Sunday, November 29, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 9 - The Future of Tabernacles

Note: This is the final post in 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.

Today, there are 39 tabernacles (of the original 77 on Richard Jackson's list) that are still standing. The Church owns 26 of them. Are these tabernacles safe? Will they still be standing in 20, 50, or 100 years?

Stained glass in the Garland Tabernacle (Image Source)

In another post, I discussed the Church's list of protected structures. 20 tabernacles are on that list (although that likely includes Provo, and perhaps Vernal, which are now temples). See that post for more information.

Definitely, then, some tabernacles are unprotected. Some may be torn down--most likely, the smaller, less grand, and (in the eyes of administration) less significant structures that  dot the landscape. The tabernacle in Snowflake may not have much to offer against the tabernacle in Kaysville, but does that mean it will be torn down? Only time will tell.

Paintings on the walls of the Manti Tabernacle

Certainly, the fire that burned down the Provo Tabernacle in 2010 is a reminder that any of our buildings can be claimed by a disaster. It has been encouraging to see the Church's response, as it has lovingly rebuilt the structure as a temple, even though it is much more expensive to do that than built a whole new structure.

Chapel in the Granite Stake Tabernacle

Other tabernacles' futures remain uncertain. The tabernacle in Wellsville is still closed as the Wellsville Foundation heroically struggles to raise the money needed to repair the roof and re-open the building. The tabernacle in Smithfield recently underwent a comprehensive study determining the future use of the building. The report concluded that it would likely cost over a million dollars to renovate the structure, regardless of the future use. Since it is owned by the city, the city council will have to decide the building's fate.

Even when their future is uncertain, tabernacles continue to stand across the Mormon corridor, symbols of the faith, works, and struggles found in Mormonism's history. Groups meet for religious and cultural events; they continue to gather into the buildings. Light continues to stream in through the stained glass windows in Kaysville's tabernacle; tourists continue to admire the woodwork in Paris, Idaho's tabernacle; the sounds of the organ in Salt Lake's tabernacle are broadcast to the nation every week in Music & the Spoken Word.

Light shines in through the stained glass of the Kaysville Tabernacle

I feel blessed to visit so many of these buildings. And as I ascend the spiral staircases in St. George, admire the bas-relief in Manti, or play the organ in Brigham City, I am reminded of the poem that was written by pioneers who built the St. George tabernacle and tucked underneath the sandstone steps, only to be found 75 years later:

...We have labored long
For many a year,
This noble structure
For to rear;

And thus we’ve often
Lacked for bread,
“You’ve nobly worked”;
By all was said....

So now kind friends
We say farewell,
This house and steps
Our works do tell,

God will preserve
And bless his own
With life eternal
And a crown.

Spiral staircase in the St. George Tabernacle

Poem written by Charles L. Walker; see Michael N. Landon, "“A Shrine to the Whole Church”: The History of the St. George Tabernacle," Mormon Historical Studies 12, issue 1 (Mar 2011), 125.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bountiful Tabernacle: Staircase Details

The stairs are reminiscent, albeit not as grand, as the staircases in the St. George Tabernacle. They are one of the most beautiful parts of the tabernacle.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 8 - Renovations & Preservations

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.


In the 1980s, the Brigham City Tabernacle had dominated the city's skyline for nearly a century. But the building was old, and had become as obsolete as most other tabernacles. It had no classrooms, offices, or gyms; it was a simple chapel. Its many steeples, arched windows, and beautiful brickwork had survived fires, earthquakes, and weather damage; would it survive in a Church that didn't seem to need it anymore?


In contrast to the past, the answer from the Church was an emphatic 'Yes.' On May 11, 1985, the Church announced the tabernacle would be sensitively restored, a project that would cost nearly a million dollars and close the building for a few years. Craftsmen grained and marbled the woodwork in the same manual style of the pioneers. All mechanical systems were sensitively updated, the building was brought up to seismic code, and damaged plaster and paint were carefully redone. When the tabernacle re-opened, it won an award from the Utah Heritage Foundation for its sensitive renovation. These events were almost unimaginable a decade earlier.

The tabernacle continues to stand, dominating the skyline along with its neighbor, the Brigham City Temple.

The Church had not decided to preserve all of its old buildings. It was still a push-and-pull debate. However, it was clearly committed to preserving its best architectural structures, and it showed it from 1980 onward. The Provo Tabernacle was sensitively restored in 1983 and 1997--natural wood was restored and paint from later renovations was removed.

