Monday, September 9, 2013

The unexpected death that saved the Lion and Beehive Houses

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections

When Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, P. T. Barnum, and the emperor of Brazil all visited Salt Lake, they all had the luck of staying at what is now a National Historic Landmark: the Brigham Complex, more commonly known as the Beehive and Lion Houses.

The best history of the Beehive and Lion Houses can be found on Wikipedia.  It reads: "The Beehive house was constructed in 1854, two years before the Lion House.  The Lion House is adjacent to the Beehive House, and both homes are one block east of the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square on the street South Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It is constructed of adobe and sandstone.

"Young was a polygamist, and the Beehive House was designed to accommodate him and his wives and his children by them.  As Young's family grew, the Lion House was built to accommodate them and became his official residence after its construction.  Upon completion of the Lion House, Young briefly shared the Beehive House with his senior (and only legally recognized) wife Mary Ann Angell (1803-1882), though she chose to make her home in a smaller private residence called White House on the property.  Young's first polygamous wife, Lucy Ann Decker young (1822-1890), possibly due to her seniority, became hostess of the Beehive House and lived there with her nine children.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

"The Beehive House is connected by a suite of rooms to the Lion House.  This suite included Young's offices and his private bedroom where he died in 1877.

"The Beehive House served as the executive mansion of the Territory of Utah from 1852 to 1855 and was where Young entertained important guests.  Beehive House was replaced as the Executive Mansion by the much grander Second Empire [architectural style] mansion Gardo House which was not completed until after Young's death, at which time it was briefly occupied by Young's successor John Taylor and his successor Wilford Woodruff, while the Young family maintained Beehive House as part of Brigham Young's personal estate.  There was much dispute and some litigation by Young's heirs as to what was Brigham Young's property and what was the church's property, and the home was among the properties in contention; title to Beehive House was ultimately given to Young's heirs who then sold the house to the LDS Church.  As church property it was used as the official home of Church Presidents Lorenzo Snow and his successor Joseph F. Smith, both of whom died in the mansion.  Smith, who died in 1918, was the last LDS President to practice polygamy at the time of his death and shared the residence with four of his wives.

"After Joseph F. Smith's death the mansion became the home economics wing of Latter-day Saints' University, and then a dormitory for young women.  The Young Women's organization of the Church also rented out rooms in the home for wedding receptions.

"A beehive atop the mansion was used by Young to represent industry, an important concept in Mormonism.  In fact, prior to statehood, the territorial government requested that the state be name Deseret, another word for 'Honeybee' according to Latter-day Saint belief.  Instead the United States government chose to name the state Utah, after the Ute Indians, though the beehive was later incorporated into the state's official emblem."  Similar to the Beehive House, the Lion House derives its name from the large lion lying above the front doorway.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1858.

The preservation of the Lion House and Beehive House can be almostly completely attributed Florence Smith Jacobsen, a prominent Mormon who served as the LDS Church Curator, the LDS Young Women's President, and an avid supporter of historic preservation.  The following story of Jacobsen (who is referred to as Sister Jacobsen, "sister" coming from the title that Mormon's commonly give to women) is from  There are several terms that are specific to the LDS church, and I have linked most of them to Wikipedia articles to help explain exactly what they mean.

"The restoration of the Lion and Beehive Houses were particularly important projects to Sister Jacobsen.  She remembered visiting her grandfather, Joseph F. Smith, in the Beehive House when he lived there as Church president and had fond memories of her experiences there.  The Lion House was important to her in part because for years it was used to house young women as they attended college in Salt Lake City...

"To help tell the story of Sister Jacobsen and the Lion House a few details need to be provided about President Henry D. Moyle.  President Moyle was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and ordained in April of 1947.  In June of 1959 David O. McKay called him to be the second counselor in the First Presidency, and upon the death of J. Reuben Clark in 1961, President Moyle became President McKay's First Counselor [essentially making him the next in line to become the Mormon president].  As an apostle Elder Moyle was involved with many of the Church's investments and monetary issues.  These responsibilities increased when he became a member of the First Presidency.  At that time he was also placed in charge of the Church's building program.  In these capacities he played an important role in many of the redevelopment projects that took place in Salt Lake City in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Among the projects that he helped to initialize were the expansion of the Z.C.M.I. Mall and the downtown placement of the Federal Building.  Several decades before the Conference Center was built he helped propose that the Church building a large church auditorium for General Conferences to replace the too-small Tabernacle.  He dropped this plan when the Salt Palace was proposed by community planners.  When that project was proposed he suggested to the planners that the proposed 15,000-seat arena was too small and suggested that the capacity be increased to 25,000.

