When firefighters arrived at the burning Provo Tabernacle on December 17, 2010, their first impulse was to demolish the exterior walls with a blast of water, which would be standard procedure in such a situation. But when a crew member readied his water cannon, the fire chief instructed him to back down. That quick decision preserved more than the shell of a building—it preserved a legacy of worship in Provo’s city center.
Since the 1850s, Latter-day Saints have gathered on a central city block in Provo, Utah. There they have learned the gospel of Jesus Christ, made sacred covenants, and served and celebrated together. Early gatherings took place in a meetinghouse and a baptistry. A grand tabernacle later replaced those meeting places. Today, the tabernacle has been transformed into a temple of the Lord.
Provo’s meetinghouse was among the first of its kind in Utah. Brigham Young chose the location in 1849, and Church architect Truman O. Angell designed the building in 1851. Construction began in 1856 and was completed in 1867.
|1856||Construction began on the meetinghouse|
|1875||Baptistry built adjacent to meetinghouse|
The Saints used local materials to build the meetinghouse. Stone and timber came from nearby canyons, and Provo’s brickyards supplied thousands of hand-shaped adobe bricks. A large bell in the tower completed the building.
Although no photographs of the building’s interior survive, written accounts suggest that it was comfortable and impressive. The large main hall had a ceiling 24 feet high; pillars supported a U-shaped balcony and choir lofts; the rostrum, benches, and rails were finely carved; the seats were upholstered with red velvet; and every room was carpeted.
John Taylor dedicated the meetinghouse on Saturday, August 24, 1867. In the prayer, President Taylor consecrated the entire structure, “from the foundation to the topstone,” unto the Lord and blessed the land on which the tabernacle was built as well as the entire valley connected with it.
The Saints were grateful to start using the building for weekly Church meetings as well as special conferences and social events. One of the first gatherings in the new meetinghouse was a special day of fasting and prayer held in behalf of children suffering from a deadly sickness that was sweeping through Provo.
A baptistry was built next to the meetinghouse in 1875 to provide a setting for baptisms that would be more comfortable than a river or millrace. Hundreds of Saints were baptized there until 1912. By then, other meetinghouses in the valley had their own fonts, and the baptistry was no longer needed.
The meetinghouse served the Saints until 1918. When it was torn down, the foundation was buried under what became the north lawn of the larger Utah Stake Tabernacle.
When the meetinghouse was dedicated in 1867, it was already too small. Construction began on a larger tabernacle in 1882 and ended 16 years later. The building served the entire Utah Stake, which at the time spanned the entire Utah Valley. It stood as a landmark in the community for more than 100 years.
|1882||Ground broken for construction of tabernacle|
|1886||April general conference held in tabernacle|
|1887||April general conference held in tabernacle|
|1907||Spire removed from central tower|
|1917||Base of tower removed|
|2010||Tabernacle destroyed by fire|
Church architect William Folsom designed the Utah Stake Tabernacle. The building’s basic pattern resembled the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
When George Q. Cannon dedicated the building on April 17, 1898, he chose faith as his topic. He called the tabernacle an example of the “practical results of faith and unity.”
Even before it was completely finished, the tabernacle was put to use. Sessions of general conferences of the Church were held here in 1886 and 1887. In 1896, two years before it was dedicated, the building hosted a gala celebration of Utah’s statehood. Other gatherings over the years included funerals, lectures, graduation ceremonies, and concerts.
As the population in Utah County grew and the Utah Stake divided, the tabernacle remained a gathering place for stake conferences. To extend its usefulness, it underwent several renovations during its lifetime. Church leaders rededicated the building after major renovations.
On the night of December 17, 2010, the tabernacle caught fire. Although firefighters responded quickly, they were unable to save the interior of the building. Only the outer brick walls remained intact.
During the October 2011 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced that the tabernacle walls would be preserved and the building would be rebuilt to become a holy temple.
|2011||Plans for Provo City Center Temple announced|
|2012||Archaeological excavations of the tabernacle block; ground broken for construction of the temple|
|2016||Provo City Center Temple dedicated|
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland presided at the groundbreaking ceremony held on May 12, 2012, and offered the dedicatory prayer.
Before construction began, archaeologists excavated the foundations of the old meetinghouse and the baptistry. Then, in a remarkable feat of engineering, the tabernacle walls were reinforced with concrete and suspended on more than 300 metal stilts while crews dug down 40 feet to lay a new foundation and basement level.
Architects, historians, and designers used old photographs and salvaged materials from the tabernacle as inspiration for the design of the Provo City Center Temple.
The finished temple will serve as a place where Latter-day Saints can participate in sacred ordinances that will bless them and their kindred dead. It continues the legacy of worship that has taken place on this block over many generations.
Special thanks to the staff and students at the BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures who contributed to the content and design of this exhibit.