Kensington, Md. • The Washington D.C. Temple, which stands tallest among the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is one of its highest profile, threw its doors open Monday to nonmembers for the first time in nearly half a century.
Top church officials welcomed the media to highlight a renovation that began four years ago. Private tours for invited guests will continue through April 27. Then, beginning April 28, hundreds of thousands of church members and the general public are expected to tour the temple before the Aug. 14 rededication of the soaring, six-spired white marble edifice, which sits aside the capital’s Beltway.
“This is a signature spotlight moment for the church,” said Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University. It gives the church a chance to demystify what happens in the temple, which is usually closed to all but Latter-day Saints in good standing.
When the temple originally opened in 1974, it was the first on the East Coast and marked the church’s diaspora beyond the Rocky Mountains, and soon after that internationally, said Kathleen Flake, professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia. It also signified a new status for the Utah-based faith in the nation’s political power center.
“The temple represents something about its American-ness. It has a cultural identity as well as its religious identity,” Flake said. “Placing a temple in Washington, D.C., it’s an important marker of the maturity of the church and its cultural acceptance.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who attended Monday’s tour, called the temple an “iconic landmark” and a “beacon of hope.” He also praised the church for working with state officials to encourage community service.
Why Latter-day Saints build temples
The temple is 156,558 square feet on 52 acres in Kensington, Md. Church architect John McConkie and CRSA Architects led the renovation’s architectural efforts. Some of the work includes updated lighting for the interior glass depiction of the Tree of Life and restoration of the bronze exterior doors with medallions portraying planets and stars in concentric circles representing eternity.
“The structure has been reinforced so that this is like a metaphor that we would like to share with you today,” Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, said Monday. “That is so similar to what happens with us as human beings. We believe that people can be renovated, too, that we can change, that our hearts can change as we dedicate our lives to love and serve others.”
By the numbers
1974 • Original dedication of the Washington D.C. Temple.
8-14-2022 • Rededication ceremony.
1,800 • Laborers and craftspeople on-site.
288 • Feet in height, including the 18-foot golden statue of Angel Moroni.
750,000 • Number of people who toured the temple before its original 1974 dedication.
18,500 • Pieces of stained glass that were taken out and then put back together in two 125-foot windows during refurbishing.
52 • Acres of property. The grounds have 260 newly planted trees, 5,073 shrubs and 3,911 perennials.
100 • Languages to choose from for instruction inside the temple.
Latter-day Saints view a temple as a House of the Lord, somewhere they can take part in their faith’s highest rites, including eternal marriage.
Apostle David A. Bednar noted the temple is a place to leave behind earthly distractions (including cellphones). Believers don simple white clothes. Bednar said he even leaves his watch behind to better enjoy the serenity. In their white clothes, a CEO and a garbage truck driver can sit side by side without distinction, Bednar said, equal in the eyes of God.
Members, through tithing donations, funded the renovation, which began in 2018, was completed in 2020 just as COVID-19 hit the world. The reopening has been delayed because of the pandemic. Bednar declined to say how much it cost.
Dan Holt, the church project manager for the massive effort, said in an interview the grounds were redone and mechanical, plumbing, electrical and other systems updated.
“All the systems were 50 years old and at the end of their useful lives,” Holt said. That gave crews the chance, he said, to update interiors, such as adding three miles of baseboards made of Alabama white marble to echo the exterior, which in turn echoes nearby capital monuments.
“The idea of the renovation was to restore it to its original intent,” Holt said, “only better.”
Features inside the temple
That meant ditching the blue shag carpet of the 1970s but keeping the clean, geometric aesthetic of midcentury modern design. Gothic arches are worked into marble altars, metal staircases and wood doors to carry the motif of looking heavenward.
A serene color scheme of beiges, pale yellows, grays, light greens, white marble and gold leaf are carried throughout the temple. Glittering Swarovski chandeliers got new crystals made in Austria and church volunteers worked together in groups to put them into the fixtures, said Emily Utt, historic sites curator for the church.
Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, said she loves the symbolism of 18,500 pieces of stained glass being removed from windows and restored individually.
“Every one of us,” she said, “reflects light in a different way.”
The seven stories are broken into intimate rooms to handle the temple’s main functions: baptizing by proxy for deceased ancestors, educating members and sealing families together for eternity. Bednar and other church officials said they were excited to show the public what they do inside to dispel rumors and untruths about their faith.
“They’ve driven past for 40 to 50 years,” Holt said, “and when they come in, they’ll be surprised to see it’s a more intimate space than what they anticipated.”
The Washington D.C. Temple shares some features with the church’s treasured Salt Lake Temple, which is undergoing a five-year renovation and seismic retrofit. Both buildings have six spires and similar footprints.
“It was intended to be that way,” Holt explained in a news release, “with the idea that the Salt Lake Temple represented the foundation of the church, and the Washington D.C. Temple represented the international future of the church.”