"When it came to preserving old building of historical interest, President Moyle's opinion was exactly the opposite of Sister Jacobsen's.  According to his biography President Moyle 'had little empathy' for the cause of historians and preservationists.  When it came to historical preservation President Moyle's attitude seemed to be one of 'progress must progress.'  He felt that the current and future needs and concerns of the Church were far more important than saving old buildings.  Happily nothing came from President Moyle's off-hand remark that if the Beehive House and Lion House were taken down, a 'good building' could be put up on the site.  At one point, speaking of the Lion and Beehive Houses, President Moyle was reported to have made a comment that they should be 'taken down, a good building could be put up on the site.'

"The differing opinions of these two strong willed leaders on the importance of preserving these historical buildings led to a confrontation, the story of which thankfully has been preserved by the interviewing efforts of David O. McKay's biography Greg Prince.  While working on his biography David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism Prince interviewed Florence and Ted Jacobsen.  This interview gives us the extra detail of why President Moyle and perhaps other Church leaders felt some motivation to demolish the Lion House in particular, and it preserves for us an unusual story of general Church auxiliary leader standing up to and even defying a member of the First Presidency.  After becoming the Young Women President, Sister Jacobsen put together a proposal for the restoration of the Lion House.  She was told to give her proposal to President Moyle.  Speaking of this meeting Sister Jacobsen told Prince that:
"'I was appointed to go and see, not President McKay, but Henry D. Moyle who was a counselor.  And Brother Moyle just said, "No way.  We're going to tear that house down for a driveway from the parking lot underneath"for the high-rise parking lot.  He said, "That's all planned, Florence.  That house is going to go down."  I said, "President Moyle, you just can't do that."  And he said, "Florence, all it does is remind people of polygamy."  I said, "Well, I'm not ashamed of it.  Are you?"  And he said, "That's not a fair question."  I said, "It's fair in my book."  But he was just adamant that house was going to go down.  Well about five months later he was gone.  He died.'
"After President Moyle's death Sister Jacobsen tried again, this time going straight to President McKay.  She proposed to President McKay that they preserve and convert the Lion House into its present form as a restaurant and a banquet hall.  She told him that 'We'll maintain the standards of the Church.  There will be no smoking or drinking.  We won't serve coffee.  We'll just do what we should do, and it will be a beautiful center.  And it will be wonderful for the weddings.'  She reported that President McKay looked up at his counselors and he said, 'Brethren, I'm all for it.  Will you sustain me in this?'  President Tanner was a little reluctant.  He said, 'I just think we're preserving too many old buildings.'  But despite some concerns from President Tanner, Sister Jacobsen had the most important supporter necessary this time, President David O. McKay.  The project was approved, the Lion House was preserved, and within a few years the Church's monetary investment in the building had been returned.

"While I am not recommending or suggesting that it is okay to defy a member of the First Presidency, I find this an interesting story about how the pluck and determination of a historically minded woman paid off.  In honor of Sister Jacobsen's 100th birthday, her role as a historical preservationist, and perhaps in honor of her pluck, may I suggest that those who have a chance to do so visit the Lion House in the near future and eat one of their famous 'Lion House Rolls' smothered in honey butter.  My mouth is watering already."

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections

While I do love the buildings, especially compared to what was supposed to go in their place (a driveway), I have never been impressed by their food.  I say that with hesitation because I know a lot of people who love to eat at the Lion House.  Last time I was there, when I asked if they have any vegetarian options, I was recommended the clam chowder.  I began to stutter, not knowing how to respond, and the cook asked, "How vegetarian are you?" and then recommended a salad.  I did enjoy the gardens in the back, and if like me you do not find their food particularly appetizing, you can at least eat it in some pretty gardens.

