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

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