Despite being built with "leftovers," the 126-year-old Assembly Hall is an impressive, though often overlooked, structure on Temple Square.
Constructed mostly with cast-off stone from the building of the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Assembly Hall was officially dedicated in 1882.
Although the Assembly Hall's granite rock came from the same quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon as the granite for the Salt Lake Temple, its stones were not cut as precisely as those for the temple. Hence, the Assembly Hall has a rougher and darker texture with greater spacing between blocks.
The Assembly Hall, built by pioneers beginning in 1877, is described by the church's Web site as "a charming Gothic-style building with lovely stained-glass windows." It can seat 1,200 people, and has a main floor and balcony. That compares to 4,000 people in the Tabernacle and 21,000 in the Conference Center.
Often overshadowed by the larger Tabernacle or the modern Conference Center, the Assembly Hall has a fascinating history though it isn't widely known.
It was built to provide a more efficient structure that could be heated in the winter, according to the Mormon Historical Sites Registry and the church's Ensign magazine. President Brigham Young announced plans to build the Assembly Hall at a priesthood meeting in the Salt Lake Stake on Aug. 11, 1877 just 18 days before he died.
Initially, the building was mostly for meetings of the Salt Lake Stake. The spacious interior of the Tabernacle defied heating technology of the day. The Assembly Hall was smaller and boasted a steam heating system, piped under alternate benches throughout and with a dozen radiators against the interior walls.
The hall also was superbly lighted in its early days, with 24 gas lamps and a gigantic chandelier with 12 gas jets.
So, if Sunday was a cold winter day, meetings would often be held in the comfort of the Assembly Hall, instead of the cold Tabernacle, according to an 1882 report in the Deseret News.
It is likely this practice lasted through much of the rest of the 19th century. Fewer members likely attended meetings on cold winter days, and so the smaller Assembly Hall was probably adequate in size.
Led by Henry Grow, construction on the Assembly Hall lasted about three years. Church members in the Salt Lake area were encouraged to donate at least one day's labor toward its construction.
The "Bowery," a series of poles and braces supporting tree branches to block the summer sun, was the first structure to occupy the southwest corner of Temple Square, where the Assembly Hall is today.
The adobe "Old Tabernacle" was located there from 1852 to 1877; it seated 2,500. The Salt Lake Tabernacle opened in 1875.
Obed Taylor designed the Assembly Hall in the popular-at-that-time Gothic Victorian Style.
Construction on the Assembly Hall confused some Salt Lake residents, many referring to it as a "new tabernacle." Hence, LDS Church President John Taylor named it the "Salt Lake Assembly Hall" in 1879. The building cost about $90,000.
President Joseph F. Smith, a counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Assembly Hall on Jan. 8, 1882.
"May the spirit of the holy gospel dwell in the midst of the people that shall come from Sabbath to Sabbath, and from time to time, to attend the meetings and worship in this house," President Smith stated in his dedicatory prayer.
The Assembly Hall resembles a small Gothic cathedral. It also boasts 24 spires around its perimeter. Stars of David are circumscribed high above each entrance.
The building has been modified and renovated over the years. For example, a weather vane, featuring a 4-foot-tall angel, like one that once topped the first Nauvoo (Ill.) Temple, was eventually removed from the Assembly Hall. Also, some original ceiling murals that depicted the Nauvoo and Kirtland (Ohio) temples, as well as other scenes from early church history such as Joseph Smith's First Vision, were removed or painted over during a renovation.
An extensive renovation on the building, seeking to restore it to its original grandeur after a century of use, took place from 1979 to 1983. This work also corrected some structural weaknesses in the building's tower and roof trusses. Steel enhanced the original roof trusses.
Each of the hall's 24 spires were capped with new fiberglass spires, as the original ones had deteriorated. These were molded to the exact shape of the originals.
All softwood benches in the Assembly Hall were replaced, and a new 3,489-pipe organ was installed. A new roof and flooring were also a part of that renovation. All woodwork was refinished and drapes were replaced with window shutters.
A large basement area was enhanced beneath the main hall, where there are three organ practice rooms. A concert grand piano and two harpsichords were added to the building's musical facilities.
The building's acoustics were also improved then by installing 800 small speakers under the benches.
Today, the Assembly Hall hosts periodic music concerts and is used for an occasional funeral.It is open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., like most of Temple Square, and concerts are often held there on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
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