Latter-day Saints launch a last-ditch push to save that Space Age Provo Temple

The church has preserved so many other temples, they ask, why not this one?

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The current Provo Temple, left, is set to close Feb. 24. At the right, is a rendering of the planned reconstructed temple.

They say they have written hundreds of letters, circulated petitions with thousands of signatures, reached out to regional leaders and made countless calls.

But in the two years since a core group of Latter-day Saints organized to preserve the original design of the Provo Temple, they’ve not heard a peep from headquarters or any officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

No response. Nada. Nothing. Not an email, a call, a note of recognition. Total silence.

“It’s like screaming into the void,” says Jennifer Bruton, a spokesperson for the grassroots group Preserve the Provo Temple. “That’s one of the disappointments.”

Now, with the temple’s Feb. 24 closure looming and demolition creeping ever closer — Bruton has seen construction materials on the temple property — a sense of urgency has set in.

One of the biggest “betrayals,” she says, was that the first announcement failed to portray the sweeping extent of the makeover to an edifice where thousands of missionaries first experienced the church’s most sacred rituals.

Now, the new design bears no resemblance to the original and its footprint on the lot isn’t even the same. The petitioners are fine with repairs, renovations, seismic upgrades and other improvements; they just want to save that exterior.

“We are happy to see the temple brought up to date functionally, but we petition church leaders to preserve the building that is so meaningful to us,” one of the petitions says. “Temple renovations have occurred recently with other temples, and we ask that the Provo Temple be renovated in a way that will preserve the look, feel, and character of the temple that we love so much.”

Erasing history

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The overhauled Ogden Temple appears on the first day of a public open house in 2014.

President Russell M. Nelson first announced plans to “reconstruct” the building at the faith’s October 2021 General Conference. A month later, the church unveiled a rendering of the redesign.

The rounded temple, designed by then-church architect Emil Fetzer, opened in 1972, just weeks after its architectural twin, the Ogden Temple — then the only other temple with a similar, circular design — was dedicated. That temple was rebuilt as a more conventional structure and reopened in 2014.

The Ogden and Provo temples evoked “a Space Age symbolism, a streamlined Saturn V rocket propelling the Apollo module beyond the terrestrial frontiers and into the great void of space,” Steven Cornell and Kirk Huffaker wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune in 2010. “...The intended symbol, a Hebraic pillar of fire atop the cloud God employed to stifle the Egyptian army as Israel made her miraculous escape, was similar to the modern Saturn V imagery.”

For better or worse — and plenty of Latter-day Saints loathed that look — they became part of temple legacy and lore.

“We must recognize and honor our past, the good and bad of it,” petition signer Rachel Whipple, now a member of the Provo City Council, writes, “not erase it and replace it with a homogenous present.”

Provo native and architectural historian Alan Barnett believes the current design serves a function of its own.

“The Provo Temple is historically significant, representing a significant development in temple design that affected subsequent temples,” Barnett writes on his petition. “With the original Ogden Temple gone, the Provo Temple stands alone to represent an important period in church history.”

Some find the half-century-old temple “odd and different from any other temple,” the historian states, “but we value it for its architectural uniqueness and appreciate its symbolism and history.”

‘Why not this one?’

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The current Provo Temple's days are numbered. It's set to close Feb. 24 and be reconstructed with a new design.

Bruton wonders why other temples — St. George; Manti; Oakland, Calif; Mesa, Ariz., and Washington, D.C. — have been preserved, while Provo needs to be reconfigured into a carbon copy of many current ones.

After church leaders announced in March 2021 that wall paintings — including a “World Room” scene painted by the famed Minerva Teichert — would be removed from the pioneer-era Manti Temple as part of its renovation, many members and preservationists were outraged. A couple of months later, church authorities did an about-face, explaining that the treasured murals would remain and a new temple would be erected in nearby Ephraim.

More recently, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland celebrated the renovation and rededication of the St. George Temple. He told of the care and love given to that “marvelous edifice” and how it “holds a special place” in his heart.

Bruton feels the same way about the Provo Temple. Working for its preservation has been an emotional undertaking for her.

“I have personally held the hands of elderly members of the church, who sobbed, telling me they couldn’t believe the temple they watched go up in their neighborhood, the one they contributed their income to build,” the activist writes in an unpublished letter, “was going to be torn down.”

Bruton recalls a tearful woman looking at her saying: “They have saved so many temples, why not this one?”

The sacred moments, the cherished feelings and the communions with God within its sacred walls “are apparently less important than those that take place in other temples,” Bruton writes, “That ‘sacred building’ will soon by thrown into a dumpster, destined for a landfill. The spire, the beacon across Utah Valley, will be torn to the ground by heavy machinery and tossed aside.”

As Bruton looks out her Provo window, she can see the temple’s spire “reaching up the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains.”

Why are only “certain temples” and “certain people,” she asks, “worth the care and devotion of the church?”

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