Category Archives: Provo Tabernacle

Tabernacle Temple Update

My former colleague Genelle Pugmire reported over the weekend that the LDS Church has filed “800 pages  of descriptions, elevations, floor plans and landscaping” about the under-construction Provo Tabernacle Temple/City Center Temple. When I first began reading I was skeptical — I’ve written repeatedly that we shouldn’t be so sure the project will revitalize downtown — but by the end of the article I was genuinely excited.

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The Provo Tabernacle in mid 2012

For starters, Josh Yost with the city — who is brilliant — is quoted as saying the church is going to great lengths to preserve the structure. I trust Josh, so I trust that this project is actually being done right.

Among the more exciting features is a “17-foot bronze four-tiered Victorian fountain with ornamental nozzles,” fence posts topped with Beehives, extensive landscaping with less surface parking, and a two story pavilion for taking pictures and waiting around.

In addition, some of the grounds will remain open all the time:

“The entire temple grounds will be beautifully landscaped and will be open to the public following the temple’s operations schedule, consistent with all LDS temples. The grounds closest to the temple will have a taller fence and gates, whereas the grounds both north and south of the temple fence will have lower perimeter fencing and are not gated,” Hall added.

Public gardens with benches, shrubs, trees and grass will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the north end of the property, similar to the old tabernacle park. There also will be gardens on the west side of the temple where the current Nu Skin parking terrace is located.

Keeping some of the grounds open all the time — in addition to lower fences, etc.  — will help the temple avoid becoming a spatial black hole as other temples are in other cities.

The article states that the project was originally going to be done in 2015, though that deadline is apparently not fixed due to the complexity of dealing with the building’s historic character.

The Provo Tabernacle on Dec. 17, 2010, as it was burning down.

The Provo Tabernacle on Dec. 17, 2010, as it was burning down.

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Filed under construction, Development, Downtown, Mormon, Provo Tabernacle

The Salt Lake Temple Hasn’t Revitalized Salt Lake City

A few days ago I read this post from Provo Buzz expressing excitement about the city’s development. I share that excitement and I love reading blogs like Provo Buzz that write intelligently about the city. But after reading I thought it might be time to revisit the economic impacts of the LDS Church’s Provo Tabernacle Temple — aka the “City Center Temple” — which may not be as significant as most people expect.

First, there isn’t a major precedent for the temple to revitalize downtown. Most LDS temples are located in suburban areas where commercial revitalization isn’t an issue. The fact that these temples have failed to spur adjacent commercial development should itself be a warning sign. And the handful of urban temples went into places that were already comparatively well-developed, even thriving.

I’ve expressed these concerns before (also, here), but the one big exception is the Salt Lake temple. It’s urban, historic, and a major destination in the city. The comparison to Provo makes sense, which is probably why people keep making it.

But the funny thing is that Salt Lake, particularly around Temple Square, isn’t all that thriving.

Consider first the high percentage of parking in downtown Salt Lake City. As mentioned in this post, 20 percent of downtown Salt Lake is paved for parking lots. That only happens when demand for real estate is low enough to make structures economically unattractive. In other words, there is surprisingly little demand for real estate in downtown Salt Lake City.

This problem is particularly apparent in the area immediately surrounding Temple Square, where massive parking lots abound.

This picture is pretty typical of downtown Salt Lake City, where tall buildings are generally surrounded with huge parking lots. In this picture, the lot is on the right and is larger than the picture really conveys.

This picture is pretty typical of downtown Salt Lake City, where tall buildings are generally surrounded by huge parking lots. Here, the lot is on the right and is larger than the picture really conveys.

It’s ugly, of course, but most importantly shows that the land immediately surrounding the temple is barely performing, economically speaking. That’s a situation at odds with our image of a lively temple with lots of temple-goers-cum-consumers in the area. But either way, if the temple was generating significant investment, people would be snatching up this land for development.

Yet another big, flat, underperforming piece of land in downtown Salt Lake City.

Yet another big, flat, underperforming piece of land in downtown Salt Lake City.

So based on Salt Lake City, the biggest change we should expect to see in downtown Provo when the temple is completed is more parking lots.