The Beehive House is currently one of the best ethnographic museums in Utah, giving visitors an idea of what life was like in Territorial Utah.  Tours are available between 9 AM to 9 PM Monday through Saturday and begin every 10 minutes.  The Lion House Pantry is open between 11 AM and 8 PM Monday through Saturday.

One of the biggest visual reminders of Brigham Young's Complex is the Eagle Gate Monument, the large structure that spans State Street.  Next to the monument is an excellent plaque that describes the history of the Monument.  It reads:

"The Eagle Gate marked the entrance to the homestead of Brigham Young.  During the early settlement of the valley, Brigham Young was allotted the land lying athwart the mouth of City Creek Canyon.  His New England heritage prompted him to desire the privacy given by a high wall around the property as well as for the protection it afforded.

"Erected in 1859, the gate has through the years become the symbol of the man who built it.  The original eagle and the supporting beehive were carved from five laminated wooden blocks and rested upon curved wooden arches, having their anchor on the cobblestone wall surrounding the estate.  Large wooden gates closed the twenty-two foot opening at night, securing behind them the Beehive House, the Lion House, and the private offices between them, the beautiful flower gardens, the private school, and the barns, shed, granaries, silkworm cocooneries, orchards, and vegetable gardens.

"In 1891 the gates were removed and the entrance widened into a street.  At that time the eagle was sent east, electroplated with copper, and raised on new supports resting on cut stone pillars. in 1960, when the street was again widened, the wood under the copper plating had deteriorated and the eagle could not be remounted.

"The bronze gateway, its eagle a scale enlargement of the original, has been erected as a tribute to the pioneers who founded this commonwealth."  The current eagle, which was put in place in 1963, has a wingspan of 20 feet and weighs 4000 pounds.  The original eagle is currently on display at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum located at 300 N. Main Street.  That museum is one of the coolest I have ever been to and is free so I highly recommend you go and check it out (and make sure you look for the beautiful intricate yet somewhat disgusting wreathes made of human hair).

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Thank you to the following websites for assisting me while researching this subject: wikipedia (which provided two articles, the second being this one),, the Deseret News (which also provided two articles, the second being this one), and

LOST IN HISTORY:  For years, travelers were required to pay a toll when passing through Eagle Gate to City Creek Canyon since State Street, north of South Temple and into the canyon, was a toll road.  In what year was State Street finally opened to the public and the toll eliminated?

Answer to the previous "Lost in History":  The tallest building in Salt Lake City before the Church Office Building was the Utah State Capitol Building, which stands at 285 feet tall.  The Capitol Building, which held the record for 57 years, held the record longer than any other building in Utah's history.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Block 57: The LDS Church Administration Block

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Since settling the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, Salt Lake has been the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS or Mormon church.  As such, downtown Salt Lake has seen a steady change throughout its history as the LDS church grew and expanded and the need for an administration building steadily increased.  One of the most prominent and continual changes can be found on Salt Lake's Block 57, the block just east of Temple Square, which historically was called the Church Administration Block.

The Deseret News reported, "The first office building for LDS church leaders in Salt Lake was built in 1848 by Daniel H. Wells, superintendent of public works.  It measured 18 feet by 12 feet and had a slanting roof covered with boards and dirt.  Its exact location is unknown, but it was the church headquarters for two years.  The 'White House' or 'Mansion House' came next.  It was constructed between 1848 and 1850 and was the home of President Brigham Young, on East South Temple Street, where the Elks Club building now stands [139 E. South Temple]."  After the White House, several different locations were used, such as the Beehive House and the Gardo House.

By the early 20th century, the LDS church realized that the President's Office did not provide adequate space for the growing church.  Throughout the first years in Utah, the LDS church was bogged down by debt.  By the beginning of the 20th century, with debts finally cleared, the LDS church began several ambitious construction projects on the Administration Block, including the Hotel Utah, the Deseret Gymnasium, and the Administration Building.  Only after these projects neared completion did Joseph F. Smith, then-president of the LDS church, begin to consider a church office building. 

