The first microfilm rolls were transferred in April 1963, even though construction wasn't completed until the following December, when the facility was open for public tours.
Visitors described the three long, narrow corridors and four cross tunnels, while media reports noted the $2 million price tag. Some 675 feet of granite rock guarded the tunnels from above, and reinforced entrance doors weighing 9 to 14 tons each were said to be able to withstand a nuclear blast.
Steel and concrete lined the tunnels, with banks of metal storage cabinets reaching 10 feet high. The arched interiors were painted in pastel colors, the Deseret News reported, "to alleviate the monotony and eliminate the cavernous atmosphere."
The site was fully operational in 1965, named in May 1966 and dedicated on June 22, 1966.
Forty-plus years later, the vault boasts the world's largest collection of family history information.
Microfilm masters — negatives used for duplication and digitization — occupy 60 percent of Granite Mountain's space. Duplicate rolls are sent to the Family History Library, family history centers and patrons to the tune of 4 million images a week. Digital images are indexed and used in online research.
Digitization started in 2002 as a tedious process. Scanners of that era had trouble reading underexposed and overexposed images as light densities varied even on the same microfilm roll, meaning operators had to closely watch for problems, stop, back up, readjust and repeat.
Conversion to digital images was projected then to take more than a century, Verkler said.
The church has worked with international scanner manufacturers to develop improved scan rates and procedures. "We think we're going to be producing 10 times the images we were five years ago," Verkler said.
Thompson cites two advantages provided by the granite mountainside vault — a protected environment from intruders, fire, earthquake and disaster as well as a stable storage environment. Improvements in 2001 led to constants of 55-degree temperature and 35 percent humidity.
Besides genealogical preservation and storage, Granite Mountain Records Vault serves as the deep archives for a myriad of church materials — including scriptures in every language published, large leather-bound temple ordinance books that were hand-kept through the 1960s, materials and minutes from presiding priesthood quorums, financial records, backup tapes and audio-visual masters from "Legacy" to "Johnny Lingo."
"Once the original records are there, they generally don't leave," said Thompson.
Nor likely seen or touched either.
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