Next, consider who is investing in Salt Lake City: the LDS Church. I applaud the church’s efforts to revitalize downtown (even as I criticize its methods) but again, this suggests that there’s a conspicuous lack of demand for space downtown.*

If the temple in Salt Lake was spurring adjacent development there should already have been a lively retail sector before City Creek existed. Instead, the temple's owners — the church — had to step in and do it themselves.

If the temple in Salt Lake was spurring adjacent development there should already have been a lively retail sector before City Creek existed. Instead, the temple’s owners — the church — had to step in and do it themselves.

If existing buildings, including the temple, were really generating investment the church wouldn’t have needed to build its own mall; investors would have lined up to do it for them. If demand had been high enough — and it should have been — the church could even have dictated the type of environment it wanted the way it did with City Creek. None of that happened so the church had to foot the massive bill on its own.

The type of development that surrounds Temple Square is also curious. There are mediocre hotels, a ratty looking JB’s restaurant, etc. Other than Church-owned property — which is in great condition — it’s surprisingly run down. Within a block or two there are major vacancies and blight. It’s pretty dire and in some cases worse than the situation in Provo, though the gleaming towers in the mix make it seem more thriving than anywhere in Utah County.

This JB's restaurant is directly across from Temple Square. The fact that it's a old, single-story building suggests to me that the Temple is not creating significant demand for space or investment opportunities.

This JB’s restaurant is directly across from Temple Square. These kinds of building suggests to me that the temple is not creating significant demand for space or investment opportunities.

There’s no doubt that Salt Lake City is on the rise and downtown in particular is improving. But it’s being buoyed up by the same economic and demographic factors that are benefiting Provo, not by the presence of an LDS temple. Indeed the temple has existed for generations, but that didn’t stop Salt Lake from experiencing the disinvestment and decline that the car-centric mid twentieth century brought to many cities. And that was still going on very recently; when I moved to Utah a decade ago downtown Salt Lake was even less desirable. During those last 10 years the temple is one of the few things that hasn’t changed.

I like the Salt Lake Temple and I like the area surrounding it. But in terms of economics and revitalization it’s really a case study in the surprisingly minimal economic benefits a temple brings to surrounding consumer businesses. Sure any infusion of people helps and when the temple in downtown Provo opens nearby restaurants are likely to get a few more walk-ins.  But if Salt Lake City offers any clues about the future of Provo, we all have reason to worry.

*Some people will argue that the area surrounding Temple Square has been developed (or paved) by the LDS Church because the church wants to protect the environment around its headquarters. Or in other words, that economics aren’t a factor. That may be true to some extent, but many of the parking lots are privately owned, conditions generally get worse moving away from Temple Square, and the retail centers that aren’t insulated from the market — namely Trolley Square and now the Gateway — are struggling.

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Filed under Mormon, parking, Provo Tabernacle

Really Old Baptistry Discovered At Tabernacle Temple

Workers at the LDS Church’s under-construction Tabernacle Temple have unearthed the oldest baptistry in Utah County:

The baptistry, with its 5-by-9-foot font, was built around 1875 and is a significant discovery, said Benjamin Pykles, an LDS Church history department curator, in a press release. “This one city block spans nearly the entire history of the church in Utah with the construction of the original meetinghouse in the 1850s and 60s, the baptistry in the 1870s, the tabernacle in the 1890s, and now the temple under construction.”

According to my colleague Genelle Pugmire, the baptistry includes a water pipe and a wooden floor. Apparently there are also photographs of it, though I haven’t seen them:

In early photographs of the baptistry a chimney is shown, which archeologists believe vented a stove that heated the water to make the facility usable year-round. Large quantities of painted plaster fragments also were discovered, revealing the original sky-blue color of the baptistry’s interior walls.

Genelle’s article didn’t mention what was to become of the baptistry, but this “significant discovery” only adds to the argument that it would be a travesty to bulldoze the history surrounding the Tabernacle. (See previous posts on that topic here and here.)

Historic ruins at the site of the Tabernacle Temple in downtown. Some of these ruins have been ripped out of the ground, while others are covered up.

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The Rogue Parking Explained

At almost the exact same time I published a post earlier this morning about rogue parking signs on Center Street, Downtown Provo Inc. explained the situation via Twitter:

The people at Downtown Provo Inc. have a difficult job and clearly they’re trying to appease all parties involved here. And I think they’re generally doing a great job. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also did a little bit of work for them recently.)

