Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Preservation Update: Mesa Temple Renovation Completed

 The Church Newsroom published its article on the completion of the Mesa Temple Renovation this week, and it was exciting to look through! I have updated my original post that tours the temple with the new images, so I won't go through all of them here. However, I wanted to share my thoughts on how much I loved this renovation.

I loved how this renovation focused on restoring the temple to its original appearance. The Church renovations have been very good at this recently, getting rid of furnishings, paint, and changes that were made since the temple opening so that it focuses on how it looked at its original dedication.

I loved how this renovation balanced modernization and restoration. The Mesa Temple had some heavy remodels that removed progression and most of the murals. This remodel restored progression and recreated the murals. Portions of the original murals that were saved were hung in the temple hallways so they could be honored. I think this was a wonderful idea. While it's a little sad that the few original portions of murals aren't in the endowment rooms anymore, the walls did have to come down to allow for utility improvements.

After the discouraging news of the Salt Lake Temple's remodel, which appears to have gotten rid of murals without a second thought, and the intention to do the same in Manti, the decision to instead preserve Manti's murals, along with the results of this remodel, are refreshing and encouraging. I hope the results would have some impact on the Salt Lake's remodel--perhaps encouraging them to recreate murals, as was done very well here, and/or restore progression, as was done here. Even if they didn't do those, they should certainly keep some of the original murals and hang them in the temple, as was done here, so that they can still be seen and enjoyed in their original environment.

Meanwhile, the pioneer temple renovations continue. St. George is about halfway through its remodel that will also see its murals recreated:

(Image Source)

The Salt Lake Temple continues its heavy renovation, still at least 3 years away from completion:

(Image Source)

 And the Manti Temple has only just begun its 2-year renovation that will see its original floorplan and murals preserved, thanks to the efforts of members:


The only one we haven't heard anything about is Logan, which is the one I'm most intrigued about. President Nelson originally indicated a restoration would be in the work for some pioneer temples, which seems to be the case for St. George but certainly not Salt Lake nor the original Manti plans. I'm wondering if they will change their minds and basically keep Logan as is, or update it in some other way that is a little more sensitive to its pioneer history. We'll have to see.

 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Portland Stake Tabernacle

 The Portland Branch Meetinghouse, also known as the Portland Stake Tabernacle, is a lovely tudorbethan style building that was completed in 1929. The original Portland Branch building, completed in 1915, was outgrown, and so this large building was completed, and the old building was sold to the local RLDS (now Community of Christ) branch.

This building still stands and it's lovely, although in 2019 the local ward stopped meeting here (I'm unsure if it was discontinued or relocated) and the building became a family history center (similar to what happened to the historic Las Vegas Ward).

 

(Image Source: Church History Library)

 

The building looks very much the same.

 
Fortunately, it appears that even the interior is relatively well preserved:
 
(Image Source: Church History Library)
 
 

 

This beautiful building is another example of the issue many historic buildings face--they are located in inner-city areas, such as Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and other areas, where LDS demographics are decreasing, as family-oriented members tend to move to the suburbs. Therefore, these older buildings, already threatened just because of the cost of their upkeep and maintenance, are even more at risk of their congregations being discontinued or moved and the building becoming useless. While I'm glad the building is still preserved as a family history center, it has been closed for nearly 2 years due to the pandemic, and even when it's used, that would hardly use much of a very large building.

In the past 7 years since I started this blog, several buildings that I documented have now been razed, sold, or abandoned. I plan to do a post in the upcoming month about these buildings.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Preservation Update: Thoughts on Pioneer Temple Renovations

It's been an exhausting few months for those who follow the preservation of LDS architecture. I wanted to take an opportunity to recap my thoughts on the renovations thus far--it's been a roller coaster!

St. George

The first pioneer temple to begin renovations is the one in St. George. The 1970s renovation was so insensitive to the temple's original architecture that I was fairly confident this renovation would only make things better--and it does. The return of murals to the endowment rooms is extremely encouraging.