Joseph Don Carlos Young, the son of Brigham Young, served as the architect and quickly began to draw out plans.  A five-story neoclassical building was designed with 24 stone columns to give it a more classical feel.  The same quarry was used that previously served to furnish the stone for the Salt Lake Temple.  However unlike the Salt Lake Temple, which used loose boulders along the valley floor, the building that later became known as the Church Administration Building (or CAB) used stones carved from the granite cliffs.  The largest stone weighed 8 tons; more than 6,200 tons of granite was excavated for the building.  After 3 years of construction, the building was officially completed on Oct. 2, 1917.

A common practice among the LDS church is to dedicate a building after its completion and before its use.  Even though the CAB was finished in 1917, it was not dedicated until 1972.  A series of events, such as the death of Joseph F. Smith and limited public gatherings due to the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, prevented the building from being dedicated after it was completed.  After several years the dedication was altogether forgotten, and the oversight was only realized after close examination by church historians 55 years later.

For a complete history of the Church Administration Building, please refer to this excellent BYU article.  The building currently houses most of the offices for high ranking LDS individuals and is not open to the public, although it is occasionally used for various events and ceremonies, such as funerals and the location of a meeting between then-president Gordon B. Hinckley and past US president George W. Bush in 2002.

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Initially, the Church Administration Building housed all administrative offices of the LDS Church, but as membership grew, LDS workers were scattered in office buildings throughout Salt Lake City, and some were located as far as Brigham Young University, 40 miles to the south in Provo.  By the 1960's the CAB was completely inadequate, and the LDS church looked to expand its small headquarters.

Plans developed to construct a new office building, which later became known as the Church Office Building, or the COB.  Construction occurred between 1962 and 1972 at a cost of $31.  When completed the building soared 420 feet, 28 stories, above the corner of State and North Temple.  However, originally the plans called for a building 38 stories high.  Feasibility in the plumbing and heating systems caused planners to ultimately cut the top 10 stories.

The saddest story regarding the construction of the COB was the complete disregard of historic buildings on the Administration Block.  The COB required extensive excavation, at the time the largest in Utah's history, and several buildings were demolished to make room for the COB and eventual gardens.  An excellent blog regarding the demolished buildings can be read by clicking here.  The Latter-day Saints' University, which included the LDS Business College Building, Barratt Hall, and the Brigham Young Building; the Genealogical Society Building; the Sherrill Apartments; and the Mission Home were all destroyed to accommodate the COB.  That same year the Bishop's Building and the Deseret Gymnasium were demolished to make way for the gardens at Temple Square.  I found it difficult to find any information on any of these building, but I did find an excellent source from Google Books about the Deseret Gymnasium that can be read by clicking here.  Below are pictures of some of the buildings that were demolished:

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1910.

Historic photo courtesy of wikimedia

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1962.

The demolition of these buildings creates an interesting argument on the value of historical buildings and whether those buildings or the current gardens would have better served the missionary oriented goals of the LDS church.  Millions of people visit Temple Square every year, several to walk around the beautifully manicured gardens.  It could be argued that those same people would not have visited to see old historic buildings that were dwarfed by more important buildings at Temple Square, such as the Salt Lake Temple and the Tabernacle.

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1909.

Whether or not the demolished buildings would have served the gospel-sharing mission of the LDS church, the demolition of the buildings on the Administration Block set a horrible, anti-preservation precedent for the LDS church.  This precedent led to the demolition of many historical buildings, such as the LDS Temple Annex, the Lehi Tabernacle, and the Sixth Ward Chapel.  Ultimately I do not believe that the discussion should be about historical preservation versus modernization because I think that the two can and should coexist.  It is simply a matter of creating priorities and preserving Utah's architectural heritage while creating a modern architectural heritage of our own.  The gardens at Temple Square could have and should have been created with historical preservation in mind.