The Assembly Hall on Temple Square was carefully renovated in 1997, using original building techniques that the pioneers had used. The St. George Tabernacle, in 1993, underwent a huge project that repaired and preserved the building, brought back copies of the original chandeliers, and preserved much of the original glass. Logan's tabernacle was renovated in 1985, removing pine that earlier renovations had placed over original floors. Even tabernacles in far-flung areas--Afton, WY (1983), Loa (1983), Randolph (1984)--received renovations.

Wall details in the St. George Tabernacle that were carefully restored.
Perhaps the greatest sign of committment came in the 2005 renovation of the Paris, Idaho tabernacle. If the Church needed a good business reason to tear down a tabernacle, it had plenty of them in Paris. The tabernacle is in a small city; it required several upgrades to bring it up to code; it only had a chapel, and couldn't serve as a regular meetinghouse. Nonetheless, it was carefully and lovingly renovated, at the cost of over $1 million. If the cry in the 1970s was "Save the tabernacles," the response now was that the tabernacles were safe.

(Image Source)
That's not to say that no tabernacles came down. In the early 1980s, especially, several tabernacles in Idaho (Twin Falls, Franklin, St. Anthony) still came down. Other tabernacles have burned down (Thacher, Arizona [1981]; and Provo [2010]). And some renovations have still altered parts of tabernacles--Salt Lake lost its original benches when it was renovated in 2007; Ogden lost its steeple in 2010. But by and large, the period of destruction was over. It could be argued that was because many tabernacles were no longer standing; very few remained. Still, it's obvious that there was a shift in the attitude of Church administration.

And that shift has allowed members to enjoy these beautiful buildings that were so important to members back then. Or, as one man said when the Paris, Idaho Tabernacle was being renovated:

"[The tabernacle] was a matter of great importance to them. The workmanship, it's just second to none...[they] expressed their testimony in their work." (Mark Thiessen, "LDS Church to revamp 'show stopper' in Idaho, August 28, 2004).
Stained glass in Paris, Idaho Tabernacle. (Image Source)
Next: Part 9 - The Future of Tabernacles

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bountiful Tabernacle: Chapel Interior

The Bountiful Tabernacle has changed greatly from its original form. One renovation had built the overflow onto the north end of the chapel (seen on the left side of this picture).

 (Image Source: Utah State Historical Society)

You can see the overflow being used in this picture of a meeting in progress. You can also see some more details that used to be on the walls--too bad they're not there anymore.

(Image Source: Church History Library)

The painting of Joseph Smith was removed in the 1970s renovation, and is now in the Church's collection. However, a small copy of the painting is in the lobby:


Organ pipes now are at the front of the chapel:


However, it's nice that the later renovation restored the symmetry of the chapel, including the windows on the north end.

At the back is a small balcony with beautiful stairs. I'll show some more details of them in a later post.
  (Image Source: Utah State Historical Society)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bountiful Tabernacle

The Bountiful Tabernacle, completed in 1863, is the second-oldest tabernacle still standing (the tabernacle in Parowan beat it by one year). It was nearly torn down in the 1970s, but was saved because of the massive protest that erupted when local leaders announced it was going to be torn down.


It hasn't changed much. In the picture below, you'll notice the absence of spires--they had blown off in a wind storm in 1906 and weren't replaced for nearly 50 years.

(Image Source: Utah State Historical Society)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 7 - Sold!

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.

In 2002, it appeared that the future of the Blackfoot Tabernacle was again in doubt. The building had been sold in 1980 and used as the county offices, but the county noted that the building had become "a white elephant--more expensive than beneficial" ("Ex-Blackfoot tabernacle goes on auction block", Deseret News, April 22, 2002).

Across the street sat the Hawker-Hill-Sandberg funeral home. The owner, Perry Hawker, decided to try purchasing the property, and was able to do so for $100,000 (even though the commissioners had asked for a minimum bid of $150,000). Over the next year, it was remodeled to serve as a funeral home, while they did their best to preserve the historical appearance. The tabernacle continues to serve as a funeral home today, retaining its spot on the National Register.

