Jason Abbott remembers attending the dedication of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple with his family on Dec. 16, 1989. It was his 12th birthday. He saw the members of the First Presidency and other general authorities. He still has the handkerchief he waved during the hosanna shout. He wrote about the memorable event in his journal.
Looking back a quarter of a century later, the 37-year-old Henderson, Nevada, resident realizes how the six-spired, sacred edifice on the hill overlooking the popular city has played a vital role in his life. He has done baptisms for the dead and received his endowment there. His grandmother worked in the temple for more than 20 years. His grandfather sealed Abbott and his wife, Susana, there in 2000. Now some of his older children have served in the temple.
“Attending the dedication was a big event in my life," said Abbott, a member of the El Dorado Pass Ward in the Henderson Nevada Black Mountain Stake. "We are proud to have a temple in Las Vegas. It’s a special place, and it’s been a huge blessing. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years.”
Abbott is one of thousands of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the southern Nevada region who are grateful for the Las Vegas Nevada Temple as it marks 25 years since its 1989 dedication by President Gordon B. Hinckley. Amid the glitz, glamour and lights of one of the biggest tourist capitals in the world, Latter-day Saints say the Las Vegas Nevada Temple has been a spiritual oasis in the desert, fulfilling words spoken by President Hinckley in the dedicatory prayer, as reported by the LDS Church News.
“Within its walls are to be tasted the refreshing waters of living and eternal truth,” President Hinckley said. “For all who enter the portals of thy house may this be an oasis of peace and life and light, in contrast with the clamor and evil and darkness of the world.”
In recognition of this milestone, here is a brief summary of the history of, interesting facts about and memorable experiences involving the 43rd temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Prelude to a temple
Mormon pioneers came to the Las Vegas area as early as 1855 and built a fort, according to the Deseret News' "2013 Church Almanac." In the years that followed, the construction of the railroad (1905) and Hoover Dam (1930s) contributed to steady growth in the community and the church. The first stake in Las Vegas was formed in 1954.
Thirty years later, in 1984, President Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency, announced during general conference that temples would be built in Portland, Oregon; Toronto; San Diego; Bogota, Colombia; and Las Vegas. There were 43,000 members and 12 stakes in the Las Vegas area at the time of the announcement, according to the LDS Church News.
With the St. George Utah Temple less than two hours away and “Las Vegas being Las Vegas,” Peter G. Shields, current president of the North Las Vegas Nevada Stake, said he and others were surprised by the announcement.
“It was amazing to us; the greatest news ever,” said the local church leader and lifelong Las Vegas resident. “I never thought there would be a temple in Las Vegas.”
The temple site was dedicated and ground was broken Nov. 30, 1985. On that occasion, President Hinckley said “the spirit of the temple will be a blessing to all in the community, not only those who enter.”
Nearly 300,000 people attended the open house in November and December of 1989.
The Las Vegas Nevada Temple was dedicated by President Hinckley on Dec. 16-18 following the open house. The first temple president was Boyad M. Tanner.
“Never has there been so beautiful a day in Las Vegas as we dedicate the House of the Lord, the crowning jewel overlooking the city,” President Hinckley said at the cornerstone ceremony Dec. 16.
During the dedication, President Hinckley praised the Las Vegas Latter-day Saints for contributing $11 million to the temple, more than 400 percent of their goal, as reported by the LDS Church News on Dec. 23, 1989.
“I want to say that I believe the Lord has accepted your sacrifice,” President Hinckley told the members. “I want to make you a promise that you will never miss that which you have contributed; the windows of heaven will be open.”
Another interesting fact about the Las Vegas Nevada Temple was recorded in a book by Chad Hawkins, “Holy Places: True Stories of Faith and Miracles From Latter-day Temples.”
In the book, Hawkins recounts how the window that was to be hung in the celestial room of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple was in a glass factory in Santa Cruz, California, in October 1989 when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay area and caused nearly $3 billion in damage. The quake’s epicenter was near Santa Cruz County. Hawkins wrote that the window had taken six weeks to make and was scheduled to be polished and shipped in time for the open house, which was two weeks away.