The Central Office Building has had a prominent role in Salt Lake, if not its skyline.  Upon completion, the COB was the tallest building in Salt Lake at 420 feet.  It was rumored for several years that buildings taller than 420 feet were not permitted as to allow the COB to be the tallest and most principal building in Salt Lake.  Even though a taller building was finally built, the Wells Fargo Building, the COB still appears taller since it sits at a higher elevation.  Interestingly Salt Lake zoning laws in the downtown area prohibit buildings over 375  feet unless additional setbacks are incorporated into the architecture and additional money is spent on "enhanced amenities," such as public art.  As such, it is likely that the COB will continue to soar over the central business district for some time to come.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

photo courtesy of wikipedia

One of the most enjoyable parts of the building are the observation decks located at the top.  Visitors can enjoy views of Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front between 9 AM and 4:30 PM on Mondays through Fridays.  A few years back, some adventurous individuals decided to take advantage of this opportunity and BASE jump off of the observation deck.  While it is illegal and they were eventually caught and charged, it did provide a really entertaining video.

Church Office Building from Marshall Miller on Vimeo.

Thank you to the following sources that assisted me during my research of the Administrative Block: the Deseret News (which provided two sources, the second being this one),, wikipedia (which also provided two sources, the second being this one),,, and BYU.

LOST IN HISTORY: In 1972, the COB stole the record of "tallest building in Salt Lake City" from a building that held the record for 57 years.  What was that building?  As an additional hint, it was not the Walker Building (which would have been my first guess).

Answer to the previous "Lost In History": The animal that started calling the Joseph Smith Memorial Building home in 1984 was the peregrine falcon.  If you would like to watch the falcons, you can check out these video cameras that have been set up in the two nesting boxes near the top of the building.  Also, as you travel south on State Street, there is a street sign near the Joseph Smith Memorial Building warning motorists to be aware of people slowing down in their cars to view the falcons.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Grande Dame: the Hotel Utah (aka the Joseph Smith Memorial Building)

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated ca. 1855

The block directly east of the Salt Lake Temple is historically not considered part of Temple Square.  However after the purchase of Main Street between North Temple and South Temple by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called Mormon or LDS) in 1999 that block feels very much a modern extension of Temple Square.  All of the buildings currently standing on that block have deep Mormon ties, and as such are relevant to the posts about Temple Square.  The Joseph Smith Memorial Building, originally called the Hotel Utah, is the most striking of all of the buildings to me.  It is the only building in Salt Lake that I remember visiting during various vacations throughout my childhood to Utah.  It holds a very fond place in my memory and my heart.

Prior to the construction of the Hotel Utah, the northeast corner of Main and South Temple was the location of the LDS Church's general tithing office, a bishop's storehouse, and a printing location for the Deseret News.

The idea of the Hotel Utah was first conceived in 1909.  While the LDS church was the main investor, it was the brainchild of several prominent Salt Lake businessmen, both Mormon and non-Mormon.  Plans for construction were quickly assembled.  Within two years the the 10-story building was completed.  The building had a concrete and steel structure and was covered with white glazed terra cotta and brick.

At the time of its completion, the Deseret News claimed, "There are larger hotels than the Utah, and there are those which cost more money, but there is not a hotel from the Atlantic to the Pacific which has the elegance, the comfort and the general beauty possessed by the Hotel Utah."  The Hotel Monthly magazine echoed, "No other hotel anywhere in the world has a more interesting or beautiful setting."  Below is a picture of the main lobby.

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1911.

The Hotel played an important role in early Utah social life.  "The largest and finest bar in the West" was installed in the basement to help pay for the cost of construction.  Due to its central location at South Temple and Main, it become a convenient location for gatherings, and latter became a location for parties during prohibition and the jazz era of the 20's and 30's.

The Hotel hosted every president from Taft in 1911 to Ronald Reagan in the 1980's.  Taft, who was the heaviest president ever, lodged in the $6-a-day Presidential Suite.  Records from his stay show that for breakfast "Big Bill" ate broiled sirloin steak, bacon, eggs, cantaloupe, sliced peaches, potatoes mashed in cream, toast, rolls, and coffee.  The meal cost $2.15.

