Sunday, October 4, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 1 - What is a Tabernacle?

Note: This is Part 1 in a series on the history of the preservation and destruction of LDS Tabernacles. 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.

Every Sunday, I will post a new part of the series. (Tuesdays and Thursdays will continue to see regular posts that document historic architecture.) Here are the posts in this series:

Part 1: What is a Tabernacle?
Part 2: Early & Accidental Demolitions
Part 3: The End of an Era
Part 4: "Tear Down & Start Over"
Part 5: Who's to Blame?
Part 6: "Save the Tabernacle"
Part 7: Sold!
Part 8: Renovations & Preservations
Part 9: The Future of Tabernacles

For a Google Map that lists all of the tabernacles and their locations, click here.

If you have questions or comments on this series, other blog posts, or other items related to LDS Architecture, don't hesitate to contact me or comment below. Thanks!


"Rising above the orderly rows of brick and stone houses and poplar trees...[was] the impressive tower of a tabernacle. These small cities of Zion pointed not only north, south, east, and west, but upward as well." --Paul L. Anderson

Mention a LDS Tabernacle when speaking to members of the Church, and most will likely assume you're speaking of the iconic Salt Lake Tabernacle--home of the Tabernacle Choir, Music & the Spoken Word, and a century's worth of General Conference sessions.

Mention a different tabernacle, and some may have heard of it--especially if it's an iconic one from communities such as Provo, St. George, Ogden, or Logan.

Launch into a conversation about tabernacles in California or Randolph, Utah, and there will probably be more confusion than recognition. There's a tabernacle in Loa, Utah? Where's Loa, and what makes the building there a tabernacle? In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what is a tabernacle, exactly?

There's actually a good deal of confusion on that definition. When the first buildings referred to as "tabernacles" were built, there was no special reason for them to be called that. Instead, the term "tabernacle" was simply an interchangeable term; synonymous with "chapel" and "meetinghouse" and "church."

When the Saints came west, however, a bit of distinction arose. Ward chapels were different from "tabernacles," which were grander buildings that could serve one or more stakes in larger meetings.

That distinct definition, however, wavered, and soon there were 'stake tabernacles' (which only served a single stake, not several), and eventually, as Richard Jackson put it, "...nearly every meetinghouse was referred to at one time or another as a tabernacle."

So, even today, the term 'tabernacle' is used fluidly. Is the beautiful chapel in Spring City really a tabernacle, when it only ever served as a ward chapel? Because of this, different sources can count different numbers of tabernacles. In my studies, I have seen researches authoritatively declare that there are 40, 74, 77, 79, 92, and 109 tabernacles. That's a wide range.

Is this a tabernacle, or not?

So, for the purposes of this series, and based on my past research, I follow the reasonable list presented by Richard Jackson in his work, "Places of Worship." He presented a list of 77 tabernacles, listed below. On the Google Map, I have listed each of these tabernacles with its locations, date of dedication (and date when it was sold or razed, if applicable), and current status (standing, sold, or razed).

Salt Lake 1
Kolob (Springville)
Ogden 1
Kaysville 1
Juab (Nephi)
Provo 1
Salt Lake 2
St. George
Payson 1
Franklin, ID
Assembly Hall
Cedar City
San Luis (Manassa, CO)
Maricopa (Mesa, AZ)
Bear Lake (Paris, ID)
Wasatch (Heber)
Provo 2
Sevier 1 (Richfield)
Malad, ID
Box Elder (Brigham City)
Oakley, ID
Salt Lake Granite 1
Oneida 1 (Preston, ID)
Benson (Richmond)
Pleasant Grove
Driggs, ID
Payson 2
Union (La Grande, OR)
Star Valley
Wayne (Loa)
Grace, ID
Fremont (Rexburg, ID)
Bear River (Garland)
Carbon (Price)
Woodruff (Randolph)
Kaysville 2
Alpine (American Fork)
Cardston, AB
Idaho Falls
San Juan (Blanding)
Lethbridge, AB
Rigby, ID
Montpelier, ID
Burley, ID
Thatcher, AZ
Blackfoot, ID
Oakland, CA
Boise, ID
St. Anthony, ID
Jacksonville, FL
Atlanta, GA
LA (Hollywood)
Ely, NV
Salt Lake Granite 2
Huntington Park, CA
Sevier 2 (Richfield)
Shelley, ID
Twin Falls, ID
Rupert, ID
Oahu (Honolulu, HI)
Oneida 2 (Preston, ID)
Ogden 2

Of those tabernacles, less than half are standing. What happened to these buildings? What led to their destruction? That is a question that will continue to be asked in the years ahead--and one I hope to shed some light on in this series.

Next: Part 2 - Early & Accidental Demolitions

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