Lion and Beehive Houses are 'gathering places'

Published: Wednesday, March 30 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

The same year the Beehive House was completed, President Young started construction on another next door. When it was completed in 1856, he installed a 1,200-pound stone statue of a lion above the entrance. President Young was often called “The Lion of the Lord.” The home became known as the Lion House.

Made from sandstone, the pioneer mansion was a hub of family activity. The basement included a kitchen, laundry and dining areas. The main floor had several bedrooms and a large parlor. The third level had 20 bedrooms. At one point, house historian Nancy Thomas Davies estimates 75 people lived in the house, including 40 inhabitants under the age of 13. In the 1860s, a porch was built that functioned as a gymnasium.

Each night at 7, President Young rang a bell three times to signal everyone to gather in the parlor for prayer.

A historic event occurred in the parlor in November 1869. President Young was afraid his daughters were becoming too “worldly.” He excused the boys and men and told his daughters to “retrench” from fancy clothing, makeup, language and outlandish behavior. He wanted them to develop good habits and strong values. Eventually this concept was developed into the LDS Church’s Young Women organization.

“It was a wonderful thing to do,” said Sister Florence Jacobsen, former YWMIA president.

Some years after President Young's death, the church obtained the property. From 1900 to 1932, it was part of an LDS university. The home was designated as a social center, and a basement cafeteria offered meals to church employees, missionaries and young women for a modest fee.

The social center closed in the early 1960s, and the Lion House was almost torn down. Thanks to Jacobsen and her YWMIA counselors Margaret Jackson and Dorothy P. Holt, the landmark was saved.

Saving the Lion House

Jacobsen will turn 98 years old in April, yet the former church curator and director of church arts and sites can easily recall the details of the Lion House project.

“It wasn’t a restoration. It was a rejuvenation,” she said.

Jacobsen, then the newly called YWMIA president, said the church was considering plans to tear down the Lion House to make room for a South Temple outlet from its underground parking facility.

Not only did the YWMIA have stewardship of the Lion House, but it had played a role in Jacobsen’s life. As a girl she learned sewing and other homemaking skills in classes at the Lion House. She also used to meet her father and brother each week for lunch in the cafeteria.

“It means a great deal to me,” said the granddaughter of former church Presidents Heber J. Grant and Joseph F. Smith. “It’s part of my history.”

Jacobsen and her counselors took action by enlisting the help of architect Cannon Young and his cousin, George Cannon Young, along with Mark Brimhall Garff, chairman of the church building committee. Then Jacobsen set up a meeting with the First Presidency.

After President David O. McKay instructed Jacobsen to take charge, the women laid out plans for remodeling the Lion House into a pioneer-style social center. When she was done, President McKay turned to Garff and asked how much it would cost.

“Half a million dollars,” Jacobsen said, recalling Garff’s response. “I said to President McKay, 'Give us time and we will pay it back.' None of us were businesswomen. We thought we were so smart. But we did it. We paid it all back in five years through events held there.”

Jacobsen, Jackson and Holt did their homework, hunted down Victorian furniture, art from the time period and other furnishings to decorate the house while supervising the renovation until its completion in 1968.

Today, the Lion House is famous for its home-cooked luncheons, dinners, wedding receptions and holiday gatherings. Buttered rolls, breads and pies are among the favorites foods served there.

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