David Amott: LDS Church should spare the historic Provo Temple

It makes no sense to demolish the ‘space age’ temple and replace it with a traditional one.

Over the past decade, several temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have undergone (or are currently in the process of) extensive renovations: Salt Lake City, Manti, St. George, Mesa, Washington, D.C., Oakland and Jordan River, to name a few. With each renovation, certain needs of the church have been addressed: extra capacity, less expensive to maintain, structural reinforcement and seismic fortification or adjusting the interior to allow temple ceremonies to fit modern standards.

When it was announced in October 2021 that the Provo Temple would be the next on the list, we at Preservation Utah were left guessing as to which of these needs would be addressed by this great effort and expense.

In 1967, President David O. McKay asked church architect Emil Fetzer to design the Provo Temple to be highly efficient, economic and convenient. Per Fetzer’s own account, his resulting design for the building came through divine revelation rooted in McKay’s requests. For much of its history, the Provo Temple has demonstrated the wisdom behind its design by being the highest performing of all the church’s temples, efficiently, economically and conveniently accommodating patrons from across Utah Valley in addition to students from Brigham Young University and missionaries from the Missionary Training Center. Since the Provo Temple was built, other temples have been or are being constructed in nearby American Fork, Payson, downtown Provo and Orem, reducing the need for the Provo Temple to expand its already stellar carrying capacity.

As late as 2013, work was undertaken to strengthen the Provo Temple structurally and seismically. This work involved sinking additional footing piles and then tying the temple structure more firmly to this enhanced foundation. If the cause of this announced reconstruction is to address seismic or other mechanical upgrades, then instead of a complete redo of this temple, why isn’t the church beginning a Phase 2 renovation and completing the work from less than a decade ago while still preserving this temple’s unique facade?

Provo’s Modernist Temple has served as a unique spiritual beacon for the past five decades and has been revered by people throughout Utah Valley and beyond. The building has long been viewed as an architectural representation of the “pillar of cloud” by day and “pillar of fire” by night which guided the children of Israel through the wilderness. What some call “ugly” is held dear by thousands more, who look to the unique and symbolic architecture that McKay and Fezter called inspired.

So, if there are issues with the Provo Temple — if there is a danger in the event of an earthquake — it leaves us to wonder why the entire building needs to be demolished. Why is the church going through such effort to update Pioneer Era temples, but completely ignoring the divinely inspired and revered work of the saints who lived 50 years ago? Doesn’t their sacrifice and devotion matter, too? If the Washington, D.C., Jordan River, and Oakland temples are worth saving, shouldn’t the Provo Temple be saved as well?

The huge projects undertaken for these temples prove that the church can update its temples to fit modern code standards, capacity for temple ceremonies, and still show respect for the constituencies they serve and who love the temple as it is.

Preservation Utah asks church leadership to spare the Provo Temple in recognition of President McKay’s and Emil Fetzer’s inspiration. We ask church leadership to show as much consideration for those who hold the Provo Temple dear as the church has shown those who love and revere the other temples that have been so carefully preserved and updated over the past decade.

David Amott | director of Preservation Utah

David Amott, Ph.D., is executive director of Preservation Utah.