Work advanced as far as the laying of a foundation before the project was abandoned on Brigham Young's advice. Provo's center and the location of its first major meetinghouse moved east in 1856 to today's location — Block 66, or "Tabernacle Block."
A structure called the "Old Meetinghouse" or "the Old Tabernacle" preceded the Provo Tabernacle. Facing Center Street and finished in 1861, the first building was constructed of timber, adobe and stone and soon was deemed inadequate. In his 1867 dedicatory remarks, Brigham Young acknowledged the need for a larger edifice.
Titles to public squares in the late 19th century had to be conferred by the U.S. government; President Ulysses S. Grant did just that in 1871 correspondence with Provo Mayor Abraham O. Smoot. Three years later, Block 66's ownership was transferred to the LDS Church for the sum of $40.
Under the direction of LDS President John Taylor, construction on the present-day Provo Tabernacle began in 1883. Even before it was formally dedicated in 1898, the building hosted the LDS Church's general conferences in 1886 and 1887. Designed by church architect William Folsom, the Gothic Revival-style tabernacle was patterned somewhat on the Assembly Hall at Temple Square.
Constructed at a cost of $100,000 with seating for 1,500, the Provo Tabernacle featured a brick exterior, an octagonal tower or turret at each of the four corners, a steep roof, with interior highlights including frosted-glass windows, spiral staircases, exquisite woodwork and a hand-carved rostrum.
The tabernacle originally boasted a central tower rising 147 feet high. However, the roof was unable to support the weight, and the building was partially condemned in 1913 — the center cupola was soon removed and the tower reduced to a center platform or "plinth." That still resulted in roof stress and weight woes, with another partial condemnation in 1949 and removal and roof remodeling in the early 1950s.
An elaborate pipe organ was added in the early 1900s, and during a 1917 remodel, stained-glass windows replaced the frosted glass. Other tabernacle remodels and refurbishings followed in 1927, 1964, the early '80s and the mid-'90s. The cost of the latter — which included new air-conditioning, extensive painting and window refurbishing — totaled more than $1 million.
In 1915, the Utah Stake began leasing parts of the block property, and the tabernacle had commercial neighbors over the years ranging from Naylor-Clark Auto to Woolworths to present-day Nu Skin International. The latter has conducted companywide meetings in the tabernacle and shares a multi-level parking facility.
The tabernacle did survive a business-oriented blitz in the early 1960s, when a developer pushed to purchase the property, raze the building and replace it with a shopping mall.
In September 1986, then-LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson presided over the rededication of the Provo Tabernacle, with President Thomas S. Monson — then a First Presidency counselor — offering the dedicatory prayer.
Lund said the Provo Tabernacle was considered to be in excellent shape for a building of 120-plus years, still retaining much of its original "fabric" in brick, stone and woodwork. The LDS Church, she added, has done well in blending preservation efforts while updating and enhancing the building for ongoing use.
"You want to retain as much of the original fabric and character as you can, but at the same time meet the needs of people who use the building," she said.
And what kind of historical and facility loss has been suffered now on a block that originally sold for $40, a tabernacle that originally cost $100,000 and most recently was updated at a cost of $1 million?
"I don't think there's any way you can put a price tag on it," Lund said, adding, "it's like a good friend who is now gone."
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