny Smith Larsen achieves her goal.

“I believe she shares her father’s passion and will get it done,” Livingston said.

If Smith Larsen does raise enough money, she plans on doing the bulk of the hands-on work with her husband and any volunteers who might have some construction background.

“We kind of joke, ‘one log at a time,’ just like my dad building it,” she said.

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