Sunday, June 21, 2015

Preservation Predictions: A St. George Temple Renovation

Note: The 'Preservation Predictions' series examines what historic Mormon buildings may be renovated/preserved in the future. For all of the posts in this series, click here.

As the summer's begun, and I continue to research current events surrounding historic LDS buildings, I've noticed that rumors of temple renovations are wildly flying. In the past few weeks, I have heard several people worry aloud that the Manti Temple would be closed for a long renovation, a few talk about how the Mesa Temple is supposed to close soon, some mentioning that "according to a temple worker" the Logan Temple will soon be renovated, and others talking about how the temple in St. George should close shortly.

These rumors tend to start because of new temples built nearby (Manti: Payson; Mesa: Gilbert/Phoenix; Logan: Star Valley; St. George: Cedar City), but for now, I tend to error on the side of skepticism, since I haven't seen any other indications of an impending renovation for most of those temples.

However, I was thinking about a post from February 2014 on Scott Haskin's blog (since deleted) where he mentioned that the St. George Temple is scheduled to undergo an extensive renovation in 5 years. That would be about 2019--still a ways out, but something I eagerly anticipate. Let me explain why.

The St. George Temple has five floors. The basement, second, and fourth floors are full floors that take up the entire building. The third and fifth floors (the floors with the circular windows) are mezzanine floors on the sides of the temple, consisting of mostly sealing rooms.

Originally, the second and fourth floors were both large assembly halls, each with seven pillars running along the sides (that support the mezzanine levels above). These are beams with a rounded wood facade. Each of them had a 27-foot-high domed ceiling. The ordinances were performed in the basement--all of them, including the endowment.

As you can imagine, they quickly discovered that this was a rather cramped layout, so the terrestrial and celestial rooms were moved up a floor. Eventually, all of the endowment rooms were moved to the second floor, and in the 1930s, permanent walls were built that divided it into different rooms. Even as you attend a session, though, you can see the pillars and the domed ceiling (the creation and world rooms are on the side, so there's no dome; the garden room has a domed ceiling, but it's been covered by a flat one. You can still see it, however, in the terrestrial and celestial rooms).

Unfortunately, logistics dictated a remodeling (that lasted from March 1974 to December 1975) that paid less attention to the historic character. The creation, garden, and world rooms were changed to stationary rooms, which meant that the terrestrial room lost most of its meaning. The murals were removed from the first three rooms. A small portion of each one was restored in 1992, when the new temple president, Elder Fyans, requested their return (see Blaine M. Yorgansen, All That Was Promised: The St. George Temple and the Unfolding of the Restoration, 238-9). Doors were filled in that connected the creation, garden, and world rooms. The domed ceiling was covered in the garden and the terrestrial rooms (in later years, it was removed in the terrestrial room--thank heavens! Because the vaulted ceiling adds so much to that room!).

This is a picture of the world room (known as Ordinance Room 3) as it looks today, looking toward the front of the room (northeast corner)

And here's a picture of the garden room before its renovation:

This is before the renovation. Now, the only portion of the mural present is the part with the swan, between the two pillars (those are some of the pillars holding up the third floor). The rest of the walls are blank, except for a similar portion of the mural opposite it. I believe the rest of the murals are still intact, they just cut away a portion for each room.

The temple also had a new annex built (the one-story portion on the north side, which I like), and a new stairway built onto the back of the temple. You can see this in comparing photos of the temple as it looked historically, and as it does today:

Before the renovation, one main staircase, along with the spiral stairs in the east towers were used. I don't think the spiral stairs have been used since the temple's rededication. In remodeling the temple, Church architect Emil Fetzer felt the need to come up with a new set of stairs, because "Each of the three ordinance rooms could seat 120 patrons, but 360 or even 240 individuals could not all use the spiral staircases if a necessity arose for them to exit quickly." As a result, Fetzer believed that he had it revealed to him to expand the west end of the temple, creating new staircases, as well as a lobby space to access the creation, garden, and world rooms separately. "The new stairways, however, were not circular in shape but rather rectangular for easy and safe use" (Yorganson, All That Was Promised, 335-337).

