Editor's note: Read Out of the Ashes: Remembering the Provo Tabernacle Fire, coverage of the fire from Dec. 18, 2010.
SALT LAKE CITY — When President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Saturday that the historic Provo Tabernacle will be rebuilt and converted to be Provo's second LDS temple, an audible gasp reverberated throughout the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.
And, evidently, about 40 miles to the south.
"It gave me chills," said Scott Heaps, a longtime resident of Orem who was watching conference on television when the announcement was made. "This is fantastic!"
For Gene Nelson, director at the Provo City Library, the announcement was a moment of "pure excitement."
"I think there are whole bunches of Provoans who are elated after that announcement," Nelson said. "Probably a lot of tears shed — including a few from me."
Count Denise McGuire of Provo among the tearful.
"My favorite part of conference is waiting for President Monson to announce the temples," McGuire said, adding that she burst into tears as soon as President Monson made the announcement. "I was not prepared for this one. I did not have my box of Kleenex ready."
The Tabernacle, which was originally built between 1883 and 1898 on University Avenue between Center Street and 100 South, was gutted by fire last December. The building was a Provo City landmark, beloved and venerated by generations of residents and BYU students who worshiped and attended a variety of meetings, concerts and other events there.
"I was heartbroken after the fire," McGuire said. "Devastated. And it was surprising because I thought, 'It's just a building.' But obviously it meant a lot more to me than I thought it did. We've had stake conferences there. I sang there when I was in BYU Choir. It meant a lot to the community."
"I was sick to my stomach," Heaps said of how he felt when he heard about the fire. "It's been there my whole life and for something like that to burn was very, very sad."
Ever since the fire, residents and community leaders have been asking about the church's plans for the old Tabernacle. Provo Mayor John Curtis has indicated that even when he travels out of state he is asked about the church's plans for the Tabernacle.
"There's been a lot of talk about what the Church may or may not do," Nelson said. "A lot of people were just hoping and praying the church would save the building."
Speculation has intensified during recent months as the church has been working on acquiring additional properties on the Tabernacle block. In late August, it announced the acquisition of land from two businesses on the block, the Travelodge Motel and Los 3 Amigos restaurant. Just last week, the Provo Municipal Council voted to sell to the church the property upon which the old Hotel Roberts used to be located. The hotel was demolished in 2004.
With those acquisitions — and impending acquisitions — the church will own the entire Tabernacle block, with the exception of the Post Office property. The church has not indicated any plans for acquiring that property.
A church press release indicated that "church leaders have worked with architects, engineers and historical experts to determine the future of the building." The new temple will include "a complete restoration of the original exterior," similar to what was done when the church converted the historic Uintah Stake Tabernacle into the Vernal Utah Temple during the late 1990s.
The new temple in Provo is "absolutely needed," Heaps said. "With the missionaries at the MTC, the students at BYU and the active LDS population here, it will be a heavily used temple even with another temple in town."
"I've gone early in the morning to do baptisms for the dead at the Provo Temple and waited for two-and-a-half hours for my turn," Heaps daughter, Stephanie, said. "It's just so busy there. A new temple will really be used."
"I know that every time I go to the temple, it's really busy and crowded, but you just kind of go with that," McGuire said. "I'm thrilled. I'm just so excited for it."
"I think that it shows that out of any supposed tragedies, the Lord can make something even better," said Bishop Randall Stokes, bishop of a Young Single Adult ward in Provo. "You can never assume that a tragedy is really a tragedy until you see where it's going."
The second Provo Temple was the first of six new temples announced during the Saturday morning conference session. There was another audible gasp when President Monson announced a new temple in Paris, France. The church's desire and "hope" to build a temple in Paris was actually announced earlier this year in response to a French newspaper's coverage of property negotiations there. But as far as church officials are concerned, Saturday's announcement during general conference is the official "announcement."
There was also audience reaction — laughter — when President Monson announced the construction of a new temple in Star Valley, Wyo., and indicated, "I think I'll dedicate that one. There's good fishing there!"
The temple in Star Valley will be the first in the state of Wyoming.
Smaller, but equally heartfelt, reactions accompanied President Monson's announcement of two new temples in Africa – in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Durban, South Africa – and in Barranquilla, Colombia.