“When the tremor hit, the window swung wildly but amazingly escaped any damage,” Hawkins wrote. “Other glass projects in the factory were shattered, ruined beyond repair. The window arrived, intact, one week before the temple opened for public viewing.”
A musical tribute
Wendy Randall, David Skouson and David’s brother, Jeffrey, are affiliated with Zion’s Youth Symphony and Chorus, a Las Vegas-area performing group. Three years ago, they realized the 25th anniversary of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple was approaching, and they wanted to do something special. They came up with the idea to write and produce an original musical program called “House of the Lord,” something they hoped would be special for members in the Las Vegas area.
David Skouson, the symphony conductor, wrote the music. Randall, the artistic director, wrote the script and lyrics. Jeffrey Skouson was the chorus director. Cast with seven characters, 185 choir members and 85 symphony musicians, the performance showcased the history of temple building in the latter days and the growth of the church in the Las Vegas area.
Their efforts resulted in two well-attended and memorable concerts in mid-November this year. Randall said many who came learned something new about the history of the church in their area and left with renewed feelings of gratitude for the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.
“It really is a miracle that a community was formed here,” said Randall, a member of the Oasis Park Ward in the Henderson Nevada Eldorado Stake.
The experience meant a lot to Randall, who was born and raised in Las Vegas. At age 16, she served during the 1989 open house by placing white covers on the shoes of the people who attended the dedication, where she saw President Ezra Taft Benson. She was married to her husband there five years later. Now, her family attends the temple as often as they can.
"Our lives revolve around it," Randall said. "We love it."
‘A Light on the Hill’
About seven years ago, the North Las Vegas Nevada Stake of the LDS Church was preparing to move into a newly constructed meetinghouse. President Shields commissioned Arthur B. Clarke, an artist and member of the stake, to paint the Las Vegas Nevada Temple for the new high council room.
The painter said he spent many hours on the hill, sketching and taking photos of the temple. He wanted to paint something that would honor the faith and dedication of the Latter-day Saints in the valley and express the love for the blessings of the temple. Using egg tempera, Clarke painted a scene depicting the white temple surrounded by red-tiled stucco homes and green trees under a peaceful blue sky with the lights of Las Vegas and a mountain in the distance.
“I titled the painting ‘A Light on the Hill’ because of the brilliant light of the evening sun reflecting from the temple walls,” Clarke wrote in the painting’s description, "and because of the spiritual light that emanates from within, inviting all to come and partake of blessings of the Lord.”
The painting was completed in time for the 20th anniversary of the temple’s dedication. Not only was the painting hung in the stake high council room, but President Shields also had replicas placed in the foyers of each of the stake’s five chapels and then gave members smaller framed copies for their homes. He also gives copies to visiting general authorities as a reminder of their visit.
“It’s beautiful,” President Shields said. “It’s in all our homes and reminds the people to go to the temple.”
A stake president’s thoughts
The Mirage Hotel was finished shortly before the Las Vegas Nevada Temple dedication. President Shields worked in construction at that time and was doing a job next door for Caesars Palace. The irony of a "mirage" on the Las Vegas Strip in contrast to the construction of a new spiritual oasis on the hill did not escape him, he said.
"You start thinking, 'Wow, I’m in Caesars Palace, but right up on that hill is the Lord’s house,' " President Shields said.
He said most members never visit the Strip. For him, the only occasion comes when friends from out of town want to see the lights. The drive may start downtown, he said, but it always ends with a trip to see the temple.
President Shields has served in a stake leadership role for nearly 20 of the 25 years since the Las Vegas Nevada Temple was dedicated. While some people over the years have referred to Las Vegas as the "lights of Babylon," President Shields tells people the "brightest beacon on the hill is the temple."
"For all that Las Vegas stands for, there are tens of thousands of members in the valley who have raised fantastic, wonderful families," President Shields said. "The temple gives members great hope. It's a refuge from the storm that goes around the valley.
"When you walk in those doors, the spirit of the temple envelops you and you feel safe and comforted. The Spirit emanates from that property and blesses the whole valley."
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