Brigham Young the architect involved in all kinds of Utah buildings

Published: Thursday, Nov. 14 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

The Beehive House in downtown Salt Lake City Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News Archives

SALT LAKE CITY — President Brigham Young was a remarkable, creative designer and overseer of the buildings put up during his tenure as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a side of him that's not wholly appreciated, according to church history curator Emily Utt.

Utt said she became interested in President Young's designs and influence after hearing anecdotal stories at various Mormon landmark buildings, stories that were largely inaccurate but intriguing.

She researched extensively, studying letters from son Joseph W. Young to Brigham Young, minutes from meetings involving various buildings and office files.

"His name just kept popping up. Brigham Young was the pacemaker. He valued building. He was very involved in the details, even with the furniture. He had a very good eye. He was a very hands-on president. People listened to him," Utt said. "It gives a little bit of a twist to him."

She believes people greatly underestimate President Young's place in the architectural profession of the mid-19th century.

"I have built a great many houses, both for myself and for others. I have never built two houses alike, and I do not expect to in time or eternity, but I mean to improve every time I begin," President Young said.

President George A. Smith called him “our only architect."

Utt explains her findings in presentations to civic groups such as the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers by first outlining how people looked at building and architecture.

"Historically, buildings were designed by two types of people: the gentleman architect (think Thomas Jefferson types) who were seldom paid for their work and really designed for their friends or for patrons. The other type was the master builder, generally a carpenter, mason, or some other type of expert in the building trade with years of construction experience. Their designs may not be elegant but they are perfect in the details and specifications."

Utt said President Young fell into both categories.

His early job training was as a carpenter, painter and glazer, and his skills — combined with his finishing abilities as a painter and window maker — would have made him a prime candidate to become a master builder.

His professional aspirations as a builder come to a stop when he became the LDS Church’s president. A story told in "40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young" by Chad Orton and Bill Slaughter tells of Jedediah M. Grant seeking President Young out on a public matter and finding him shingling a roof. Brigham Young told him to come back later. Grant replied: "Now, Brother Brigham. Don't you think it is time you quit pounding nails and spending your time in work like this? We have many carpenters but only one governor and one president of the church. The people need you more than they need a good carpenter." President Young came down off the roof and seldom thereafter spent his days in manual labor.

His professional career may have ended, but his interest in architecture and building continued, Utt said.

Brigham Young became an architect, the tastemaker and style setter for early Utah Saints.

He advocated for construction of buildings and encouraged the best and finest in design. In 1860, he called church members to task for not building as they should. "You need to build beautiful things," he told them, even if they expected to relocate soon.

Some of the projects he was involved with as church president included:

The Beehive House

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