When one considers how long Latter-day Saint pioneers waited and worked for the initial completion of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893 — after 40 years of construction and 46 years after the LDS pioneers first settled in Salt Lake Valley — the current plans to close the temple for four years for renovations don’t seem so long.
Life will continue during those four years and the Latter-day Saints who had hoped to include the Salt Lake Temple in their plans for sealings, ordinances or any other aspect of their lives will need to make other plans. Thankfully, there are far more temples today than there were in the 1800s — most won’t have to travel for hours to participate in these special places of worship while work on the Salt Lake Temple is underway.
While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done an admirable job of constructing new temples and encouraging what church President Russell M. Nelson terms a “home-centered church,” the Salt Lake Temple and surrounding Temple Square remain a powerful touchstone of what the church represents to many — to the faithful and the greater public. Consider how many conferences, Tabernacle Choir concerts and more have taken place around Temple Square.
As Nelson said, when announcing renovation details, “Its stately majesty has been a beacon of light for 126 years.”
While the Salt Lake Temple has been a beacon, the church president noted that “Buildings, like people, go through an aging process. Buildings can be renovated.”
We need only look at the recent Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris to see how important it is to carefully maintain historic landmarks. While crews were working to renovate the 12th century cathedral, an apparent accident caused great damage to the building and wounded the spirits of many Parisians, Catholics and others from around the world.
Closer to home, many residents recall the tragedy of the Provo Tabernacle fire. It’s a memory that’s still fresh nearly nine years later, even after the building’s celebrated resurrection as the Provo City Center Temple.
The Provo Tabernacle fire was reportedly started by a lamp placed on a wooden box. It’s another inadvertent act that caused much damage to a beloved structure and the psyche of a community.
Devastating fires or other natural disasters have the power to quickly eradicate centuries of knowledge, art and memories. A recent Associated Press story cited a 2015 Siemens study showing that fires damage more than a dozen historic buildings around Europe each year. Some of these catastrophes took place during routine maintenance projects.
Given this sobering situation, we’re heartened by the precautions that the church’s First Presidency plan to take during the Salt Lake Temple renovations. The church plans to conduct grinding and welding operations in special designated zones for fire safety, according to previous Daily Herald reporting. There will also be a 24-hour fire prevention plan with local fire officials and extra fire extinguishers will be placed at key areas.
The renovations will also include seismic upgrades, something that’s very prudent given the Wasatch Front’s fault lines and the fact that the temple is a massive structure mostly made of granite. In addition to strengthening the temple’s spires and walls, the church plans to install a base isolation system to preserve the structure’s historic footing. Similar systems were installed during renovations at the Utah Capitol and Salt Lake City-County Building, according to the Deseret News.
Over the course of the renovation work, it will be interesting to watch the work on safety enhancements and construction of improved amenities. At times, the four years will seem like a long period, but it will ultimately be a short but vital chapter in the temple’s history.
The work to come will surely reflect an ethos first espoused by Brigham Young during the initial construction of the Salt Lake Temple. Concerned about workers using a less-effective construction technique to save money, Young reportedly told them, “Build not for today nor tomorrow, but for all eternity,” according to church resources.
The structures of man will not last forever, but with a considerable amount of care and love, we can help ensure that structures that have stood for more than a century can be there for our descendants in the decades to come.