Sunday, October 18, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 3 - The End of an Era

Note: This is a series on the history of the preservation and destruction of LDS Tabernacles. To see a full list of the posts in this series, click here.

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

The Cedar City Tabernacle had stood at the center of the city since 1885, housing conferences and other Church activities. But in 1932, it was proposed that the tabernacle and its plot of land be sold to make way for a post office. Many members weren't happy, and the decision was accompanied by major dissent and protest. After all, why tear the tabernacle down? It was sturdy, it fulfilled its purpose, and it had not been replaced. (Indeed, when the tabernacle was ultimately razed in 1932, the Cedar City First Ward had to built a new chapel down the street, which still stands today.) None of this mattered, and the opposition ultimately failed. The tabernacle came down; a post office came up.

Ideally, a large majority of historic structures--religious or not--would be preserved for future generations. But practically, this is nearly impossible to achieve. Buildings decay and crumble; they are too small or too large; and most of all, they are expensive to maintain. All of these problems applied to LDS Tabernacles, particularly as the years passed by and they continued to age.

Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles was that tabernacles were not built to house modern Church auxiliaries and programs. Tabernacles were just large chapels--there were no (or very few) classrooms, no cultural halls, and no offices. This means that tabernacles needed to be renovated or receive additions in order to continue working--and that's expensive.

One example occurred in 1923, the members in Manti realized that their tabernacle had to be renovated. The building had no classrooms or offices; they had gotten by with curtains that divided the chapel into smaller spaces. So the chapel was completely remodeled, allowing classrooms and offices to be built on the ground floor. The members, aware of the building's history and attached to what it stood for, said that they felt “the [renovation] as painfully as if their own limbs were being severed."

Another example occurred in 1941, when the Coalville Tabernacle was entirely too small for the members who used it. The members were still too attached for the building for it to come down, however--one memoir states that at the meeting where it was proposed, members were standing and shouting in opposition, and "confusion reigned." The tabernacle was saved; a second floor was added, cutting the tall ceiling of the chapel below in half.

The ceiling in this photo originally belonged to the Coalville Tabernacle's chapel, not the cultural hall.

In the 1920s, six tabernacles were extensively renovated; by the 1950s, ten were being remodeled. But the renovation trend was dying; demolitions were rising: in the 1920s, three tabernacles were razed; in the 1950s, six came down.

Why not continue to remodel? For one thing, the Church was beginning to struggle financially by the end of the 1950s--not because of a lack of income, but because of growing, unmanageable spending, mostly toward BYU and new Church buildings. Indeed, the Church found itself in deficit spending. In many cases, it would be cheaper to tear down a tabernacle and build a new building than to preserve it.

And so, by the 1950s, the era of renovations was largely done, taken over by an era of replacement.

But that's not the only era that ended. The building of tabernacles sharply dropped off after the 1920s--only 5 tabernacles were built in the 1930s. One was built in the 1940s. In 1953, the tabernacle in Ogden, standing on the same block as their pioneer tabernacle, was built and dedicated. It would be the last true tabernacle ever built by the Church. The era of tabernacles had ended, and for the next few years, it would seem like no tabernacle was safe.

Next: Part 4 - "Tear Down & Start Over"

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