The hotel went through several renovations after its construction.  By 1925 the Hotel had added an additional 164 rooms.  In 1940 an underground parking garage was added, which some claim to be the first of its kind in the US.  In 1961 the restaurant on the roof of the building was enclosed to provide year around dining.  Air conditioning was added in 1967.  In 1974 the East and West wings were expanded towards the north to accommodate 160 new guest rooms, a grand ballroom, a spacious exhibit area, smaller meeting rooms, and another restaurant.  Evidence of this expansion can be seen upon close examination of the building.  If you look at the wall on the west side of the building while standing in Main Street Plaza, you may notice that the bricks about 2/3rds of the way from South Temple suddenly turn to a slightly different shade of white, although they are hard to notice unless you know to look for them.

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections. Photo dated 1914.

In January, 1978 "the grande dame" was named to the National Register of Historic Place, for, as the state-prepared nomination form says, its uniqueness, "architectural beauty, historic location, and tradition [that] makes it the best known hotel in Utah."

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1911.

In 1987, the Hotel closed for extensive renovations.  The building reopened in 1993 as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.  Then-president of the LDS church Gordon B. Hinkley decided to name the building after Joseph Smith because Utah's capital had several locations named in honor of Brigham Young yet none in honor of Mormonism's founder.  Today, the building continues to serve the LDS Church and includes the FamilySearch Center, the Legacy Theatre, three restaurants, and several rooms that can be rented for receptions and weddings.

2011 was the 100 year celebration of the building.  An excellent website was developed where people can record their memories about the Hotel Utah.  The stories are touching, and I encourage you to go through and read a few.  A quick blurt from one of the stories from 1934 goes, "We stayed at the Hotel Utah that night and it seemed like the spacious beauty of Heaven."

Historic photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1912.

Thanks to the following websites for their assistance in researching the Joseph Smith Memorial Building:, and the Deseret News.

LOST IN HISTORY: On a yearly basis, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building is in the news because of a specific animal that started calling the building its home in 1984.  What is the animal?

Answer to the previous "Lost in History":  Three temples located in Utah were announced after construction had begun on the Salt Lake Temple but were completed before Salt Lake Temple finished in 1893.  These were the temples located in St. George (1884), Logan (1884), and Manti (1888)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Salt Lake LDS Temple

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated ca. 1887

On the 24th of July, 1847, pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormons or LDS) arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.  A mere four days latter, the 28th of July, Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormons, drove his cane into a spot of ground and declared that the location would be where the LDS members would build the Salt Lake Temple.

Constructing the temple was a long, 40 year affair.  Truman O. Angell, Sr. was named head architect of the building.  He traveled to Europe to study the cathedrals located around the continent.  Young gave Angell a very rough sketch of the building that he wanted constructed.  "Brigham Young drew upon a slate in the architect's office a sketch, and said to Truman O. Angell: 'There will be three towers on the east, representing the President and his two counselors; also three similar towers on the west representing the Presiding Bishop and his two counselors; the towers on the east the Melchisedek priesthood, those on the west the Aaronic priesthood.  The center towers will be higher than those on the sides, and the west towers a little lower than those on the east end.  The body of the building will be between these.'" 

Young originally called for the site of the temple to be forty acres but later reduced it to ten acres to make it compatible with the ten-acre blocks proposed for the city.  The reduction in the lot size left the Salt Lake Temple on what is the northeast quadrant of the present site rather than what would have been the middle of the originally proposed forty-acre site.

The temple holds a central location in Salt Lake geography.  Salt Lake is laid out in a grid with South Temple and Main Street, which previously was called East Temple, serving a zero.  Every block traveled from those roads, the address increases by 100.  It can be a horribly confusing system for visitors, but once you finally figure it out, it makes it incredibly easy to get around anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley.  It also makes it so that every address in Salt Lake Valley refers to how far that location is from the Temple.  For example, 900 E 900 S is nine blocks east and nine blocks south of the Temple and Temple Square.

