Sunday, May 20, 2018

Preservation Update: Mesa Temple Renovation Details

I apologize for the missing weeks of blog posts--I was out of town and didn't get around to writing a new post before I left. However, while I was gone, I was thrilled to see the recent Mormon Newsroom article about the upcoming Mesa Arizona Temple. It's great to breakdown the changes that will be coming.

The biggest question--which isn't confirmed yet--is whether this renovation will restore progression to the Endowment ceremony of the temple. The temple's progression was removed in its renovation in the 1970s. As a result, the creation, garden, and world rooms became rooms 1, 2, and 3. In a later renovation, a fourth, completely new stationary room was added. The terrestrial room became the veil room.

Mesa Temple Floor Plan (For details see the post on the Mesa Temple)

One promising sign: the Mormon Newsroom named the photos of the rooms by their original names (creation, garden, world, etc.). Another: there is no projected image of stationary room 4, just the original 3 progression rooms. This gives me hope that the progression will be restored.

Digital Image of Post-renovation Creation Room (Image Source: Mormon Newsroom

Should the progression not be restored, we still have the assurance that murals in the temple will be restored. In fact, the article says that "new murals will be added in some locations to complement the originals." What does this mean?

Digital Image of Post-renovation Garden Room (Image Source: Mormon Newsroom)

When the temple was renovated in the 1970s, workers were told that the murals would not be used again, so they tore them off in the easiest way--usually, in pieces. In the 1990s, the small pieces of the mural that were saved were restored and placed in each stationary room--a piece of the creation and garden murals, and two pieces of the world mural, one for each room.

Based on the images, it certainly looks like the portions of the murals that were lost in each room will be re-created--or at least, re-done in a manner that complements the originals. This is exactly what I'd like to see. The murals aren't being entirely redone--a blank space is left at the front for the movie projection--but this is great news. I hope the murals are done to recreate the originals as best as we can.

Original World Room, Mesa Temple

A comparison of the rooms as they originally were and as they look post-renovation is promising. You'll notice the world room's mural definitely matches the original. I suppose in a perfect world, they would have done the murals at the front of the room and had a screen come down, as is done in the Idaho Falls Temple--but this is so encouraging, I can't complain.

Digital Image of Post-renovation Terrestrial Room (Image Source: Mormon Newsroom)
This is a renovation that looks extremely promising. Hopefully, its principles will be applied to a forthcoming renovation of the St. George Temple, and possibly Logan (to some extent). It's going to be a long wait!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Spanish Fork 5th Ward

Built in the mid-1930s, the Spanish Fork 5th Ward has a unique floor plan that gives it a more ornate appearance than most LDS chapels (especially for the time period in which it was built).

(Image Source: Church History Library)
With ornamentation befitting its art deco style, the building has two wings (one was a chapel, another was a cultural hall) spreading out at a 90-degree angle from a central tower. It gives the building a towering appearance on Spanish Fork's Center Street.

(Image Source: Church History Library)
Unfortunately, this building was sold at some point, but it is still used as the Chillon Reception Center, so it continues to serve as a venue for weddings and other events.

The building has been kept in good shape, and it still has a commanding presence in Spanish Fork.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A History of LDS Temple Architecture: Part 2 - Endowment Development

Note: This is Part 2 in a series on the history of the development of LDS temple architecture. This series is based on my personal research and is a looser, less detailed, and less formal version of a paper that was presented at the 2015 BYU Religious Education Student Symposium. For a complete list of posts in this series, click here.

(Image Source)

When the Saints left Nauvoo and the hastily completed temple behind, they were also leaving behind the last permanent temple structure that they would be able to use for 30 years. The needs of moving thousands of Saints across the prairie, settling on the rim of the Great Basin, and colonizing the Mormon corridor were simply too consuming to be able to focus on building another temple for quite a while.

Temple ordinances were still administered during this time, but temporary locations were used. Ensign Peak, just north of Salt Lake City, was where Addison Pratt received his endowments on July 21, 1849. Little is known about the details of this unique event of administering the endowment ordinance in an outdoor setting. How were the garden of Eden, the lone and dreary world, or the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms represented? No information is known.

