The historic Provo Tabernacle has been all-but-destroyed by a tragic and devastating fire. It is more than a pity; it is a true tragedy. Likely, it could have been prevented. But that does not change the state of things. This stately structure has been gutted by fire. Now what? There are more viable options than may seem apparent.
In January 1896, the Box Elder Tabernacle was destroyed by a fire caused by a faulty furnace. In those days before today's modern fire-fighting equipment, there was no way to fight the fire. The building was entirely burned except for the stone walls, built strong by the pioneer saints after Brigham Young laid the cornerstone in 1865. Church leaders convened amid the still-smoking ashes, held council and determined to rebuild the tabernacle.
In just over a year, the Box Elder Tabernacle had been rebuilt on the sturdy old walls. It was rebuilt finer than it had been before the fire, with a graceful balcony and a soaring Gothic Revival tower. It stands today, a monument to not only its first pioneer builders, but to those wise and determined church leaders who had the foresight to see that this monument to the founding of the city and the Box Elder Stake needed to stand as a memorial to the indomitable spirit of the Restoration.
There was less left of the Box Elder Tabernacle after the fire than there is of the Provo Tabernacle. Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has far more resources to call upon than the saints did in Brigham City in 1896. The Box Elder Tabernacle was magnificently rebuilt. After it was destroyed by fire, the Apia, Samoa, temple was rebuilt. There is no question that the Church has the resources to rebuild the Provo Tabernacle, too.
Punctuating the corridor of the Mormon Core, from Paris, Idaho on the north, to St. George on the south, like magnificent architectural exclamation points, stand a handful of historic sentinels: pioneer tabernacles, which tell of the love of beauty of the early saints. They are considered so significant that they are open for tours during the summer months. We show them off to travelers, to visitors passing through Utah.
When I was a student at Brigham Young University, our stake conferences were held in the Provo Tabernacle. I still remember clearly, now years later, standing in the glow from the elegant stained-glass windows, and singing "The Spirit of God" accompanied by the historic Austin pipe organ behind the podium. Generations yet unborn ought to have that opportunity.
There is far more on which to base the rebuilding of the Provo Tabernacle than there was for the Nauvoo Temple. We have been told, with reference to the fire investigation, that a set of blueprints exists for the Provo Tabernacle, made for work on the building in 1992.
After the almost complete re-building of the Vernal Tabernacle into a beautiful temple, after the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple -- from nothing -- there is no doubt that the Church could put the Provo Tabernacle back together. Not only could it be rebuilt, with today's technology the Provo Tabernacle could be made earthquake resistant -- as was done with Old Main at USU after its disastrous fire nearly 30 years ago -- and be seismically upgraded with new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, thus making it better than before. With steel roof trusses, its great central tower could once again point heavenward.
A rebuilding on this scale has already been done in Provo. The abandoned and neglected Brigham Young Academy building had to be rebuilt from the original walls, so damaged was it when its reconstruction began. It was nearly lost, but wise stewardship turned it into the jewel it is today: home of the Provo City Library.
After the care and concern that President Gordon B. Hinckley showed for Church historical sites, there is little doubt that he would immediately begin to rebuild the Provo Tabernacle, better than before.
But Gordon B. Hinckley is gone, and with more attention being paid to the "bottom line" it is possible that President Hinckley's understanding of the importance of our significant historical structures as "necessary monuments" -- the Church's long-understood mandate and obligation of stewardship to the historic structures that are the Church's sacred trust -- may be impacted.
Even if the Church did not have the financial resources it has today -- resources enabling it to spend billions on the City Creek Center -- much of the cost of rebuilding the Provo Tabernacle could come from private donations. Utah Valley has a wealth of such donors. It was a large private donation, which, President Hinckley said, largely funded rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple.
Yes, a modern stake center could be built on the site of the Provo Tabernacle. Yes, the downtown property, so financially valuable today, could be sold for business development, at a handsome profit. But is that the right thing to do?
The LDS Church has the resources to rebuild the Provo Tabernacle as a necessary monument. It could be done magnificently, as such things have been done on importation occasions in our history. It is the right thing to do, and there is no good reason not to do it.
• Frederick M. Huchel is a resident of North Logan.