I'm still curious to see how many things turn out. For example, the rendering of the terrestrial room has no altar, which makes me concerned that the temple still won't have progression--that it will continue to employ the method of three stationary rooms feeding into a veil room. This would really be a missed opportunity if that were the case.

Other than that, I'm pretty excited to see the results.

Salt Lake

This temple renovation has definitely given us the most emotional whiplash. The original renovation plans and renderings promised a beautiful restoration; the Church's recent announcement to remove the murals, remove the original baptistry, and convert to stationary, film presentations, was extremely disappointing.

 This image taken from a recent Church news video shows the basement floorplan of the Salt Lake Temple before (at the bottom) and after (at the top) of the renovation. You'll notice that the entire western half of the temple floorplan, which currently has the baptistry, will instead have 2 new stationary endowment rooms.



Make no mistake--I understand the need for efficiency and standardization in the modern Church. However, this can be accomplished while preserving important cultural artwork. If the murals couldn't be preserved because of the condition of the plaster, they could be recreated (if not painted than digitally). Progression could be maintained even with a switch to film presentations. Stationary rooms could be added in addition to the original rooms, or the rooms could have kept their murals while serving as stationary rooms. The decision to remove them completely doesn't really have an adequate explanation.

With that being said, this is not another case of the Logan Temple being gutted. Besides the shifts for efficiency, the other parts of the temple look they are still being restored and taken care of. For example, compare the celestial room as it looked historically, as it looked just before it closed in 2019, and as it will look when it reopens:



Notice the restoration of color to the columns and patterns at their bases, wallpaper where the walls curve to meet the ceiling--it's definitely a restoration to historic details, although there are still some disappointing decisions (like the removal of the statue of the woman above the veil). This one will definitely have some mixed emotions from me when it reopens.

Manti

After not being able to attend Manti for nearly 3 years due to first a busy schedule and then a pandemic, I was able to go again this past week. Manti is a beautiful example of pioneer architecture that has been lovingly preserved, which is why the initial decision to remove its murals and convert it to stationary presentations was so horrifying. Manti is not built for stationary presentations, so not only would murals be removed, but walls and floors would have to come down to allow for a stationary arrangement. 

As I went through the temple, things seemed generally in good shape. The historic creation room mural (painted in 1886-7 by C.C.A. Christensen, although it's been touched up a lot since then) could definitely use some restoration. The garden room mural has some cracking on the east wall (the wall abutting up against the hill--this wall is notorious for having water damage, as this damage is what necessitated replacing the garden room mural in the 1940s). The world room mural looks very good, although some of the details near the bottom, especially of the north wall, could be restored. I'm anxious to see what's done here. There are a lot of stairs, and the Church will probably take steps to make it a little less overwhelming for those with disabilities. This might include adding ramps where there are stairs, stairs that could convert to ramps, or maybe even a lift in between the garden and world room (where the biggest staircase is).

The Church's transition from first announcing that the murals would be removed, to then announcing that the Teichert mural would be preserved and put on public display, and then announcing that the murals would be preserved as they are was certainly a roller coaster. Even as I worked to gather feedback for the Church, I was skeptical of any changes. I'm thrilled that they occurred, but Elder Rasband's insistence that the change to the Manti Temple plans were not at all influenced by public feedback and opinion, rather by the prayers of those in the area, were confusing, to say the least. It seems like he was saying that when we have concerns, we should not voice them and instead pray about them--if we live in the area; if we don't, they aren't as meaningful. Furthermore, since the original announcement was phrased as revelation, he seemed to condone praying for the Lord to change His mind. (And finally, his remarks that the preservation of the temple caused rejoicing on both sides of the veil also seemed to me to suggest that the original announcement caused sorrow on both sides of the veil.) All of this is not to serve so much as criticism as to point out that the Church's efforts to discourage feedback and protest cause some theological roller coasters for concerned and faithful members.

Logan

Logan is the last of the pioneer temple renovations, and to be honest, it's a wild card for me at this point. When temple renovations were first announced in April 2019, he said that "these pioneer temples will soon undergo a period of renewal and refreshing and, for some, a major restoration." I almost certainly felt he was referring to the Logan Temple when he talked about a major restoration, and was picturing the return of progression and murals in the modified floor plan. Now I'm not so sure. If leaders were so willing to remove historic murals in Salt Lake and Manti, I have a hard time seeing them making major efforts to restore murals already removed up in Logan. We'll have to see where this one goes.


