homepage logo

LDS Church celebrates 50 years of Provo Utah Temple, remodel coming

By Genelle Pugmire - | Feb 9, 2022

Courtesy Intellectual Reserve

Renderings of what the rebuild of the Provo Utah Temple will look like.

It was 50 years ago Wednesday that Joseph Fielding Smith, then president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated the Provo Utah Temple — the 15th in the church.

The church announced the new temple on Aug. 14, 1967, and held a special groundbreaking on Sept. 15, 1969. It was completed in early 1972. At the time, the temple serviced more than 100,000 members in central and eastern Utah.

After the Missionary Training Center was built just west of the temple, the Provo Utah Temple became the busiest temple in the church, as it also serviced students at nearby Brigham Young University, according to Richard O. Cowan, retired professor of Religious Studies, Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University and author of “Provo’s Two Temples” published in 2014 in cooperation with the Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book.

It wasn’t until the 2016 dedication of the Provo City Center Temple that some of the workload in Provo was lightened. The Mt. Timpanogos Temple in American Fork, dedicated some years earlier, also helped as the church membership continues to grow in Utah County.

While members of the church revere the temples as the House of the Lord, the modern architecture of the temple often prompted other nicknames such as the wedding cake, flying saucer and much, much, more.

Courtesy Intellectual Reserve

Provo Utah Temple celebrated 50 years.

It wasn’t until 31 years after the temple was built that a statue of the Angel Moroni was put atop the spire. While spire was originally gold, the addition of Moroni led to changing the spire to white.

The grounds total 17 acres of land which once held fruit trees and people would hunt pheasant and wild turkey.

Cowan remembers the time before the temple and has, for decades, watched the temple be built and go through a number of changes.

“For three-quarters of a century there had been only the four pioneer temples in Utah. When my wife Dawn and I moved to Provo in 1961 where I joined the BYU faculty, we had to go to Salt Lake for temple service, and this was before any freeways were built,” Cowan said. “We were called to serve in one of the BYU student stakes, we learned that these stakes were assigned to the Manti Temple.”

Cowan said he and his wife often rode with one of the student wards on a chartered bus to Manti — the round trip and temple session taking about seven hours.

Courtesy Intellectual Reserve

The Provo Utah Temple as it looks today.

“We figured that if there were a temple in Provo, we could accomplish at least three ordinances rather than just one in that time. You can imagine, therefore, our excitement when in 1967 we learned of plans to build temples here and in Ogden,” Cowan added.

Architect Emil B. Fetzer designed the features of both the Provo Utah Temple and the original Ogden Temple that celebrated its 50th anniversary in January.

“Those close to the project state that the symbolism likening them to the “cloud by day and pillar of fire by night” was not intentional,” Cowan said, referring to the white building by day and the lit gold spire and windows at night.

Cowan followed the construction with great interest — as well as the groundbreaking, cornerstone laying, the open house and, finally, the dedication.

“I will never forget our overwhelming feelings during the dedication. Near the end of the service, the choir sang the ‘Hosanna Anthem,’ and the congregation was then invited to join in singing ‘The Spirit of God,'” Cowan said. “We were so choked with emotion that we couldn’t sing, and didn’t even feel like talking until we were outside afterwards.”

Cowan said students who attended an overflow gathering in the recently-constructed Marriott Center described the unusual experience of being in the crowd exiting that arena in complete silence.

Provo historian Brent Ashworth and his wife, then of just two years, were a couple of those students who listened in the overflow.

Ashworth’s family home was in the Oak Hills neighborhood of Provo, just above the temple site. As a young man, he was able to watch every step of the temple’s progress, and then attend it.

“From the earliest days of growing up in Provo, I remember my parents and grandparents talking about temple hill. We knew it was in upper campus somewhere,” Ashworth said. “We used to play war on the property. We used to bike through the areas.”

“When the temple was announced we were excited. In 1972, we were all involved with it at the time. I remember going to watch it just below the hill where we lived. I remember pictures of President Joseph Fielding Smith and other brethren,” Ashworth added.

Ashworth said he remembers the dedicatory talks. “I remember the Hosanna Shout. I thought that was something really special. We saved our white hankies from that,” Ashworth said.

The Hosanna Shout is a sacred moment in the dedication ceremony. The Hosanna Shout is a way for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to give honor and praise to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, according to a church statement on the practice.

The shout is a symbol of how the crowds reacted to Jesus during his entry into Jerusalem during the last week of his life. The Hosanna Shout became a collective membership experience at the 1836 dedication of the Church’s Kirtland Temple. Near the conclusion of the dedicatory services, the congregation joined in shouting three times: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb, Amen, Amen and Amen!”

Historically, other events throughout the history of the Church have been graced with the Hosanna Shout. According to the church, since the 1892 capstone ceremony of the Salt Lake Temple, the Hosanna Shout has been done while waving a white handkerchief, the memento Ashworth still has today.

“We thought that was really neat,” Ashworth said of participating in the Hosanna Shout. “From my Primary days when I was a kid there were only 7 temples. It was very unique to have a temple in our own town.”

Temples are considered the House of the Lord, and special or sacred experiences may be had by those worthy members who attend. Ashworth said he had one such experience he will never forget.

“After our son died I had a special experience in the Provo Temple. We brought missionaries to the temple,” Ashworth said. “I had a strong feeling to turn around and one of the missionaries had the face of my son. It was a testimony to me that he was doing missionary work on the other side.”

There are countless members who had unforgettable experiences and felt warm affection for the Provo Utah Temple over its 50 years.

In Cowan’s book, a number of students and acquaintances shared their feelings. Cowan shares them here.

Briana Crook described how driving down University Parkway from Orem, she could “see the Provo Temple lit up, in all its glory welcoming me home.”

Brooke Lefevor thought of the temple back home as “my temple,” but acknowledged that after coming to BYU, the Provo Temple had assumed that role. She was grateful that the temple workers became acquainted with her by name; one time when she came alone without her friend, one worker said, “Oh, don’t you worry. We will always be here for you; you are never alone.”

When Kate Kimball was called to leadership in her campus ward Relief Society, she was overwhelmed. However, she acknowledged, “When I attended the Provo Temple as a willing servant of God, I received promptings which directed me how to best fulfill my calling. I was able to see the sisters in my ward as if through the eyes of God. My love for them grew with each thoughtful visit to the temple.”

The Provo Utah Temple has been a beacon of hope for many people, whether they are getting married or doing proxy work such as baptisms for deceased ancestors.

Some people are celebrating its 50 years in unique ways.

David Amott with Preservation Utah said, “Due to the cold weather, COVID, and other factors, our celebrations for the temple’s 50th birthday will include an online lecture and a series of photography and other contests that will award prizes to people who create arresting images of the temple.”

The 50th anniversary will celebrate the fact that there has been a temple in Provo for 50 years.

“While our commemorations of the 50th anniversary will, in one way or another, be about the preservation of the building, we will not be using the event to directly promote the building’s preservation,” Amott said.

At the October 2021 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will reconstruct the Provo Utah Temple when the Orem Utah Temple is complete.

The temple location will stay the same, but the architectural look will be drastically upgraded and redesigned, much like the Ogden Temple. Closure dates will be announced later.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)