Friday, July 5, 2013

Salt Lake Assembly Hall at Temple Square

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

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


Thank you to the following sites for resources and information regarding the Assembly Hall: Utah.comelliotti.tripod.com, byujourneys.org, Wikipedia, and ldsarchitecture.wordpress.com.

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.

5 comments:

  1. Great photos. Why did they make it smaller than the building that was demolished before it?m

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  2. Wow Rob, you have a lot of good questions, and frankly I don't know. It didn't make much sense to me either. One thought was that they misjudged on how many people it would fit and another thought that I had was that the original plan was to make it 3000 but they scaled it down once they realized that that wouldn't be very practical considering that they had just finished the tabernacle and the Assembly Hall wasn't going to get anywhere near the Tabernacle's capacity. But really, I have no idea.

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  3. Huh. I never really thought much about the history of Utah. That's why this blog is so great. It's made me think about this place in a new way.

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  4. Why did they decide to build it in a gothic style? For that matter, why did they build the temple in a gothic style? When did the church move away from gothic motifs towards a more modern look and why?

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  5. Thanks, and once again, I don't know about the gothic style. I think that may be since it uses the same material as the temple, they wanted the same style, which is at least somewhat gothic. As far as when they moved away from gothic motifs, it might be a better question to look at when they moved towards it. The other temples built around the same time (Manti, St. George, Logan, Nauvoo) don't have as gothic a feel as the Salt Lake Temple (although the Logan and Manti are styled in the gothic revival in addition to several other styles, such as the French Renaissance Revival) . I think that the gothic (and romanesque) feel of the Salt Lake temple is quite unique. As far as why more temples didn't copy either the romanesque or gothic motifs, I think that it is a difficult and expensive style and unless one is willing to put for the money and time it is a difficult style to replicate.

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