Sunday, October 11, 2015

A History of LDS Tabernacles: Part 2 - Early & Accidental Demolitions

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 razing of LDS tabernacles is nothing new; they've been torn down since the early days of the church.  Of course, when we think of LDS Tabernacles, we picture the soaring pipes of the tabernacle in Salt Lake, the beautiful spiral staircases of the tabernacle in St. George, or the colorful stained glass of the tabernacle in Logan. However, many early tabernacles weren't particularly ornate or elaborate; they were simpler structures, reflecting the poverty of the Saints that built them (and also reflecting the broader use of the term 'tabernacle' in the early days of the Church). This probably contributed to the fact that so many of them were torn down without much protest.

For example, the first tabernacle built in Utah was located where the Assembly Hall now stands. It was a simple adobe structure--and it quickly became too small, hence the construction of the newer, now-famous tabernacle to its north, and eventually the Assembly Hall, which took its place.
Other tabernacles were also simple. The tabernacle in Springville was rather plain and small. The first tabernacle built in Provo was also too small by the time it was completed. That is not to say that these structures were ugly--they were plain, but they had their own beauty.

(Snowville, AZ Tabernacle; Image Source: Richard Jackson, Places of Worship)
 (Original Provo Tabernacle; Image Source)

Still, as the Church grew in wealth and size, these tabernacles often became inadequate, and so they were often replaced. At least 8 locations had one tabernacle replace another; in some locations, both tabernacles stood for a period of time. These included Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Kaysville, Richfield, and other cities.

Not all tabernacles were replaced because they were too small or simple. The Granite Stake Tabernacle was a beautiful building, but it was torn down and replaced with a new tabernacle that is just as beautiful (although in different ways).
(Original Granite Stake Tabernacle; Image Source)
(New Granite Stake Tabernacle; Image Source)

It seems that, because most of the tabernacles were simple (and, at the time, not particularly historical) and often replaced with other elaborate buildings, there wasn't very much protest to their being destroyed. One historian noted that when the original Provo Tabernacle was torn down, "no opposition to the plan was advanced...the modern-day movement to preserve significant pioneer-day structure apparently had not surfaced at that time" (La Verl Christensen, Provo's Two Tabernacles).

It appears the buildings were more expendable at that period of time. For example, the tabernacle in Parowan was abandoned in the early twentieth century; not only was it left empty, but members would tear wood off from the building to use for fuel. Not until the tabernacle was purchased by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers organization was it preserved.

(The Parowan Tabernacle sits abandoned and abused; Image Source: Church History Library)

Even if tabernacles weren't expendable, many came down because of natural calamities. The tabernacle in Richmond came down in an earthquake. Many tabernacles burned down: the combination of wood structures and rudimentary heating methods led to many fires. The buildings in Paris, Logan, and Provo (prior to 2010) all experienced fires that were put out before the building burned down (in the case of Logan, the flames were batted out with a heavy carpet from the Relief Society). Tabernacles in Snowflake (AZ) and Brigham City were rebuilt after they burned down. Other tabernacles--in Payson, Moroni, Thatcher (AZ), or Oakley (ID), among others--were never rebuilt after they burned down.
 (The tabernacle in Thatcher, AZ, burned down in 1981; Image Source: Church History Library)

 (Image of bench from original tabernacle; Image Source: Church History Library)

And, in spite of the building skills of the pioneers, some tabernacles were unsafe or had structural problems. The stake records for the Sevier stake (in Richfield) noted that the first tabernacle there was abandoned because, at the last meeting there, "a large piece of ceiling…fell, causing considerable fright and nearly creating a panic among the audience" (Richard Jackson, Places of Worship).

Still, as the Church entered the twentieth century, renovations would become increasingly common. Renovation after renovation, it seemed, was the best way to save a tabernacle.

Next: Part 3 - The End of an Era

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