(Image Source)

The same goes for the Council House in Salt Lake City, which was also used to administer endowments. We don't know if separate rooms were used, or if the entire ordinance was given in one room. One thing is for certain; since these were temporary locations, it is likely that much less emphasis was placed on the architecture and setting of the endowment in these places.

(Image Source)

This means that a mere decade after the ordinance was introduced, its relationship with its surrounding architecture was already threatened and minimized, more out of necessity than anything else. Fortunately, the construction of an Endowment House on the same square where the Salt Lake Temple was being built reemphasized the importance of this relationship, and ultimately cement it for decades to come.

(Image Source)
Ensign Peak was used once, and the Council House was used from its construction until this building was completed in 1855. It was designed by Truman O. Angell, church architect, who would also design the St. George and Salt Lake temples. Originally designed just for endowments and sealings, it would later have a baptistry added on a year later.

The Endowment House was the first building to have specific rooms to represent the story of the Endowment. (For more information on the Endowment House, its history and floor plan, see here.) After a room designed to administer initiatory rites, patrons entered a combined creation/garden room with a pastoral mural by William Ward, added about a year after the building's completion. Many sources indicate that this was one of the most visually impressive features of the building. One patron described it later:

"The four sides of this room were painted in imitation of trees, flowers, birds, wild beasts, etc. . . . The ceilling [sic] was painted blue, dotted over with golden stars; in the centre of it was the sun, a little further along the moon, and all around were stars. In each corner was a Masonic emblem. In one corner is a compass, in another the square; the remaining two were the level and the plumb. On the east side of the room, next [to] the door, was painted an apple tree."

The room also had potted plants and fruit hanging from the plants, thus combining visual ideas from the Red Brick Store and the Nauvoo Temple.

The remaining rooms were not nearly as decorated: the world room was unpainted and dark, with heavy curtains on the windows. The prayer circle room (which likely also served as the terrestrial room) was similarly not decorated.

(Image Source)

At this point, patrons then ascended a staircase, a clear symbol of progression that had not been present in any iteration of the endowment up to this point. An instruction room (really, a "veil room") was at the top of this staircase, followed by the celestial room. This room was decorated similar to its predecessor in the Nauvoo Temple, with carpet, furniture, and paintings on the walls.

(Image Source)

The Endowment House differed greatly from the St. George Temple, which seemed to have been built without any thought for the endowment rooms at all, in spite of the fact that both buildings were designed by the same person. Like the Nauvoo Temple, the St. George Temple had two assembly halls on its ground and second floors. This meant that rooms in the basement had to be used for the endowment, which included some type of murals on its walls. Not very long after the temple's dedication, the main floor was used for the terrestrial and celestial rooms. Not until the 1930s would the temple's main floor be partitioned into smaller rooms that could hold the entire endowment ceremony, rooms that still remain today.

Meanwhile, the endowment house would not last past 1889, when, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants' first Official Declaration, it was torn down after it was the setting of a polygamous marriage that caused bad press for the Church, just as its leaders were beginning to move away from polygamy altogether.

Still, the endowment house and the St. George temple both had an enormous influence on the future of temple architecture. The Endowment House solidified the relationship between the Endowment ceremony and its surrounding setting, after a decade where the relationship was weakened. This included the use of murals, potted plants, and stairs to symbolize progression. The St. George Temple marked the return of permanent temples where the endowment ordinance could be administered. Ultimately, in terms of interior design, the Endowment House won out over the St. George Temple. Future temples would mirror the Endowment House in their floor plan and layout, but they would be accompanied by an increase in quality and beauty. Some of the Church's best temples were yet to come.

Next Week: Part 3 - Expansion & Progression

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A History of LDS Temple Architecture: Part 1 - Endowment Beginnings

Note: This is Part 1 in a series on the history of the development of LDS temple architecture. This series is based on my personal research and is a looser, less detailed, and less formal version of a paper that was presented at the 2015 BYU Religious Education Student Symposium.

Part 1: Endowment Beginnings
Part 2: Endowment Development
Part 3: Expansion & Progression
Part 4: The Building & the Ceremony
Part 5: "Bring the Rooms to the People"
Part 6: Remodels & Revision
Part 7: The Return of Progression
Part 8: The Future of Temple Architecture

Nauvoo Temple Spiral Staircase

The Mormon Church is known for its uniformity and correlation, even as it has grown into an international Church with thousands of stakes in hundreds of countries. Its buildings largely look the same. Its meetings, no matter the country or the culture, follow the same outline and structure. And so perhaps one of the most surprising facts of the Church is this: the temple endowment is not the same in every temple.

