Lion and Beehive Houses are 'gathering places'

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 10:56 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Two historical landmarks on the southeast corner of Temple Square were originally built for Brigham Young’s large family. More than 70 people used to live in the Lion House alone.

More than 155 years later, the Beehive and Lion houses have become gathering places for thousands of families and friends while continuing to reflect a rich pioneer heritage.

In the Beehive House, visitors can tour and capture a glimpse of frontier family life in the 1860s and 1870s.

The Lion House, remodeled in the 1960s, played a role in the organization of the young women’s program and has become a popular location for wedding receptions, banquets and birthdays. A cafeteria-style restaurant now also offers sweet aromas and delicious food.

"There is a spirit here that kind of grabs you. It’s a wonderful place,” said Julie Ulrich, banquet manager at the Lion House for 32 years. “You feel comfortable and warm. It’s inviting.”

Beehive House

After settling in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young was concerned about caring for his large family. He needed a big house.

The Beehive House was designed by Truman O. Angell, started in 1853 and completed in 1855. The home served as Brigham Young’s main residence until his death in 1877. From his Beehive House office, he served as the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs, as well as a husband and father.

The home itself was a beehive of activity.

Originally, the structure had 14 rooms — bedrooms, parlors and kitchens, along with rooms for school and play. There is also a storeroom where family members used credit to get clothing, food and other supplies. Art, nice furniture and music were also an important part of the home’s furnishings.

While women ran the household and children did chores, schoolwork and played, President Young entertained more than 6,000 dignitaries and other guests, including the emperor of Brazil; U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant; Mark Twain; and William H. Seward, U.S. secretary of state during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

“I think a lot of them were very curious,” said Sister McNaught, a tour guide and missionary from Idaho Falls, Idaho. “What would bring so many thousands of people to the middle of the desert? Brigham Young was able to build relationships with them.”

After President Young’s death, the home was sold to his son, John Willard Young. He remodeled and increased the number of rooms from 14 to 27. Following John Willard Young’s ownership, the home was eventually purchased by the church and became the official residence for church presidents. Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith inhabited the home from the turn of the century until President Smith died in 1918.

Shortly before his death, it’s interesting to note that President Smith received the revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 138 while sitting in the parlor room of the Beehive House.

For a time, the majestic home sat vacant. The Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association obtained ownership in 1920, and for the next several decades the Beehive House became a boardinghouse for young women.

In 1959, LDS Church leaders opted to restore the home to its 1854-77 appearance. Approximately 21 rooms were restored. Upon completion, it opened to the public for free tours on July 24, 1961, the 114th anniversary of the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.

“What is amazing about this home is that it highlights so much about the gospel that people ask questions,” said Sister Beecraft, a missionary from Maryland. “Anyone can relate to this house because it reflects family and faith.”

Lion House

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.

In 2010, the Lion House prepared meals for more than 120,000 guests in The Pantry Restaurant, served 56,000 guests at banquets and weddings and hosted more than 5,000 children’s birthdays.

“I really am grateful it wasn’t torn down and that we have a nice place for guests to come to,” Ulrich said. “We have guests from all over the world here. It’s really neat to have those people come and eat dinner in this facility and feel the spirit of Brigham Young and the gathering place.”

Source note: Sources for the historical information for this article include the Church News Archives and Lion House research by Nancy Thomas Davies.

If you go…

The Beehive House

Where: Northwest corner of South Temple and State Street

When: Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (last tour begins at 8:15 p.m.) For more information: 801-240-2681 (main)

The Lion House Pantry Restaurant

Where: Northwest corner of South Temple and State Street (next to Beehive House)

When: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (No reservations required; For groups of 30 or more, please call 801-539-3257)

General conference note: In addition to regular dining, box lunches will also be available. The Pantry will stay open until 9:30 p.m. on Saturday to accommodate the general priesthood session.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com

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