In 1974, the Washington Temple — as it was then called — was opened for public review and then dedicated as the 16th operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A half-century later and following a second public open house, the temple — now known as the Washington D.C. Temple — is set to be rededicated on Aug. 14 after extensive renovations. As it resumes operations, the Church’s number of dedicated temples has grown more than tenfold since 1974, reaching a total of 173, with 99 more under construction or announced.
Said then-Church President Spencer W. Kimball on Nov. 19, 1974, the day he dedicated the temple: "We hope the Lord is pleased and that He will enter here and make this His abode. The people in this area have waited long and longingly for this temple. It has been 144 years since the Church was restored. Now we have a temple here, exquisitely beautiful, pleasingly decorated, adequately arranged, to carry forward the work of Lord."
Following is a look at the efforts and events leading up to the 1974 dedication of the Washington Temple, and how those events and such have changed compared to similar temple events in the present day. For example, 1974 temple events were “public viewings” (see No. 9) and a “completion ceremony” (No. 19), not the open houses and cornerstone ceremonies of today. And the temple had a reported cost affixed (No. 8).
1. Image: Church Architect Emil B. Fetzer called the Washington Temple “a subtle reflection of the Salt Lake Temple.”
2. Name: The temple was announced, constructed and dedicated as the Washington Temple, the Church’s 16th operating sacred edifice. Until the Church went to a more unified naming convention in 1999, temples were known either by a singular city, state or county name. Thus, the Washington Temple was named for the nation’s capital. Six years later, the Church’s first temple in the state of Washington was named the Seattle Temple after the metro area where it was built.
3. Beginnings: President Hugh B. Brown, then first counselor in the First Presidency, presided at the Jan. 18, 1968, groundbreaking and site dedication for the new temple in the 57-acre wooded area near Kensington, Maryland. However, it wasn’t until May 28, 1971, when the site was first cleared for the start of construction.
4. Temple district: The temple was to serve the 300,000 Latter-day Saints living in the area of the United States east of the Mississippi River, north into Canada and south through the Caribbean and into South America. In all, the temple district included 110 stakes and mission districts.
5. Five key Church statistics in 1974, by the numbers:
- 3,321,556 members worldwide
- 7,554 congregations
- 630 stakes — 541 in the U.S., 89 in other countries
- 108 missions — 34 in the U.S., 74 in other countries
- 17,500-plus full-time missionaries
6. Heights and dimensions: The Washington Temple stood as tall as a 16-story commercial building and consisted of nine interior levels, with its 248-foot length and 136-foot width making for a temple of 160,000 square feet.
7. Seven key temple and grounds features:
- The temple exterior was sheathed in 173,000 square feet of Alabama white marble — enough to cover three and one-half football fields.
- The temple’s six metal spires featured 24-carat liquid gold, fused into embossed porcelainized steel at 1,680 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Standing 18 feet tall, the gold-leafed Angel Moroni statue atop one of the six spires was positioned 288 feet above the ground. It remains today the Church’s tallest-reaching temple.
- Located on the seventh level, the assembly room could seat more than 1,000 people.
- Windows in the Washington Temple featured stained glass, faceted glass and translucent marble. The latter, as thin as five-eighths of an inch, allowed the sun to bath the interior with soft, amber light.
- The enclosed walkway bridge from the temple annex to the temple proper was 878 feet long and 31 feet wide, with bay windows glazed with insulating laminated gold-reflective glass.
- The 108,000 square feet of landscaped area included walks, a fountain and reflecting pool.
8. Cost: While the Church has since discontinued the practice of announcing project costs for new temples and other significant buildings, the Washington Temple was reported to have cost approximately $15 million, including furnishings. About two-thirds of the cost was covered by the tithes and offerings of Latter-day Saints worldwide, while the remainder came from contributions of members living in the temple district within the U.S. and Canada.