(Gilbert Arizona Temple Endowment Room)

To be clear, the ceremony itself is the same--word for word.* This is essential. However, the setting can be different--very different--and that can make the ceremony a completely different experience. The Mormon Church is not known for its architecture (a misconception this blog seeks to address), and that may be because only one ordinance was highly dependent on its surrounding architecture for its efficacy--the temple endowment.

Why is there such variation among the temples? Was it by accident or design? And what does this look like for future temples that are being built around the world? This series of blog posts seeks to answer these questions by diving into the history of temple architecture, focusing on the changes, adjustments, and re-adjustments that have been made over time.

As a final note to this introduction, while these posts will discuss the architecture of the endowment ceremony, and thus make references to the ceremony itself, it will not discuss the endowment ceremony in detail. Those who are interested in learning more about LDS temple ordinances may want to visit for more information there.


The introduction of the endowment ceremony (as Latter-day Saints know it today) took place in Nauvoo in 1842. While revelations up to that point had hinted about the endowment ordinance, and also that its setting should be in the temple, the prophet Joseph Smith began to administer the ordinance in the second story of his red brick store.

Reconstructed Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois

In preparation for this ordinance, the Prophet apparently arranged plants around the room and had several men paint a mural of a pastoral scene in the northwest corner. Thus, from its inception, the setting of the endowment ceremony was critical--its purpose was to more fully envelope the Saints in the story of the ordinance.** Patrons symbolically became Adam and Eve; the temple became their stage, world, and journey.

View of second story room in reconstructed Red Brick Store, looking North.

View looking South

Brigham Young would later say that after his first ceremony, Joseph Smith took him aside and told him, "Brother Brigham, this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could do under the circumstances in which we are placed." It is unknown how much the setting was developed in the Red Brick Store, but by the time Brigham Young administered the endowments in the Nauvoo Temple, there were definite spaces for different segments of the endowment--a creation area, an area representing the Garden of Eden, an area representing the telestial world in which we now live, an area representing the terrestrial world (in Latter-day Saint liturgy, a world that is higher and holier in sphere than the world we live in now) and an area representing the celestial world (the highest and holiest of spheres, where God the Father and Jesus Christ dwell).

Nauvoo Temple Floor Plan (Image Source)

The Nauvoo Temple did not have specific rooms built for this purpose; it consisted of two assembly halls as its main floors. The attic was used for these ordinances, then--curtains partitioned the main room there into the smaller areas needed for the ceremony. No murals were used, but potted plants and trees were in the garden room, and the Celestial Room was decorated with furniture, paintings, and other items on the walls. In the Garden Room, one plant was draped with raisins and grapevines to represent the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.***

Original Nauvoo Temple (Image Source)

To be sure, the ceremony at this point had some major differences from the ceremony that is practiced today. In general, the ceremony was much more literal, and had much more variation, meaning that its length could vary but generally took much longer. The temple itself also had a variety of uses, including hiding Church authorities from enemies of the Church, or--in at least one case--being used a dance hall, when the furniture in the celestial room was all moved to the sides.****

Just as the ceremony would change over the next few years, the architecture would, as well. But the manner in which Joseph introduced the ordinance cemented the importance of the architecture into the ceremony itself, and therefore every Latter-day Saint temple to be built from that point forward. All that remained was to see what changes would be made.

Incidentally, when the Nauvoo Temple was reconstructed in 2002, the second floor was now used to house the endowment ceremony, rather than the attic. In a tribute to the original temple, all five rooms were built into the temple (creation, garden, world, terrestrial, and celestial). The temple's current celestial room envelopes the temple's original celestial room (as it now takes up the second floor and the attic of the original building), which means that Latter-day Saints who currently attend the Nauvoo Temple stand in nearly the same Celestial Room that Saints stood in during the 1840s, just months before they would flee to the west.