In 1852, construction began on the 14 foot wall around the temple block, now known as Temple Square.  During a conference held in October 1852, Heber C. Kimball asked whether the temple should be built using sandstone, adobe, or "the best stone we can find in these mountains."  The congregation voted for the best stone possible.  In the mid 1850's, deposits of granite were discovered in Little Cottonwood Canyon, twenty miles southeast of Salt Lake City, and it was determined that it should be quarried for the temple's construction.  The temple site was dedicated on Fedruary 14, 1853.  Some claim that the photo below is a image of the groundbreaking ceremony.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

The Utah War started in 1857, sending US troops to Utah.  To protect the temple grounds, pioneers covered the temple foundation to make it appear as if it were a farm.  After the tensions eased in 1858, the foundation was uncovered only to discover that several of the sandstone blocks originally used had cracked.  These stones were removed and replaced with granite stones from the Little Cottonwood Quarry.  Rebuilding the foundation proceeded slowly; the foundation did not reach ground level until 1867, fourteen years after the original cornerstones were laid.  The picture below shows Temple Square and the temple's foundation in 1867.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

In 1869, a solution was found to the extremely long trip required to haul stone by oxen.  In 1869 the transcontinental railroad had been completed at Promontory Summit and in that same year a rail line called the Utah Southern was completed towards Utah County.  Near the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, this rail line curved towards the east, following the current TRAX line in Draper, to make the Little Cottonwood Quarry more accessible.  Shipping the stone blocks to the temple via rail car rather than oxen saved considerable time and dramatically sped up the temple's construction.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1886.

Construction steadily continued until April 6, 1892, when LDS members gathered at Temple Square to hear "The Capstone March" played by a local band.  That day the capstone, the circular ball on the center eastern spire, was placed.  The ball was hollowed out and filled with scriptures, books, and historical mementos, including music, coins, photographs, and "a polished brass plaque inscribed with historical information."  Later that day the 12.5 foot tall statue of the Angel Moroni, the first on any temple in Utah, was placed atop the 210 foot tall eastern spire. 

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

 Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

After construction was completed, then-president of the LDS church Wilford Woodruff asked that the interior of the temple be completed within one year.  Carpenters, artists, glassblowers, and seamstresses worked almost constantly to complete the project within the proscribed timeframe.  Woodruff dedicated the temple on April 6, 1893, exactly forty years after the cornerstone was laid.  At the time of construction, the temple cost $3.5 million to complete.

 Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1908

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1911

While constructing the Temple, the Mormon pioneers crafted several symbolic features into the building's stones.  One of the most prominent is the Big Dipper, which is on the west side of the building.  The constellation references how the temple can help people find their way back to heaven.  One of my favorite symbolic additions are the "moonstones", stones with the moon cut into them, near what would be the top of the 1st floor.  These stones, which represent life in all of its phases, if followed from right to left successively represent the moon's new, first-quarter, full, and third-quarter phases.  If you'd like to read more about the symbolism in the building, click here.

While Temple Square is the most popular tourist attraction in Utah, only Mormons with a temple recommend can enter inside of the building.  In 1911 a man named Gisbert Bossard took several photos inside the temple.  The photos were given to Max Florence who attempted to sell them in New York while conducting a series of lectures using the photos.  This controversial issue died once a buyer could not be found, and the LDS church published the book House of the Lord, which contained higher quality photos of the temple's inside.  Currently photos of the interior can be seen in the South Visitors Center and a very elaborate diorama of the inside of the building can be viewed at this KSL site.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Photo courtesy of

A common rumor associated with the Salt Lake temple is that Brigham Young had the foresight or revelation from God to keep the pillars hollow, which were later used as elevators.  Unfortunately, this is just an urban myth and is not true.  The areas were kept hollow for elevators, but the technology was already know by the temple's builders.  In fact, the technology existed long before the construction of the Temple; the Palace of Versailles had an elevator installed as early as 1743.  

Another common rumor about the Temple are about the numerous tunnels leading to and from the Temple to various locations around Salt Lake City.  Utah Stories did an excellent summary of the tunnels, discussing that there are tunnels and many are used on a daily basis by temple patrons.  There is the possibility of other tunnels, which is not unusual of any city older than 100 years.  Finally, Utah Stories discusses additional tunnels found around Salt Lake City, including the tunnel from the City and County Building to what was previously the jail, now currently the public library.