Conclusion  

More than anything, the shift in the renovations, including the removal of murals and progression in Salt Lake, really indicate that Church leaders do not value the murals and progression as much as previous Church leaders did between 1980 and 2010. Prior to 1980, the emphasis was so much on efficiency that progression (and in some cases, murals) were removed from Laie, Mesa, Los Angeles, Logan, and St. George. Between 1980 and 2010, progression (and sometimes murals) were painstakingly restored in most of these temples. The most recent example is Mesa, which has been lovingly renovated including restoring portions of original murals and recreating lost portions and restoring progression. At the same time this renovation was finishing up, the Church was announcing the removal of these elements in Salt Lake and Manti in the name of efficiency. This means that the future is much more hazy. What if Cardston needs a renovation soon? Will its murals be removed?

Additionally, the Church's decision to frame the initial announcement of the removal of murals as "the Lord's hand guiding us" certainly had a silencing effect on membership and caused some division. This made it difficult for those who wanted more preservation to voice their opinion without being accused of apostasy. The radical change in Manti's case also seemed to cause confusion from some members who thought they were defending revelation. This is not a theological blog, but I strongly feel that members should be able to advocate for pioneer temples without fear of spiritual retribution. 

I think we as a Church need to be careful not to lose sight of the value of these architectural features. The temple is certainly not a museum--its purpose is saving ordinances for the living and the dead. (This is also why calls to turn the Manti Temple into a museum or useless. The Church cannot justify such a large expense on something that does not further its important mission, and what's more, the art's value is tied inextricably to the ordinance themselves.) However, this does not mean that all architectural features are worthless, or not needed. Simply put, progression and murals heighten the experience of the endowment. So does the live endowment. If this cannot be done in all temples (and it isn't), it should at least be preserved in the temples where it existed.

For now, I have mixed feelings on the renovation efforts as we move forward. I still faithfully sustain our Church leaders and am excited to see how they guide the Church moving forward, but the fact is that a shift has occurred, and it makes the future of pioneer architecture much more uncertain.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Manti Temple to Be Preserved

 I was thrilled to see the Church's announcement that the Manti Temple will be preserved, and a new temple will be built in neighboring Ephraim to help reduce capacity concerns. The live endowment will be replaced by a film presentation; however, the temple floor plan, progression, and murals will be preserved.

I am so grateful for everyone who sent feedback to the Church about the preservation. I am so grateful to President Nelson and other Church leaders who were willing to listen and seek continued guidance in their decision to preserve the temple. And I am grateful that we will be able to continue to enjoy the temple for years to come!



Thursday, March 25, 2021

Manti Temple: World Room

With the recent focus on the Manti Temple and the efforts to preserve its murals and progressive form, I wanted to do a post that focused more heavily on the mural in the world room. I have a post on the rest of the temple, but this mural tends to receive the most focus out of all the murals in the temple, because it is so striking. While I cover them briefly, the most detail can be found in this BYU Studies' Article from which most of the pictures are taken.

In the endowment ceremony, the world room represents the world in which we now live--the world into which Adam and Eve were cast out, full of imperfection and sorrow. Most other world room murals show the world in a fallen state without any humans--animals fighting and desolate landscapes. (Two exceptions are the Los Angeles Temple, which shows Adam and Eve entering the lone and dreary world, and the Idaho Falls Temple, which shows pioneers). Minerva Teichert used a different concept, instead showing how humans have interacted in this fallen world. Her mural ends up being a history of mankind, showing the contrast between those who strive to connect with God and those who do not. Minerva said, "The world has no significance other than people, and that’s what it was created for . . . that’s the story of the world room, it is a ‘people room.'"

Here is the view of the world room as patrons enter from the back. The front of the room is the east wall. The creation and garden rooms are significantly smaller than this room, and as patrons come up the staircase from the garden room into the world room, the effect is breathtaking.

