NEW YORK The Manhattan Temple, which will be dedicated this weekend, will soon look more like other LDS temples a spire with the angel Moroni is to be added to the refurbished building.
Situated one block west of Central Park and kitty-corner from the Lincoln Center, which houses the Julliard School of Music and other major performing arts venues, the temple will be set off from the current boxy, multitiered skyline in the surrounding area.
The church has received clearance from the city to construct a spire on the building's southwest corner, and the spire will be topped with a gold figure of Moroni, a key figure in the faith's foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon.
Meanwhile, the countdown toward Sunday's dedication of the temple has begun here for more than 42,000 area Latter-day Saints, whose growing presence has attracted the attention of not only New Yorkers but major media across the country and in Europe.
There are also plans for another temple roughly 25 miles to the north. However, church officials remain mum on the progress of the White Plains, N.Y., temple, whose construction has been bogged down by a series of lawsuits, traffic studies and delays.
More than 53,000 visitors attended the monthlong open house in Manhattan, which concluded last weekend, with "people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds" having attending the 40-minute tour, according to Brent Belnap, chairman of the temple committee.
The tours were followed by a reception in the meetinghouse that is also inside the six-story building that was renovated to house the temple.
Floors one, two, five and six now comprise the temple's 20,630 square feet. Floors three and four contain a meetinghouse for several local congregations, as well as administrative offices for the church.
The temple is one of only two LDS temples worldwide that is not free-standing and surrounded by greenery and gardens. At present, the temple could easily be mistaken for just another office building in midtown Manhattan, with only the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a distinguishing feature.
Belnap said he was pleased with public response so far.
"It's fair to say a lot of tour guides, as they were taking people through, would notice this hard edge New York skepticism or demeanor just literally melt away. By the end of the tour, they said there was just such a different tone and attitude" among visitors.
One woman who lives in a building next to the temple came out of curiosity, skeptical about what would be happening, Belnap said. "By the end of the tour, she was saying, 'Wow, I'm so glad you're here in the neighborhood.' We've been here since 1975, but she never bothered to find out who her neighbors are."
There was some mild protest on the sidewalk outside the building during the open house, featuring literature calling into question the beliefs of Latter-day Saints, but there was no major disruption for visitors. Church officials decided against advertising the open house, fearing they would be overwhelmed, he said.
People were drawn "through members, local press coverage" and the LDS Church's Web site, www.lds.org.
Announced by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in August 2002, word of a temple in Manhattan came as a surprise to area residents who had long been watching the political maneuvering surrounding a temple announced in 1995 for White Plains.
Residents and some city officials there objected to the proposed size of that building, which is still moving forward, according to Mark Bench, former mayor of Scarsdale, N.Y., and president of the church's Westchester Stake, where the White Plains (officially in Harrison, N.Y.) temple is to be located.
He said the church is currently placing, "at enormous effort and expense, a sewer line underneath eight lanes of the Hutchinson River Parkway. It's a lengthy process" that must be complete before the town of Harrison will issue a building permit.
The move is the latest concession made by the church after a series of costly studies on traffic patterns and other infrastructure concerns were pressed by area officials. Lawsuits in both state and federal courts over particulars surrounding the proposed temple also delayed the project from its inception, and in 2002 the various sides reached a settlement that would reduce the proposed size of the temple.
Original plans called for a 97,000-square-foot structure with a 159-foot spire. Concessions brought the size down to 56,000 square feet, then again to 28,400 square feet, with the spire lowered to 115 and then 105 feet, respectively. President Hinckley's announcement of the Manhattan Temple came a few months after the wrangling came to a peak.
The LDS Church has declined formal comment on its plans for the White Plains temple, and the attorney working on the project for the church did not return phone messages seeking comment. But attorney James Staudt told The Journal News in suburban New York in January that the temple "will be built. No, they (opponents) did not wear the church out. I should think not."
Harrison supervisor Stephen Malfitano also told the paper that "as far as we know, based on the evidence of the construction going on, they intend to go forward with the project."
Members in the Harrison area have turned their attention south at this point.
"We're thrilled to have the Manhattan Temple, which is within a 45-minute drive of the farthest point of the stake," Bench said.
Latter-day Saints in the New York area have been driving several hours to Boston to attend a temple.
With the temple's completion and open house, several major media outlets have written about the growth of the church in the New York area, including the New York Times, the New York Daily News, New York Sun, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times and the Financial Times of London.
Belnap believes the attention is warranted. "The first stake of the church created east of the Mississippi after Saints fled Nauvoo was this stake here in Manhattan, the New York, New York Stake in December 1934. Today that area includes 14 stakes and districts. If the past is prologue, the future of the church here in NewYork City is bright and will only get brighter."For long time New York members, it's like 'Wow, we're finally on the radar screen.' A whole new chapter is beginning for the church here."
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