I also love the businesses in downtown. I visit them often and hate to see them struggling. And if the community came together to support the rogue signs they’d be a fine and adequate solution.

But unfortunately, however, the community, the businesses and others all contest the ownership and use of this space. All of these groups have legitimate claims and grievances, so I think the problem is worth looking at.

As the tweet states, the area businesses are “hurting” as a result of construction. That’s a major problem that absolutely needs fixing.

But why does that mean that the city government should subsidize business loses via free parking? If construction is hurting businesses, the people behind that construction — in this case the LDS Church and Nu Skin — should solve the problems they’re creating. Given the massive costs of these projects, it’s conceivable that their backers could just hand over a few thousand dollars to nearby businesses.

I know that wouldn’t actually happen, but the point is that fabulously wealthy private interests should solve the problems they create.

And those problems are real, as pointed out by Station 22:

Perhaps the problem here is that local shops lack an advocate willing to confront the problem or the private interests. Nu Skin and the LDS Church seem to get whatever they want downtown, which may be an underlying issue here. They also may not be fulfilling their obligations, which were to minimize their impact:

Again, this goes to show that the people behind the construction need to take responsiblity. If they won’t, the city or another organization should hold them accountable.

But regardless, this still illustrates how everyone — businesses, drivers, construction workers, wealthy corporations, etc. — think of the street and street parking as “belonging” to them. Clearly, that’s a problem when interests conflict.

The solution, I think, is to more clearly delineate who gets to use a street — so better signage, more enforcement, etc. — and to create streets with less contested space. More pedestrian space would do this, for example, but in any case the point is that government-owned free parking is always likely to spark a battle.

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Filed under parking, Provo, Provo Tabernacle

(Pro(vo)cation) Turns One!

Sunday, (Pro(vo)cation) passed the one year mark. Though many readers didn’t find this blog until later, it actually began Nov. 4, 2011. This was the first post that wasn’t originally written for another site, and this was the second post. So it seems time for a brief retrospective.

The 100 Block, a frequent topic on this blog.

First, thank you for reading. When I started this blog, I had no idea where it would go. Now, I’m consistently surprised by the response and I’m flattered, humbled, and a bit intimidated when someone tells me they read along.

When I started writing, I also thought I might write two or three posts a week for six months or so, and then I’d be done. Before long, however, I began writing more and more until I settled on the current format of three posts a day, five days a week.

So far, this blog includes 720 posts. As of Sunday night around 8:30, it had 38,773 all-time page views, most of which have come in the last six to eight months as the blog has gained more momentum.

A view of Los Hermanos, the old Carnegie Library and the Wells Fargo Building.

I think that number is great, but if you’re reading along here it also seems to represent a group of people who care about Provo. We may all have different opinions, but clearly there are a bunch of us who think Provo is worth having an opinion about.

Much to my surprise, these are the three most popular posts ever:

1. The LDS Church Muscles Its Way to Development Nirvana

2. The Interchange Boondoggle Part 1

3. Dawn of a New Era: Muse Music Changes Ownership

And these were the three least-clicked posts:

1. The Difference Between Walking and Walkability

2. Are the Olympics a Bad Investment for Cities?

3. Lingering, Loitering, and Lively Sidewalks

The Provo Library has also been discussed on this blog.

If you were to go back and read all the posts on this blog, you might notice a bit of evolution over time. The way I write these posts has certainly changed over the last year, and moreover I’m constantly learning or being told new things, leading me to revise and alter my positions.

In any case, one of my favorite developments recently on this blog is the addition of guest posts. There haven’t been a lot of them yet, but the posts people have submitted demonstrate that people feel passionately about Provo.

The Knight Building is just one example of Provo’s historic architecture.

They’re thinking about the city and they like it. If you’re reading this, I urge you to consider submitting something yourself; I’d love it if this blog evolved to represent a wide range of views, rather than mostly just the opinion of one guy.

In the meantime, feel free to make suggestions, send me pictures — of Provo or anywhere else that is worth studying — and point out problems. I plan to continue writing this blog for sometime yet, and hopefully it’ll continue getting better and better. And thanks again for reading.

The Rooftop Concert Series has come up repeatedly on this blog.