Minerva's mural is basically a history of mankind, beginning on the back (west) wall and moving toward the east.

On the east wall, the Tower of Babel is under construction, one of the earliest stories given in the Bible. From here, the story of mankind splits. The south wall (on the left side) shows the history of Israel; the north wall (on the right side, clearly visible above) shows the history of the gentiles.

Here is the south wall, which shows the history of Israel. 

There are four separate stories here. First, we see Abraham, Sarai, and Lot entering Canaan. This is symbolic of the Abrahamic covenant and the beginning of Israel.

Next, we see Joseph being sold into Egypt by his brothers. 

 

Last on the wall, we Moses confronting the people of Israel who are worshiping a golden calf. Finally, we see a the Pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, awaiting their journey to America. Minerva connected the Pilgrims to Israel: "Israel is embarking to the West for the New World."

On the north wall, Minerva depicted the Gentiles--from the Orient to Europe. There are 3 groups of people in this pageant--those on animals, those walking, and then those in the foreground, representing the poor, oppressed, and afflicted of this world.

There is a window at the northwest corner of the room which goes directly into the temple's Holy of Holies. Beneath this window, Minerva shows Esau selling a slave.

Next comes the Orient section, showing several people from the far east, bearing symbols of their respective religions.

In the final section of the wall, we see crusaders proceeding in a procession, followed by Christopher Columbus on a ship.

In the foreground are the suffering and oppressed, while the religious and proud pass them by. This includes a blind woman, a father with his homeless family, and a mother with her lame son. Below these figures are some small painted banners with words that are now illegible; they used to say things like "Poverty" "Oppressed," etc. One near the front of the room definitely says "To Earth's End," but I can't decipher the first part

Both of these groups--Israel and Gentile--converge at North America, depicted on the west wall, the front of the room.

From the south wall comes a Pilgrim seeking religious freedom; from the north wall comes a trader seeking wealth. They represent the different reasons people came here. A Native American stands between the two, already having claimed America as his home. Behind these three contrasting figures stands Zion, brightly lit, high near the ceiling, representative of the ultimate designs of God and destination of mankind. A temple stands in the city. Minerva clarified: "We have not had in mind any city exactly. It could be Salt Lake, Logan, Provo, Bear Lake, Manti, but it is the place where the little stone cut out of the mountain without hands should begin to roll forth until it should cover the whole earth."

Zion is the ultimate destination of the entire populations depicted in the mural; the murals in the story ultimately are about the journey of mankind toward Zion and a higher plane, just as the endowment is about the story of us progressing back toward the presence of God.

While I love the other murals in the temple (the creation room mural is the oldest existing temple mural still in use), this one receives a lot of attention for good reason. It is a unique depiction of the fallen world that opens up insights into the stories of the endowment ceremony. While I am very glad that the Church has promised to preserve the mural and put it on display, removing the mural from its function--highlighting the progress of mankind, as taught in the endowment--it loses some of its value. The form of the mural is less valuable without its function. My hope is that the Church will be willing to keep the mural in the temple so that it can continue to inspire generations.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Giving Feedback on the Manti Temple Renovation

There are a few ways that interested parties can give feedback to the Church about the upcoming Manti Temple renovation:

  1. There is a Facebook page with updates on ways to get involved, and notification of upcoming events:  

    https://www.facebook.com/preservethemantitemple

  2. The First Presidency has requested a report on concerns about the renovation of the Manti temple

    Anyone who would like to share their concerns about the renovation can email Brother Juan Becerra 

    (JTBecerra@ChurchofJesusChrist.org), and their message will be included in the report to the First Presidency. 

    (Please avoid being critical--effective letters and messages will focus on the meaning of the

     temple to you and its history, and desires for a more sensitive renovation.)

  3. Talk to your Bishop and Stake President.  Let them know your concerns about the plans for the Manti Temple, and ask them to pass your concerns up the chain of authority. It is especially helpful if you also write them a letter, so they can pass your concerns along to the Area Authorities without error or distortion.