The Hawker Funeral Home continues to serve the Blackfoot community.
Tabernacle have been sold to a variety of owners. You can die and be transported to the former tabernacle in Blackfoot--or, if you want to live in a tabernacle, you can live in a condo at the former tabernacle in Lethbridge, Canada.

Three tabernacles are owned by the city--those in Smithfield, Heber, and Rexburg. Each serves a different purpose. The one in Heber acts as city offices. The one in Rexburg is a community center. The one in Smithfield is a recreation center, although the city is currently studying what the building's future will be.

The tabernacle in Parowan, owned by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, is a museum; artifacts, quilts, and portraits are crammed into every aisle.

The Parowan Tabernacle as a museum. For more photos, select "Parowan Tabernacle" on the right of the blog.
Other groups use tabernacles, too. The tabernacle in Oakland is used by the Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church. On the opposite side of the country, the tabernacle in Jacksonville, Florida serves as the headquarters for the Junior League of Jacksonville, a women's organization. And in Ely, Nevada, the tabernacle serves as a fine arts center, home of their community choir.

In these tabernacles that were sold, you see the same determination to save the building that you see in the stories of Heber and Bountiful. In Wellsville, a non-profit group owns the tabernacle, which is currently closed, as they are trying to raise $150,000 to repair the roof. The building has been closed for a couple of years, now; the group has raised over one-third of the funds needed. The title of their campaign? "Save the Wellsville Tabernacle."

The Wellsville Tabernacle continues to dominate the city's landscape, even when it's closed.
More tabernacle may be sold in the future. However, the majority remaining in Church possession are cared for quite well. The Church had a period of destruction. It had a period of sales. Now, it has a period of restoration.

Next: Part 8 - Renovations and Preservations

Thursday, November 12, 2015

St. George Temple: Interior

Note: This is one of a series of posts on the interiors and floor plans of historic temples. Click here for posts of the floor plan and interiors of the Logan TempleSalt Lake TempleManti Temple, and Idaho Falls Temple.

A few months ago, I wrote a post that talked a bit about the St. George Temple's interior; however, the focus of that post was on what I'd like to see in a future renovation. My other posts on the pioneer temples each have floor plans and go through the temple in a more orderly manner. I wanted to do a similar post for the St. George Temple.

This was easier said than done. I could not find a floor plan for the St. George Temple anywhere--at least, that is currently accessible to researchers. So, I drew my own. Therefore, allow me to apologize in advance for the many errors these floor plans undoubtedly contain. I have only visited the St. George Temple three times; during none of those visits was I paying particular attention to the temple's floor plan. I believe I do have a good sketch of the basic layout, though. 

First, the temple has five floors. 

(Image Source: LDS Church Historian's Library)
The first floor is the basement (at the bottom of the photo above). The second floor and fourth floors are full floors; the second holds the endowment rooms, the fourth has the assembly hall. The third and fifth floors are referred to as mezzanine floors. They run along the temple's north and south walls (the boxes with diagonal lines in the photo above). They have sealing rooms and other smaller rooms. The second and fourth floor, therefore, have lower, flat ceilings on the sides, but the middle is open and the ceiling, arched. We'll see a bit of this in the photos.

I did not draw a floor plan of the basement. It consists of dressing rooms, confirmation rooms, a lobby, and a chapel on the west (back) end of the temple; the large room with the font is toward the west.
(Image Source)

Now, let's take a look at the main floor. The top of this floor plan is the east end of the temple (you'll notice the spiral staircases in the corner towers). This sketch does not include the addition to the back of the temple--a new hallway and lobby, built onto the west end, allows access to all three of the ordinance rooms.

This floor (and the fourth floor) has two sets of seven pillars along the entire building, which hold up the third floor. These are simple wooden beams that were covered with hollowed-out wood pillars that are beautifully painted and carved in the shape of a quartre foil. 


1 - Staircase to return to annex (originally, the area where patrons entered the temple from the annex)
2 - I'm assuming an area for temple workers can fit here.
3 - Creation Room (now Ordinance Room 1)
4 - Garden Room (now Ordinance Room 2)
5 - World Room (now Ordinance Room 3)
6 - Terrestrial Room (now Veil Room)
7 - Celestial Room
8 - South Sealing Room (there may also be another room in this area)
9 - Tower Sealing Room
10 - Anteroom (referred to as "Rose Room")

I'll now go through these different rooms with any images I have.

