NEW YORK CITY — In sacred services that stood in stark contrast to the din and drone of the public streets outside, the Manhattan New York Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in four sessions June 13.
Other activities included a youth jubilee program and a member fireside, which were held in the famed historic Radio City Music Hall the day prior to the dedication.
Even the casual New York observer, accustomed to throngs of pedestrians, could tell something significant was taking place.
"God bless you people," said one woman who smiled with approval after stopping in the street to ask what so many well-dressed people were doing on a Sunday.
The 20,630-square-foot temple is situated in a select area of mid-town Manhattan on Columbus Ave., a block from picturesque Central Park. The architectural challenge was creating a feeling of spaciousness and spirituality in tight quarters.
The temple was built from the existing shell of the New York New York Stake Center, which was originally dedicated in 1975. A facade of lightly-variegated gray granite blends with the famed Lincoln Center for the Arts and the Juilliard School of Music located across the street, one of the most famous arts complexes in the world.
Following an approach used in the Hong Kong Temple, the stake center was renovated to create the temple on the first, second, fifth and sixth floors, with the chapel, classrooms and administrative offices on the third and fourth.
Members refer to the temple as the "Miracle in Manhattan." Realizing that property values in New York are like Hong Kong, where $10 million will buy a piece of property the size of a postage stamp, as President Hinckley quipped during the member meeting, members held little hope for a temple in Manhattan.
Reading from his journal of 2002, which he has never disclosed, President Hinckley told a congregation of 5,300 gathered for the fireside how the temple design came about.
President Hinckley read from a March 23, 2002, entry and told how he examined other properties in Harlem, on 87th Street and 14th Street, noting how each held prospects for meetinghouses for the growing membership in those areas.
"We then went to our Lincoln Center property," he said. "I went all through this very carefully with the thought that the upper portion might be converted to a beautiful and serviceable temple. The more I saw of it, the better I felt about it. We would do here what we have done in Hong Kong."
He told how he prayed about the idea. He recorded in his journal, "I feel enthusiastic."
Still reading from his journal, President Hinckley recounted what he told members the next day. "The only reason I have come here," he said, "was to see what we could do to move along a temple in this area. . . . We have had so much trouble. . . . We must do something. I cannot foretell what will happen, but I can only give you this promise that somehow whether it is there or some other place, I am going to see that we get a temple built in this New York area while I am still alive."
President Hinckley then said that he promised members that "within two years we will have a temple here for dedication."
Now, a little more than two years later, President Hinckley reflected on that promise and said, "I have come back to fulfill that promise. I am sorry that I am late. I said that I would be back in two years. I meant roughly two years," he said to the delight of the congregation.
"We are here in June. The miracle has occurred. That marvelous thing has come to pass and the house of the Lord has been built within the shell of that great building which we have on Broadway and Columbus."
The Manhattan New York Temple becomes the Church's 119th temple, and the 100th temple dedicated since President Hinckley was called into the First Presidency in 1981. Proceedings were broadcast in 10 languages to 16 sites in the temple district including congregations in Newburgh, Connecticut and Long Island.
The "Miracle in Manhattan" also includes the dynamic growth in membership. Where once there were scattered branches in the Eastern States Mission after World War II, the Church has blossomed to 42,000 members in 14 stakes in the temple district.
"I was the only member in the county," said Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve, reflecting on his youth in New Jersey in a taped interview aired during the youth jubilee. He told of the branch meeting in his parents' home. Attending Church for him was simply a matter of going into the dining room.
Accompanying President Hinckley was Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve, who grew up in New York and was born the same year the Radio City Music Hall was built in 1932.
Elder Hales spoke of the many eastern pioneers who, after settling in the West, gradually returned to the East to study at universities or work in business, laying the groundwork over the years for the sudden growth of the Church.
Today, the Church mirrors the cosmopolitan makeup of New York. A typical ward or branch has pockets of members from all continents, particularly Spanish-speaking members who now comprise 43 units.
"Of all the cities in the world, I can't think of anywhere that needs a place of peace and refuge and repentance more than New York City," said President Brent Belnap of the New York New York stake.