The house that has become Esther Cohen's obsession looks like the very embodiment of the word "ramshackle": charred by an arsonist's fire, marred by black swastiskas, it perches forlornly on a pair of steel girders in a weedy vacant lot.

"The Taj Mahal it's not," Cohen concedes.

It is, however, the house where the late Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, spent part of her childhood. There she first grew interested in political theory and became inflamed with the idea of an independent Jewish state.

And so Esther Cohen and her colleagues in the Golda Meir Memorial Association here have waged a four-year campaign to turn the humble relic into a memorial and museum.

They have fought off the wrecker's ball and the vandal's torch. They have battled apathy and economics.

And last week, they achieved a major milestone when the Golda Meir home, after a circuitous odyssey around the city's west side, finally found a permanent home.

With a grant from the city of Denver, Cohen's association propped the old house on a flatbed truck and moved it to a lot at the edge of a city park in a working-class neighborhood -- not far from the spot where it stood in 1913 when young Golda Mabovitz arrived here from Milwaukee to live with her sister and brother-in-law.

The young Russian emigre went to Denver's North High School and worked afternoons in the family dry-cleaning shop. At night she returned to the modest brick house that had become a meeting place for Denver's Zionist community.

"It was in Denver that my real education began," Meir wrote in her memoirs. "I was fascinated by the people who used to drop into [the] home and and sit around talking."

"I listened raptly . . . . .I understood and responded fully to the idea of a national home for the Jews -- one place on the face of the earth where Jews could be free and independent."

Among the people she met at the house was an ardent young Zionist named Morris Meyerson. They fell in love and were married; in 1921, they set off together for Palestine, changing the family name to the traditional form "Meir."

Over the ensuing decades, the little house fell into obscurity until a neighborhood historian, Jean May, decided in 1981 to track down rumors that Prime Minister Meir had once lived on Denver's west side.

Checking records at the high school, May found the former student's Denver address -- and not a moment too soon. That same week, it was scheduled to be demolished to make room for an athletic field.

A group of Jewish activists, including Cohen, the energetic proprietress of an auto glass dealership, raised a hue and cry that saved the home from the bulldozer. The old house was picked up and moved to a field beside the South Platte River as part of ambitious plans for restoration.

But the memorial association was considerably longer on ideas than money. For nearly three years the house sat in the field. Bricks fell out and boards rotted. Somebody set fire to the place. Somebody -- probably youthful vandals, police say -- painted a row of black swastikas on its wall.

"Oh, it was a very difficult period," Cohen said. "Very, very sad. But we were determined to keep at it. In a way, the best memorial to Golda is the state of Israel, but we thought she should have a memorial here where she first heard of that ideal."

Finally, the memorial association found a friend in the form of the Denver Parks Department. The agency found a spot for the house at the edge of a park and put up the money to have it moved.

Today the house sits in dilapidated splendor beneath a stand of cottonwood trees beside a creek called Sanderson's Gulch. It is in severe disrepair -- Cohen estimates that her group will need $150,000 to turn it into a museum. "But at least we still have it -- that's something," she said.

"It's not a grand old mansion by any means," said May, the neighbor who rediscovered the house four years ago. "But we need to show our young people that you don't have to come from fabulously rich backgrounds to shake the world."