BYU archeologists are currently excavating the old, old tabernacle, which was built before the current structure that is on its way to becoming a temple.
This LDS Church News article provides additional information on the excavation, as well as a picture of what the old building looked like. Today, it looks like this:
I haven’t found anything explaining what will happen to this site when the excavation is finished, but maybe I just missed that information somewhere.
However, I’d like to propose keeping and using the ruins as a kind of open-air, historical-site-museum. Think of a very small scale version of, say, the Roman Forum — with the similarity being that in both instances visitors would simply wander through the ruins on their own.
If the Forum seems too grand an analogy, consider then other LDS historic sites. Far West, Missouri, for example, literally just has a stone in the ground, but is nevertheless an important place of pilgrimage for Mormons.
I’ve been to sites that are comparably small, and enjoyed them immensely.
Among other things, a plan like this could have the following benefits:
• It would bolster the community’s sense of history. This is hard to quantify, but immensely important. It would also be spiritually uplifting and historically informative to many, many visitors. Religion itself is beyond the scope of this website, but because the LDS Church would have to invest in this idea I want to stress that it could be an effective missionary tool.
• It would be an additional draw to downtown. As a historic site, it would be one more thing for visitors to do, and would have a looser schedule than that of either office workers in the area or temple-goers. Consequently, it would have the potential to increase foot traffic and economic gains in downtown.
• It would provide a reason for temple-goers to head north of the temple, and therefore closer to the economic and cultural heart of downtown. One of my fears about the new temple is that it’ll make it too easy for temple-goers to park their cars, attend the temple, and leave. In other words, there will be no reason for them to stick around in downtown. A legitimate historical site would partially alleviate that problem by providing a temple-oriented, but public, focal point.
The excavation site is small and not flashy, but it’s already drawing enough visitors that the excavators have placed signs on the fence providing some history and explanation. And that’s with almost no publicity. Just imagine if this was actively promoted and open beside a functioning LDS temple.
Historical ruins are also a proven economic benefit: I’ve spent thousands of dollars visiting ruin sites on multiple continents, and I’ve invariably been surrounded by other visitors while doing so. History is big business.
Again, I have no idea what the church plans to do with the site. According to the Church News article above, they could also turn it into a new building:
The first tabernacle was constructed with a solid, stone foundation and the upper floors were made out of adobe brick. Brother Talbot said, “The foundation is completely solid, so much so that it would easily accommodate a modern structure on it even today, with little modification.”
The fact that the current foundation could be functional is intriguing, and some sort of replica historical building using the old foundation would have many of the same benefits listed above. Perhaps this could be the visitor’s center?
But it would be a terrible shame if, after the excavation, the structure was either carted away or covered back up. Most cities can only dream of having a site as laden with history as this one, so hopefully Provo won’t throw away this opportunity.