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Mormon tabernacle near Pearl Harbor became a refuge for GIs after the attack

First Published      Last Updated Dec 06 2016 10:01 pm


Pearl Harbor » The building wasn’t damaged, and thousands of LDS servicemen were sheltered there.

Honolulu • On Sunday, Aug. 17, 1941, thousands of Mormons gathered on a stunning city square less than 10 miles from Pearl Harbor to dedicate what would be the last tabernacle the LDS Church would ever build.

Hawaiian believers as well as visitors from the U.S. mainland marveled at the open-air design, the gleaming white concrete, the lush landscaping, crisp acoustics and shimmering reflecting pools.

Its illuminated, 141-foot-high bell tower made the Mormon edifice the second tallest in Honolulu — and visible across the city.

There, amid the rising global tensions, these Mormon faithful were comforted when David O. McKay — then a counselor in the faith's governing First Presidency who, a decade later, would become the ninth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — offered a message of hope and survival in his dedication.




McKay "specifically prayed that the tabernacle would be preserved from missiles in the event of any war," Matthew O. Richardson writes in a volume of Brigham Young University essays about Latter-day Saints in the Pacific.

"While world conflict had already begun, the United States had not yet entered into the war when the tabernacle was dedicated."

That would change on another sleepy Sunday less than four months later after Japanese warplanes launched a surprise attack on U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor. More than 2,000 Americans died on that "day of infamy," as President Frankin D. Roosevelt declared — and the nation was propelled into a world war it had tried to avoid.

On the 75th anniversary of that horrific bombing, some Hawaiian Mormons will remember the small role their Honolulu tabernacle square — which suffered no damage in the assault — played as a refuge for thousands of LDS servicemen stationed in Hawaii.

A private residence on a corner of tabernacle square "became a gathering place for Latter-day Saint servicemen stationed in Hawaii," Richardson writes.

The space, dubbed Malamakoa — which means "take care of the soldier" — became a kind of dormitory for those on leave.

Many signed their names to a guest register at the tabernacle and dorm, Richardson notes, including a young airman (and future Mormon apostle) Boyd K. Packer.

It was another crisis that had prompted construction of the tabernacle in the first place — the Great Depression.

The Oahu LDS Stake (a group of congregations) was organized in 1935, the first Mormon stake outside of the U.S. mainland.

At the time, lay leaders believed the LDS Church needed "some forceful direction" in Hawaii, the researcher explains, "in providing the faith with greater 'visibility' and a more prestigious 'image.' "

That goal coincided with a 1935 churchwide welfare program to provide employment to job-hungry members. The effort "centered on a campaign," Richardson writes, "to beautify, revive and remodel existing church properties."

And erect new ones. Architect Harold Burton, who also designed the faith's temple in Laie, about an hour to the north, laid out plans for a tabernacle complex that included five structures, connected by covered walkways. Richardson writes. The main chapel seated 1,000 worshippers.

The most iconic element was a 12-foot, 100,000-piece mosaic of Jesus Christ, created by Eugene Francis Savage, a noted artist at Columbia University, and then shipped to Hawaii.

Due to the delayed deliveries during wartime, however, the mosaic didn't arrive in time for the 1941 dedication, Richardson reports. It was finally installed in 1943.

In 1998, the 47,000-square-foot tabernacle was renovated, according to the church's official site, "improving the landscaping, adding air-conditioning, and enlarging and modernizing the tabernacle's family history center."

Though Honolulu's high-rise hotels and offices now dwarf the tabernacle's steeple, Christ's welcoming arms still beckon from the chapel's entrance.

pstack@sltrib.com

Twitter: @religiongal

 

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