  4. Send a copy of your letter to:

Church Office Building

Public Affairs

50 East North Temple

Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

  1. Send your letter via email to: RobertsSS@churchofjesuschrist.org.

  2. Call 801-240-1000 and ask for Tom Owen, who is tasked by the Church to take calls about the Manti Temple project.

     

And if you want, you can sign the petition to preserve the Manti Temple here:

https://www.change.org/p/the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints-save-the-manti-temple-murals.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Preservation Update: Surprise & Sorrow

The Church released a news story today announcing some changes to the Salt Lake Temple renovation and an update on the Manti Temple renovation. In contrast to the earlier announcement, which promised to preserve the Salt Lake Temple's architecture, restoring earlier styles such as paint colors, this news release announced that the Temple will transition to single-room, film-presentation of the endowment ordinance. Not only does this mean the loss of progression and live endowment, but it sounds like the temple will be significantly reconfigured--walls coming down, including murals, many of which will not be able to be preserved. It's Logan all over again.

Here are the releases of the planned endowment rooms. They are ornate, but fairly simple. No murals remain.

Before:

After:

The terrestrial room never had murals, so it looks largely the same, although the seats now face north instead of east.

The Celestial Room looks largely the same:

Furthermore, the release made it clear that the murals were removed, and not all of them were saved. Sure, pictures were taken before they were removed--as was done in Logan--but we probably won't see them again.

Furthermore, the same changes will be made in Manti--murals removed, rooms reconfigured, and presentation changed to single-room, film presentations. Ironically, the St. George Temple seems to have escaped these drastic changes (for now), in spite of its heavy use. Temples renovated earlier (like Idaho Falls, Mesa, and Laie) also escaped these changes. But Salt Lake and Manti--two of the top three most architecturally significant and preserved temples (the third is Cardston)--did not.

Why did this happen?

I personally had a lot of confidence that the Church would preserve the historic components of these temples. This announcement was surprising and disheartening.

The Church has always faced a pendulum with its historic architecture, swinging back and forth between preserving it and removing it. This is for two reasons:

1) Historic buildings are not built for the modern Church. Chapels and tabernacles were too small and too expensive. Temples are inefficient in terms of the number of sessions you can have and the number of people in each session. Live sessions require significantly more work on the part of temple workers. The Logan Temple was drastically remodeled because it was just inefficient and wait times were long. Plenty of tabernacles and chapels were not big enough for modern wards and stakes.

2) Historic buildings do not fit the Church's desired universal standard. Unlike most religious organizations, the Church is centrally managed. Local wards, stakes, and temple districts have little to no say on what is done with the architecture in their area. With worldwide administration, the Church wants to have a consistent experience across the world. This begs the question--should some members get to attend sacrament meeting in an ornate building with stained glass while 95%+ of the Church attends in plain, utilitarian chapels? Should those in Salt Lake or Manti get a different temple experience from those in other countries where there is no live endowment, no historic murals? Should millions more be expended on the preservation of those features?

I personally think that historic architecture that connects us to our past is more important than either of these concerns--and President Nelson's initial announcement of these renovations seemed to support that--but this sudden switch, announced more than a year into the renovation, seems to indicate that there was some debate or hesitancy among the top councils of the Church on these points. The Church also announced these changes after (it appears) murals have already been removed from Salt Lake. There is no way for local (or worldwide) members to petition these decisions.

This makes me significantly more concerned for historic buildings, temples and chapels alike, moving forward. Are we seeing the pendulum swift more toward a focus on efficiency, present uses, and consistency, as was done in the 60s and 70s? Or is this an aberration?

History shows that the Church goes back and forth on this, but the problem is that we can't ever get back the important architectural features that we lost. The connection of the Manti and Salt Lake temples will be gone, just as it is in Logan. History shows that this loss won't be easy--Spencer W. Kimball, who approved the drastic gutting of the Logan Temple, later said he regretted the loss of the original temple's architecture.

Historic architecture connects us to the past and places us in the context of the Church's timeline and our own family's timeline. These experiences are profoundly spiritual and difficult to replicate.