Mormon Church breaks ground for new temple on Provo Tabernacle site
Provo • When the Provo Tabernacle caught fire in 2010, thousands of people came to the site to mourn the landmark's loss.
On Saturday, thousands again gathered to the tabernacle's burned-out remains, but this time with joy in their hearts. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formally dedicated the site as the home of the new Provo City Center Temple.
"I think it was fantastic," Provo resident Kurt Brown said of the groundbreaking ceremony. "I think it is really neat to have the tabernacle converted into a temple."
Brown, who lives down the street from the tabernacle, remembered seeing the building in flames and was happy to be among the 6,000 people who gathered in Tabernacle Park to watch Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and other church officials break ground for the new temple.
"We're grateful for those who made the inspired decision to build this temple from the ashes of the tabernacle," said Holland, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and former Brigham Young University president.
Holland said the tabernacle's path to becoming a temple was a metaphor for life.
"Hang on; things get better; the Lord will repair things, redeem things," Holland said. "That is part of the thrill today, to see such good come from the sorrow."
The 129-year-old tabernacle was heavily damaged in an early morning fire on Dec. 17, 2010. The fire was caused by a lamp left on top of a speaker box in the tabernacle's attic during a taping of Lex de Azevedo's "Gloria" the night before.
In October 2011, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the tabernacle would be restored to its original appearance including a center spire that was removed in 1917 and re-purposed as the second temple in the city. The announcement ended months of speculation about the church's plans for the property.
"We know that many of you have prayed for this day," said Elder William Walker, head of the church's temple department.
Holland, Walker and other dignitaries turned over spadefuls of dirt using gold-painted shovels that were on a rack made from wood salvaged from the tabernacle.
Alexandra and Kolten Smith, ages 11 and 10 respectively, summed up the day's event with one word: cool.
"It was rather cool to be here," Alexandra said, after posing for pictures by the tabernacle's steel-swaddled walls.
Walker said the day's events were due in part to the faithful Mormons in Provo who have made the existing Provo Temple the busiest in the church. That demonstrated the need for a second temple in the city, he said.
Melanie Young, a Mapleton resident, said the ceremony was "beautiful."
"I liked the connection to the history and the people who originally built the tabernacle," Young said.
The tabernacle, Walker said, had a special place in many people's hearts. He said many church leaders had spoken there over the years, and at least one General Conference was conducted there.
Holland also noted that U.S. President William Howard Taft spoke from the tabernacle's pulpit.
"No other public space in Provo has had such varied use," Holland said. "No other structure in Utah County has been such a part of the valley's life."
As part of the church's plans for the new temple, it has purchased land on the block south of the tabernacle and is negotiating with the city to buy a portion of 100 South as well as Nu Skin Enterprises' parking deck west of the tabernacle.
The only remaining land on the block south that the church does not own is the Howard C. Nielson Post Office. And Walker said the church has its eye on it.
"We would like to buy it, but [the U.S. Postal Service] has to be willing to sell it," Walker said.
The Provo City Center Temple will serve Mormons living in eight LDS stakes in Provo and eight stakes in Springville.
The new temple will be the fourth in Utah County, following Provo, Mount Timpanogos and the Payson Utah Temple, which is under construction.
Walker said the Provo City Center Temple will be completed within two to two-and-a-half years.
Provo joins South Jordan as the only cities with two LDS temples within their boundaries. South Jordan is home to the Oquirrh Mountain and Jordan River temples.