The staircase to the annex is currently used for patrons who are finished with their session and exiting the celestial room to return to the annex's locker rooms. However, this area was originally where patrons entered the temple from the annex, coming up a staircase and heading west (through what is now room 2) to enter the creation room.



This is the creation room as it was before the remodel that removed the murals, looking back toward the door that patrons entered. (While this was the back of the room, since the renovation, it has now become the front of the room). The windows here are on the south side of the temple. This room has been mislabeled (including by me, in the past!) as the world room. I'm fairly certain it's not.


I am fairly certain this is the creation room...but it may be the world room (ordinance room 3). (Any knowledgeable readers out there?) You'll notice the mural has been removed from the front and other walls of the room. The curtain at the front reveals a space to show the film.


The garden room is larger than the creation and world rooms. Since it's in the middle of the floor, it should have a high, arched ceiling--that's currently covered up with a flat ceiling. The door on the right side of the photo below entered the world room; that door no longer exists.


This photo shows more of the front. Notice the high ceiling that's no longer visible! Beautiful.


I don't have a photo of the world room before its remodel, but here's what it looks like today. Rather plain (although a portion of the mural was restored, but it's not in this photo).

(Image Source)

All of these rooms now feed into the temple's original terrestrial room. Here, the veil is in a large semi-circle at the front of the room. The arched ceiling is uncovered and easy to admire; clouds are painted on it, giving the impression of a desert sky.


Proceeding through the veil, patrons enter the celestial room.




The celestial room provides access up a simple staircase to a sealing room in the east tower. There is also a small sealing room on the south side. (There was originally one on the north side; however, the installation of an elevator in 1937 cut off this room. It's now a small anteroom that's called "the Rose Room.")

If you go to the third floor for sealings, you will see that it is simply one long hallway that runs the length of the temple on either side. It's the same for the fifth floor. The east tower also has rooms on the third and fifth floor; the tower room on the third floor was referred to as the "prayer circle room." 


Here's a picture of a sealing room, but this is one of the new ones, not one on the third or fifth floor.


The fourth floor is the temple's priesthood assembly hall.

 It has remained largely the same over the years; however, the windows in these images no longer exist, as the west addition covered them over. Feel free to click on the images to see them full size.




This room is beautiful--its arched ceiling plainly visible, with plaster flower decorations that were originally meant to house light fixtures; its uncovered windows that allow light to stream in on either side, and its original pulpits on the east and west ends of the temple. A wonderful description of this room was given when the temple was rededicated in the 1970s:

"Afterward, some lingered for a few moments for a last look at the temple’s interior. The results of remodeling were scarcely noticeable; the rich textures of the original floor boards, hand railings, and woodwork remained intact. Perhaps most striking was the pervading whiteness of the interior, much like the clean, sunlit whiteness of the exterior—a dignified and unpretentious whiteness entirely appropriate to a house of the Lord. On the walls were portraits of the prophets of this dispensation.

Leaning against the cool plaster wall, one could see through the original glass of the large windows the massive, red sandstone bluffs to the west, and, to the east, a wide expanse of rolling flatland bordered on the hazy horizon by colossal cliffs of Navajo sandstone."


I will not get into what I'd like a remodel to deliver, since I talked about that in my other post. Even as it is, this temple is one of the most significant historical sites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That it continues to be used for what Mormons consider to be sacred work is even more commendable. From all I've been able to research, the Church is taking very good care of this building, and future renovations will only further restore it to its original splendor. If you ever have the opportunity to visit--don't pass it up!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Logan Fourth Ward: Mural Details


 At the bottom of this mural is a plaque that reads, "Presented by Wilford Christiansen to the Fourth and Sixteenth Wards, 1951."


 It's a beautiful mural that adds so much to this place of worship.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 6 - "Save the Tabernacle"

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 Vernal Tabernacle, replaced by a ward chapel on the adjacent block, was in danger. At least, that's what many Vernal residents felt as they observed the events of Coalville that led to the razing of that tabernacle. The citizens were determined that their beloved building would not experience the same fate.

Their response was to form a committee titled, "Save the Tabernacle"--an interesting title, so the tabernacle was not, at that time, under any specific threat of being demolished. Nonetheless, the committee met often--raising funds, passed around petitions, scheduled the building as often as possible (to prove its usefulness), and, in sum, "hoped and prayed [that] their efforts would prove sufficient to save [their] building" (Irving and Barton, "From Tabernacle to Temple: The Story of the Vernal Utah Temple," 28).