The conversion of the Provo Tabernacle into an LDS Temple also has come up often on this blog. This picture shows a smoke stack that, sadly, was demolished this year.

Provo’s thriving restaurant scene is one of its greatest assets.

Mountains, trees, and BYU are among Provo’s other assets.

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Filed under building, Food, Provo, Provo Tabernacle

Historic Preservation in the Middle of a Bus Station

If you’ve been in Provo lately, you’ve probably noticed that construction on the LDS Church’s Tabernacle Temple is visibly moving forward. Hopefully the developers are also taking extra care to preserve the ruins of the original Provo Tabernacle, which I suggested should be preserved in this post. (And which the church indicated it planned to preserve.)

In any case, I recently saw an excellent example of this kind of historic preservation in Cordoba, Spain. In the picture below, a small ruined foundation has been turned into a kind of art installation. The site is located in the middle of the city’s bus station and shows a rather remarkable committment on the part of the city to preserve it’s architectural heritage.

Ruins preserved in a bus station in Cordoba, Spain.

I don’t know a lot about these ruins, but they nevertheless demonstrate how new development can co-exist and even benefit from attention to the past. And if a bus station in Cordoba can pull something like this off, there’s no reason something similar couldn’t become the norm in Utah and for the LDS Church.

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Tabernacle Temple Construction Begins in Earnest

I was walking in downtown earlier today and noticed a large crane at the Tabernacle Temple.

Construction at the former LDS Provo Tabernacle, which will become a temple.

The ground breaking on this project occurred in May, but this crane is the most visible sign since then that work is actually going on.

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Best June Posts

Before I even realized it, June ended and July was nearly a third gone. Nevertheless, as is the tradition on this blog, I wanted to highlight my favorite posts from the month that brings us Father’s Day and the beginning of summer.

The Copenhagen Denmark LDS Temple: A Case Study: The LDS Church is preparing to build a temple in downtown Provo. Though the church often chooses a decidedly (and unfortunately) suburban plan when building temples, the church’s facility in Copenhagen shows how urban temples can work remarkably well with their surroundings.

Daybreak: A Case Study and Conclusions: This pair of posts looks at the shiny new housing development in West Jordan  for examples of Utah’s more cutting edge urban design. Ultimately, these posts posit that while the development does some things well, its location and lack of things like walkability dooms it to being just another suburb.

Why Everyone Should Buy Local: This post points out that buying from local businesses provides a better customer experience and benefits the local economy to boot.

“Turn Off the Lights,” Or, How We Waste Resources: In this post, I draw an analogy between underused parking lots and leaving the lights on in your house when no one is using them. The objective here is to use a commonly understood activity — turning off the lights — to understand how parking is vastly overbuilt and underused.

The Original Provo Tabernacle is Now a Garage on 500 North: Before Provo’s current LDS tabernacle was built, the city had an even older building. That building was demolished in 1919, but the stones were reused in a residential garage on 500 West. This post includes pictures of the recycled stones.

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Filed under building, buy local, commuting, Development, driving, economics, local, Mormon, neighborhood, parking, Provo, Provo Tabernacle, urban

The Original Provo Tabernacle is Now a Garage on 500 North

After visiting several amazing old homes Friday, I attended a lecture at the Provo Library by LDS Church historian Brad Westwood. The lecture included a lot of great information, but the most surprising revelation was that some of the stones from Provo’s original LDS tabernacle are now part of a residential garage near the corner of 500 West and 500 North.

As I understood Westwood, the stones in the pictures below used to sit above the original tabernacle’s foundation (see this post), but below adobe bricks that made up the higher parts of the walls. The garage is located behind the clinker brick house on the northwest corner of the intersection at 500 West and 500 North.

This garage is made of stone taken from the original Provo tabernacle.

Detail of the tabernacle stone.

The garage is behind a clinker brick home.

I don’t remember Westwood saying when the garage was built or how the stones ended up at this location, but I believe the original tabernacle was demolished in 1919. Curiously, I looked up the county records for the adjacent house and couldn’t find anything earlier than 1981, suggesting that it was built around that time. The house looks older than that to me, but maybe I just didn’t look hard enough for the right documents. (The house, by the way, is pretty run down today but at one time was quite nice.)