Nauvoo Temple (Image Source)

Next Week: Part 2 - Endowment Development

*That is, nearly so--in the live endowment, the ceremony asks patrons to "kindly give your attention," and adds that patrons will be moving from room to room.
**It is well-known that several aspects of the Endowment ceremony are drawn from the Masonic ceremony. The Masons similarly used the setting to set the stage for the ceremony; in their case, the Masonic Lodge symbolically became Solomon's Temple, and objects representing the temple were present, including pillars through which each initiate had to pass. See "Masonic ritual and symbolism," Wikipedia. 
***For more information on the Nauvoo Temple and how it was used for temple work, see Lisle G. Brown, “The Sacred Departments for Temple Work in Nauvoo: The Assembly Room and the Council Chamber,” BYU Studies 19, Issue 3 (Spring 1979): 371–72. Available here:
****See "Savoring the Nauvoo Temple" at

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Preservation Update: Murray Ward Lawsuit, Idaho Falls Healing Center

Note: Preservation Updates are a regularly occurring series of posts where I round up recent information on historic LDS buildings and their futures. Depending on the age of the post, there may be newer information available. Click here to see all Preservation Updates.

Right now, a lawsuit is progressing its way through the courts to try and save the historic Murray First Ward building. While downtown buildings in Murray were originally preserved through a city ordinance, a few years ago, the ordinance was modified to allow exceptions (including if a demolition would increase the city's tax base, which is almost guaranteed in the case of a historic building).

The city council voted to demolish the building in the summer of 2017. An appeal to delay the process was denied, so the only other option was a lawsuit. A motion to dismiss the case was denied, and the hearing date was set for March 19.

A small group is trying to raise funds and support to save the building. Their site can be found here.


The Idaho Falls Third Ward building, which was sold by the church in the 1980s, now has a new owner. Over the past few decades, it has been owned by other churches, and it was almost used as a haunted house before community opposition prevented that from happening. It has now been renovated and will serve as a "healing sanctuary" which practices holistic medicine. They've done a wonderful job with the building, including adding leaded glass that depicts a sego lily, which the building originally had.

(Image Source, by Stephen Loosli)


Meanwhile, the Church has updated plans to restore buildings in Nauvoo, Illinois. These include the homes of William Weeks (architect of the temple), Esther & William Green, and Marinda and Orson Hyde. The home of Edward and Anna Hunter, which is just down the hill from the temple, was excavated in 2016, and will be rebuilt. Joseph Smith spent some of his time in hiding in the basement of the house, and may have received D&C 128 in that home. It will be exciting to see these changes come in the next few years.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Redondo Beach Ward

In terms of Mormon architecture, the Mormon Corridor--the main area of early Mormon settlement that extends from Cardston on the north to the Mexican colonies on the South--is usually where the vast majority of unique buildings can be found. There are a few exception to this, such as Hawaii and some South Pacific Islands where early chapels can be found.

California is a unique place where there are still some nice buildings, even though Mormon growth in California didn't really take off until the 1940s. This was just early enough for some unique buildings to be made, with some really nice elements. 

The Redondo Beach Ward is one nice example. While not one of Mormonism's most unique buildings, it has some very nice elements that could be appreciated.

(Image Source: Church History Library)

(Image Source: Church History Library)

You'll notice that one unique element of this building was its stained glass window at the end of the chapel. While the building no longer stands--and the new building isn't unique at all--the window was moved to the new chapel, where it is lit electronically at the front of the pulpit.

I'm glad that the window was preserved, and that it remains at the head of the chapel, although I wish I could see it in its original architectural context. If I find a photo of the chapel's original interior in the future, I'll be sure to post it here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

South Weber Ward

One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate that the LDS Church has a rich artistic and architectural heritage; or at least, a greater heritage than most members assume. One of the important ways (for me) to show that is by highlighting chapels (instead of more well-known temples, or even tabernacles). I like to even find those simple, non-assuming chapels that still contributed to Mormonism's cultural identity. One example of this is found in the old South Weber ward chapel. 

(Image Source: Church History Library)

It looks like a fairly typical chapel, likely built in the 1930s. But the chapel's real artistic gem was found in the chapel, where Ivan Cornia had painted a mural:

(Source: John D. Bell, South Weber: The Autobiography of One Utah Community, 459)

His painting depicts the miracle of the seagulls eating the crickets. It's a unique and wonderful piece of artwork, but it didn't make it into the new ward chapel; it's rolled up and stored by a local member.

How many more gems like this are there to be found--before they disappear? Hopefully we can find as many as we can!