In 1983, the building's water and heat were shut off, seemingly dooming the building to deterioration. The constant brainstorming intitiated by the committee, however, led them to propose converting the tabernacle into a building a year later, in 1984. While the proposal was rejected, a decade later, it was brought up again, reviewed, and accepted. The "Save the Tabernacle" committee had indirectly saved the tabernacle, nearly two decades later.

The Vernal Tabernacle, now standing as a temple.
The stories related to those who went to great lengths to save the tabernacle is even more impressive in view of the difficulties surrounding such efforts that we discussed in our last post. But Vernal was far from the only community that saved their tabernacle.

The first such incident actually occurred in Heber. After the vote to demolish the tabernacle was unanimously passed (because, one person fumed, one could not vote against the proposal without seeming apostate), Ruth Furr, a local member, and several other members (mostly women) joined forces to save the tabernacle. They ran into different kinds of opposition as they continued to raise awareness and support for the tabernacle's preservation. On one occasion, the Stake President criticized them for questioning his decision, noting that their group was oftened referred to as the "petticoat priesthood" (Ruth Furr Papers).

One incident in particular illustrates the endurance of these activities. Ruth was informed that, in order for negotiations regarding the possibility of the tabernacle's preservation to continue, she would need to obtain signatures of 10 local businessman that would pledge $50 a year for 10 years--by that evening. Undaunted, she set out with a friend, going door-to-door, and obtained the signatures. Upon returning in the evening, she was told they actually needed 15 pledges, not 10. They immediately set out again, and by 11 PM, and obtained the needed pledges. Such a feat is impressive.

The activists weren't afraid to pull out all the stops to gain support. On one occasion, they held an event in the tabernacle, encouraging all in attendance to donate. The printed program contained a poem titled "The Tabernacle Speaks," which read, in part:

Old friend, old pine,
Keening with your needled arms outspread
Against the sky,
Weep for me…

I sheltered birds: swallows with inverted wings
Sliced the air about my head
And pasted mud to my railings.
Mice on desperate errands
Scurried at my feet,
And a lonely cat
Nursed her litter near my heart.

…Now your once-slender shadow
Bulges about your feet,
And I am old.
My steps sag under the shoes of generations,
My ceiling is worn with amens,
My hinges ache.

At conference-time
The faithful press the walls
And shift their weight on weary feet
And strain to hear above the restless wailing
Of a child.

Old friend, old pine,
Protesting vainly in the stubborn wind,
Weep for me.
I have served with love,
Yet they wait with sharpened axes.

And I long to live, bridging the future
With the past
(Orma Wellengren, "The Tabernacle Speaks").

The Heber Tabernacle, now standing as city offices.
Fortunately, their efforts were successful. The Heber Tabernacle was sold to the city; after some years, it was remodeled to house the city offices. It stands there today, a testament to the efforts of Ruth Furr and those who worked with her.

After the incident of Coalville, and with a growing number of demolitions taking place, opposition was forming. Vernal citizens created their committee; residents of Rexburg, worried that their tabernacle "might soon join its predecessors in the scrap pile," wrote to the Church, asking that their tabernacle be preserved as a memorial (Louis J. Clements, "Rexburg Tabernacle History"). Their tabernacle was given to the city in 1978.

But nowhere was the opposition as evident as in 1975, when it was announced that the Bountiful Tabernacle was going to be demolished. Opposition erupted: angry editorials were published in the newspaper, the mayor considered making the area a historic district, and local senior citizens proposed using the funds they had raised to build a senior center be diverted to buy the tabernacle. The State Legislature passed a resolution asking for the building to be preserved. The Church was swamped with letters and requests that the building be saved.

The interior of the Bountiful Tabernacle in the 1970s. The Church Building department had argued that it was all but impossible to save the tabernacle, because its foundation was so high off the ground.

The result? A week later, it was announced that the building was to be preserved. (And, incidentally, the 'structural difficulties' that the Church building department had claimed made a renovation unfeasible seemed to melt away.) Heber was saved by a core group of citizens; Bountiful was saved by members and non-members across the state. There was a new group of LDS preservationists, and their motto was the same as in Heber and Vernal: save the tabernacle; save the tabernacle.

Next: Part 7 - Sold!