Anyway, if you want to see part of Provo’s history, go walk by this house. And in case you haven’t heard, the original tabernacle was a smaller building just north of the current tabernacle and temple. This post includes information on and pictures of a recent excavation of the building.

Westwood’s lecture also included a number of other interesting facts about Provo history. For example, residents of Provo originally didn’t want the original tabernacle to be built because it was too “presbyterian” and not sufficiently simple.

That’s a hard sentiment to understand today because it was a rather plain building, but Westwood explained that it looked too much like the structures erected by the early Mormons’ former churches. Those Mormons, Westwood said, were trying to return to the values of the “primitive church” and wanted correspondingly primative church buildings.

Brigham Young, however, ordered the early Provo settlers to build better structures. As a result they constructed the original tabernacle, which Westwood described as the “first substantial meeting house in Mormondom beyond Salt Lake City.”

Westwood also said that the original tabernacle had two bells in its tower over the course of its existence. One of those bells, he said, is now the Victory Bell outside BYU’s Marriott Center. The other bell is officially unaccounted for but possibly at Camp Maple Dell in Payson.

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The Copenhagen Denmark LDS Temple: A Case Study

Despite my own excitement about the coming LDS Tabernacle Temple — aka the Provo City Center Temple — I’ve repeatedly expressed my fear that the building won’t capitalize on its potential to improve downtown Provo. This has been a recurring theme since the beginning of this blog, but chief among my concerns is that most LDS temples are designed as quiet suburban destinations far away from economic centers like downtown Provo. In the past, I’ve looked to urban stadiums, the tech campuses, the San Diego LDS temple, and many other things as examples of how this problem plays out in different cities.

However, due some Facebook pictures, I recently learned about the LDS Church’s Copenhagen Denmark temple. After a quick study of the building on the church’s website and Google Maps, I think the building may offer one of the best examples of what Provo’s new temple should be.

The Copenhagen temple opened in 1999 and just like the Tabernacle Temple was converted from a previous structure.

The LDS Church’s Copenhagen Denmark Temple.

As the picture demonstrates, it’s also a relatively small but attractive brick structure in the midst of an existing neighborhood — again, just like the Provo Tabernacle Temple.

Google street view is even more revealing. In the picture below, the temple is on the right. Significantly, there is no fence or wall around the structure. (And of course, there are bike racks. So perfect.) The building is also right up against the sidewalk. This picture seems to subvert the conventional wisdom that LDS temples need some sort of protective wall or fence. It also shows that a temple can mesh well with other buildings in an urban setting.

Side view of the Copenhagen temple.

This next picture below is a front view of the temple, showing a small but attractive square. Note that the square is not fenced off like most temple grounds. Instead, it’s public. This is exactly the sort of thing that would work well in Provo, though I’ve never seen something similar at an American temple.

Front view of the LDS Copenhagen temple.

In the picture below, the temple’s gated courtyard is visible. Notice that it’s small and has a correspondingly small fence.  By contrast, the San Diego Temple, the Provo temple, and others have imposing and uninviting 6 foot walls and fences surrounding them.

Side view of the Copenhagen temple.

The next picture shows that the temple is located in a fairly high density neighborhood, with street parking very nearby. I don’t know if the temple itself has parking, though I didn’t see any big parking lots or structures anywhere, which is obviously another important lesson for Provo.

High density buildings surrounding the temple, which is just off to the right.

This next picture (below) shows the street behind the temple. As I argued here and here, these sorts of small, intimate streets are one of the best things about old, European cities. They also give people more choices when trying to navigate the city. Significantly, this street shows that temples don’t need massive and inaccessible grounds that are blocked off to pedestrians.

A small street behind the temple.

The picture shows a rear view of the temple grounds, along with more of that tiny street. When I see this street, I immediately think of 100 South in Provo, which the LDS Church now owns and plans to close down. Rather than completely block it off, however, this street shows that 100 South could remain open, perhaps as a pedestrian and bike path.

Behind the Copenhagen temple.

Copenhagen isn’t Provo, but this temple shows how LDS buildings can coexist in an urban setting. This temple’s design also responds to many of the concerns I expressed in this post, where I suggested that the Tabernacle Temple may not actually increase downtown foot traffic.

In any case, I hope that the Tabernacle Temple takes its cues from Copenhagen, rather than the numerous suburban temples I’ve seen in the United States.

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