The Church is now much more sensitive in remodeling its historic structures. In fact, a few years ago, the Church produced an Architectural Design Guide for this temple, to "serve as a reference" in future renovations, which seems more focused on the historic nature of the building.

It may seem petty, but here are the things I would love to see happen in 2019, or whenever a future renovation happens:

1. Restore the historical elements of the ordinance rooms relating to the endowment.

I seriously doubt that the live version of the endowment would be brought back to this temple--although I definitely would love that! However, I would definitely want to see progression restored to the temple. Progression was taken away--and then restored--to the temples in Los Angeles and Laie (as recently as 2010!); surely it could be done here.

Sessions would only be held once every hour, instead of every 40 minutes. However, with the opening of the temple in Cedar City, St. George's temple district could easily be reduced from 47 stakes (currently) to about 32 stakes. That's more manageable, and what I would like to see for a historic temple, anyway.

In conjunction with that, I would love to see the murals fully restored (which would probably mostly be repainted). I would also like the ceilings to be taken back to their original curved architecture, and the windows being used, instead of always being tightly drawn (as occurred in the world room. I understand that the use of film plays a role in this, but can't they be opened and closed, as I've seen occur in other temples?). These moves would have a tremendous impact in giving the historical feel to the temple.

2. If possibly, modify the stairwell arrangement.

I can hardly suggest that the Church demolish the back of the temple just to get rid of the new stairway; however, I would like to make a few changes--for example, changing the fake windows to real ones, even if they have the same white curtains that all the other windows have. It would restore unity to the architecture, provide natural light, and still maintain privacy.

Along those lines, I wish the stairs in the east tower (the ones accessed by climbing the east stairs) could be used at least a bit. I don't know if they've been used at all since the temple's rededication:

"Many of those who attended the [rededication] entered the temple through the large east doors and ascended the steep spiral staircases to the upper-floor assembly room of the edifice" (Source).

3. Remove the metal letters on the east side of the temple (visible in the photo above)

I would change this somehow. Maybe a sign, if needed. But the letters don't blend with the historic architecture at all, and they sort of look like an afterthought.

4. Restore and improve the assembly hall.

The lower windows in this picture look into the ordinance rooms (the celestial room, in this picture specifically). The circular windows look into sealing rooms. And the windows above--the ones without curtains--look into the temple's beautiful priesthood assembly hall.

The assembly hall has pulpits on either side, one for the Aaronic Priesthood, and one for the Melchizedek. The stairway addition eliminated the windows on the west side (another reason I'm not too fond of it), and the assembly hall still has no electric lights--meetings held in this room, sparse as they are, rely on natural light, or electric lights strung up on the ceiling. From what I've seen in other historic buildings, electric lights could be sensitively added to this room, increasing its usability. I would love to see it used often--for temple worker meetings, stake temple nights, etc. From what I've seen, it's a beautiful room.

Now that I'm done ranting, let me emphasize the fact that the temple functions wonderfully as is, and historic preservation (or lack thereof) has no bearing on the sanctity of any temple. However, with a treasure like the St. George Temple, I can't help but want it to be preserved for another 138 years, so that future generations can also enjoy the history and heritage that is visible in its walls.


  1. I agree that is very sad that it was renovated instead of restored. I have always been so awe inspired as I have been able to attend the Manti and Salt Lake temples. These temples have stayed true to the original architecture of our ancestors. It is an emotional experience to see all the beauty they were able to create. Created by their own hands in such difficult circumstances. This was lost in the St. George Temple and it is so sad. I can understand the need to make a building safer but there is no historical feel in this temple anymore.

    1. Hopefully they can recreate some of what was lost, H. Leavitt. The good news is that (unlike Logan) very few things were gutted or removed--just covered or redone. So it wouldn't be impossible to restore it to what it was in many instances.