Probably the most fantastic legend regarding the temple is about the statue of the Angel Moroni.  Rumors claim that the statue is made of pure gold, although it is actually made of bronze and covered in gold leaf (one story I heard claims that someone once tried to steal the statue using a helicopter because they thought that it was solid gold).  Many claim that the gold came from the Lost Rhodes Mine, a mine somewhere in the Uinta mountains.  One website states, "The story begins with Brigham Young adopting and baptizing Chief Wakara, of the Ute Indians, as a member of the Mormon Church.  Wakara made an agreement with Brigham that he could designate one man as his representative and Wakara would show him where a fabulous gold mine was located.  Brigham designated Thomas Rhoades as his representative.  Wakara took Rhoads to the secret place where the gold was hidden, only after he and Brigham had agreed that no other man would ever know it's location.... According to the story the mine was located in the Unita Mountains, in an area approximately 75 miles long from Hanna to White Rocks."  Legend says that the mine brought a bounty of gold wealth to the early Mormon church, but all attempts to find it since have been fruitless.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.

Thanks to the follow sites that assisted me in researching about the Salt Lake Temple:, Wikipedia, Brigham Young University,,, and Utah History to Go.

LOST IN HISTORY: Although the Salt Lake Temple was the first temple that the Mormon pioneers in Utah started constructing, it was not the first to be completed.  Which temples in Utah were completed before the Salt Lake Temple?

Answer to the previous "Lost In History": The historical item that was attached to the center spire of the Assembly Hall was the angel attached to the top of the Nauvoo Temple.  Although this angel is often associated with Moroni due to Moroni's prominence atop LDS temples, the angel was of no individual in particular.  As opposed to the current image of the angel Moroni, which stands vertically, the angel atop the Nauvoo temple laid horizontally.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Salt Lake Assembly Hall at Temple Square

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Finding ample meeting space was a constant struggle for the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also referred to as the LDS or Mormon church).  After building multiple tabernacles and boweries, the pioneers finally constructed the Tabernacle which currently sits on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  The Tabernacle could not be adequately heated during the winter and consequently in 1877 the old (or adobe) tabernacle was demolished in order to construct the Assembly Hall.

The Assembly Hall was built mostly using left over granite from the Salt Lake Temple.  Unlike the Temple, the granite for the Assembly Hall was not finished nor polished which gives it a rougher, gray appearance.  Construction continued for 3 years, and the building was dedicated in 1882.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Original photo dated 1910

During construction, the building was often referred to as the "new tabernacle."  Then president of the LDS church John Taylor corrected the confusion by naming it the "Salt Lake Assembly Hall" in 1879.  Every member of the Latter-day Saint community was asked to contribute the equivalent of one day's pay or one day's labor to the construction of the building.  The building originally was meant to hold around 3,000, but it currently only sits around 1,400, less that the old, adobe tabernacle that was razed.  People from Provo may recognize the building because the Assembly Hall was used as a blueprint for later construction of the Provo Tabernacle.

The building has several architectural features that I have found confusing, one being the prominent star of David over the entrance.  The year the building was finished, 1880, was the "jubilee year," or 50th anniversary of the founding of the LDS church.  Consequently builders decided to incorporate the star in reference to the Israelite jubilee celebrations in the Old Testament.  An additional oddity are the spires, several of which are truncated.  These spires previously served as chimneys.  Finally, I have often wondered about the incorporation of the large flowers around the ceiling.  These flowers are sego lilies, the Utah state flower and an important food source for early pioneers.  Murals of important figures and locations in the LDS church were previously painted on the ceiling, although these have since been removed.

 Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Original photo dated 1880.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.

Extensive renovations occurred between 1979 and 1983, which mainly consisted of making the building and its roof more structurally sound.  Like the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall has mainly served as a meeting hall and a location for musical concerts. It still fulfills that purpose today, serving as the location for the Temple Square Concert Series, meetings, and overflow for General Conference, a bi-annual LDS meeting.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Originally photo dated 1927.

Thank you to the following sites for resources and information regarding the Assembly Hall:,, Wikipedia, and

LOST IN HISTORY: Originally the Assembly Hall had an interesting historical item, which was later removed, attached to its center spire. What was it?

Answer to the previous "Lost In History": The ingredient that was included in the plaster for the Tabernacle ceiling to make it harder was cattle hair.