In April 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans for a new "great hall" to accommodate church membership. The building was to hold four to five times as many people as the historic church Tabernacle a number President Hinckley himself said might not be met initially.
But crowds have exceeded expectations ever since that "great hall," the LDS Conference Center, was opened in April 2000. When it was dedicated on Oct. 8, 2000, more than 30,000 people filled the 21,000-seat hall, according to Deseret Morning News archives.
During a prayer to dedicate the center, President Hinckley said the building and other surrounding church properties were a "testimony of the strength and vitality of (God's) work."
"May this area be looked upon as a place of peace, an oasis in the midst of this bustling city," he said. "May it be a place where the weary may sit and contemplate the things of God and the beauties of nature."
Later, President Hinckley noted, "It is not a museum piece, although the architecture is superb. It is a place to be used in honor to the Almighty and for the accomplishment of his eternal purposes."
Since its dedication, the Conference Center has become home to the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Galleries of original artwork grace its halls. Noted musicians and artisans have performed there. It has been a setting for grand productions, including "Light of the World" during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the building. It is not, however, set aside as a place for proselyting like the adjoining Temple Square.
President Hinckley told the Deseret Morning News in 2000: "It is a bold step we are taking. But this boldness is in harmony with the tremendous outreach of the church across the world."
The Conference Center has been said to be the largest auditorium in the world dedicated to religious worship and a legacy of President Hinckley's tenure as leader of the LDS Church. It has a 7,667-pipe organ, was built with 116,000 cubic yards of concrete, has a 92-foot spire and four-acre meadow on top. It was built from the same granite with which the Salt Lake Temple was constructed in the 19th century.
The building's pulpit has a unique connection to President Hinckley. It was made from a walnut tree that grew in the back yard of his Salt Lake home a place where his children "played and also grew," he said during the April 2000 LDS General Conference.
Those who volunteer at the Conference Center say it's a place where the spirit of God is present. During a prayer dedicating the building, President Hinckley prayed that it would be a gathering place and "a thing of beauty to the beholder both inside and out."
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"May it be a house of many uses," he prayed, "a house of culture, a house of art, a house of faith, a house of God. May it give expression to the declaration of the people that if 'there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."'
He continued, "From this pulpit may thy name (God) be spoken with reverence and love. May the name of thy Son be constantly remembered with sacred declaration. May testimony of thy divine work ring forth from here to all the world. May righteousness be proclaimed and evil denounced. May words of faith be spoken with boldness and conviction. May proclamations and declarations of doctrine ring forth to the nations."