Joseph Smith Memorial Building is still a place to mark special occasions

Published: Tuesday, June 7 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

The lobby, which for many people is their first encounter with the building, has been restored to its former glory, with marble-like pillars, stained glass ceiling, huge crystal chandelier and views of the balcony-like mezzanine all designed to create a welcoming atmosphere. A lot of tour groups from China, Japan, Germany and other places around the world will walk in, says Wilkinson, "and they go absolutely silent for a few minutes as they look around. Then they start taking pictures."

The tour of the building is often an optional part of their tour, "and those that come take great delight in telling the others what they missed," he says. "Tour guides tell us that they get on the bus and talk about it all the way to Yellowstone."

A dominant feature of the lobby is the 9-foot, 6-inch white carrera marble statue of the building's namesake. "When they decided to change the name, we started looking for something we could use that would tie us to Joseph Smith," Shingleton says. "We looked at paintings, historic memorabilia, thought about putting in a display table, but everything looked so small in the lobby."

Then they came upon a crate that had come from the visitors center in Independence, Mo., and as they dug away the packing, there was the statue. "President (Thomas S.) Monson came to look at it and thought it was just what we needed, so President Hinckley came to look. 'Yes,' he said, 'that's just what we need,'" Shingleton says. "So then we had to decide where to put it. We had a guy stand on a ladder so he was the same height as the statue and moved it all around the lobby."

President Hinckley finally decided it should go not in the center, but at the side, says Shingleton. "That's where he thought Joseph would have liked to be — off at the side looking at everything that was going on."

They also decided not to set it off with ropes and stanchions. "President Hinckley decided it could be cleaned; that was better than barriers." It gets a lot of love, he says. "People like to take their pictures by it; we've even had kids hugging the legs and hanging on the arms."

In the west end of the lobby is the Nauvoo Cafe, which was added a few years ago when the Lion House was closed for renovations. It proved so popular that it was kept. Simple but tasty meals are served from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Across the hall is the Empire Room, one of the most elegant of the banquet rooms.

The mezzanine is home to a chapel, which accommodates two LDS wards. It is also used for other church meetings, seminars and gatherings.

On the other side of the mezzanine are more banquet facilities, including the President's Room, which contains portraits of all the church presidents.

On the north side of the main floor is the FamilySearch Center, which is, says Shingleton, "a great starting place for family history. A lot of subscription-only websites are made available here." A display on Ellis Island is among the things that have been added in recent years.

Legacy Theater is also part of the back area. Lines are not as long as when it first opened, but it still features eight free shows a day. Currently playing is a new version of the Joseph Smith film created for the bicentennial of the Prophet's birth. It's different enough, says Shingleton, that everyone will want see it again.

With three restaurants — Nauvoo Cafe on the first floor and The Garden and The Roof on the 10th floor — and 11 banquet rooms, food preparation is a big part of life at the building. On any given day, they cater between 18 and 26 events. Weddings account for the largest share of the banquet business, but business, civic and other groups meet there daily.

With a conveyor belt system, and depending upon the dishes on the plate, the banquet crew can plate 200 meals in 15-20 minutes, says banquet chef Don Sanchez.

Most of the food preparation takes place in the 10th-floor kitchens. But there is a pastry bakery in the basement. Another bakery, on the ninth floor, is where, starting at 2 a.m. each day, Lion House Rolls are made. They are still rolled by hand, says Wilkinson, and then baked 800 at a time in a huge walk-in oven. "Thousands of rolls are made here every week."

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