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.


  1. I stumbled upon your blog while looking for pictures of historic Spanish Fork while writing a history of my Dad who is from there. What a wonderful job you are doing! We need to remember those who came before and built up what we have around us.

  2. I love your blog! Unfortunately I think we have a bunch of Henry D Moyles running the church history and preservation only have to go so far as the "new" church history museum that resemble more of a Apple Computer history tour than a Mormon church history museum. Gone are all the really cool things from our history like the cut outs of boat quarters of the ships used to travel from Liverpool, or the handcarts used to trek across the plains. Instead, we get to push buttons for videos of watered down and sanitized proselitizations (I made that word up of course). We even get to see a "first hand" video look at the peep stone used by Joseph Smith that the church actually has in its possession. Last week I took a tour through Temple Square and the Lion House with friends from the East Coast--who are not Mormons. As we exited the building one of my friends who has little knowledge of Utah and Mormons exclaimed: "Wow, do those girls believe any of that script that they were using on us? I feel like taking an emotional bath after this experience." I am irritated at the churches insatiable need to sanitize everything in its history. The protectionists need to get out and realize that people aren't fooled by the demeaning pandering and solicitist gooey approach (written at about a 4th grade level). My great great grandfather had three what! It is what it is or was what it was! I honor them for their sacrifices, determination, and loyalty to what they felt was truth. But to tell outright lies about Brigham Young and claiming he had only a monogamous family situation at the Lion house really is a stretch of honesty. We should celebrate our history and the contributions of our ancestors.