9. Going "public": In 1974, the public-facing event was referred to as “public tours,” “public viewing” and “public reviews” — the phrase “open house” was not used in 1974 coverage by the Church News.
10. Early views: Even before the start of the VIP tours preceding the public viewing, some 37,000 people had already walked through the temple in previews. They ranged from members of the temple district to those being taught locally by full-time and stake missionaries and even college students from along the East Coast before starting fall semester classes.
11. Record draw: The seven-week event drew 758,328 visitors, far exceeding the Church’s previous pre-dedication best of 662,401 visitors in 1956 prior to the Los Angeles California Temple dedication. Some 1,400 volunteers helped staff the public viewing.
12. Extended schedules: The public viewing was initially scheduled to run Sept. 17 through Oct. 26, Tuesdays through Saturdays; however, because of demand, the offering of public tours was later extended an extra week. Also, on Oct. 1, the event’s hours were extended on both ends of the day, moving from 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. through 10:30 p.m.
13. Ticket demand: In June 1974, a temple information office in Arlington, Virginia, had two telephone lines to field calls requesting tickets. Unable to handle the flood of calls after media reports of free tickets to tour the new temple, five additional lines were installed in the rec room of a local stake presidency counselor’s home to help. But even that wasn't enough despite adding five more lines and a new number to the in-home switchboard and local members helping to answer the phones.
14. VIPs: Noteworthy visitors during a special week of VIP tours included first lady Betty Ford, wife of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, who had assumed office just the previous month; Vice President-designate Nelson Rockefeller; U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger and other Supreme Court justices; foreign ambassadors; U.S. Cabinet members and sub-Cabinet officials; more than 100 U.S. congressional leaders; state and local government leaders; and national, state and local business and education leaders.
15. First day, first lady: “This is a really, truly great experience for me, and I think the temple is one of great beauty and a great addition to our surroundings here in Washington,” said Betty Ford, who was escorted by President Kimball and Washington Temple President Edward E. Drury for her visit on Sept. 11, the first day of weeklong VIP tours. “It’s really an inspiration to all of us. I don’t know when I have enjoyed anything quite so much. … This is something that is, in my mind, a wonderful creation of six years.”
16. Opening prayers: In conjunction with the start of VIP tours at the Washington Temple, President Kimball offered the invocation to convene the U.S. Senate on Sept. 11, and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the invocation in the U.S. House of Representatives the following day.
17. Accompanying concert: In conjunction with the new temple and its public viewing, the 375-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir offered a Sept. 14 concert at the 3,000-seat John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the capital city. The Fords attended, with President Kimball and his wife, Sister Camilla Kimball, joining them in the presidential box. The choir returned the next morning for its weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast. To accommodate local members wanting to attend a performance, tickets to concert rehearsals and the Sunday morning broadcast were distributed.
18. Special guests: Special attention was given to the 750,000th visitor — 8-year-old Brad Collins of Annandale, Virginia, who was accompanying his parents. He was given a copy of the Book of Mormon, and his family received VIP treatment during their visit. And the Church News reported the event’s final two visitors as Mr. and Mrs. Joseph W. O’Conner of Silver Spring, Maryland. “We were prompted by a good deal of curiosity,” Joseph O’Conner said, adding, “We expected to find a cathedral interior. But simplicity is beauty.”
19. "Ceremonial" cornerstone: In the Church’s early days and on through the 19th century, leaders would symbolically mark a temple location by placing four large stones at each corner, while today, the cornerstone ceremony has become part of a temple’s dedication. However, the Washington Temple’s cornerstone was featured in marking the conclusion of construction. During the Sept. 9 “completion ceremony,” President Kimball; President Marion G. Romney, second counselor in the First Presidency; and Elder Hinckley applied mortar to the cornerstone.
20. Time capsule: As part of the completion ceremony, a time capsule was placed in the temple’s cornerstone. Among the 30-some items, the contents included:
- A copy of Brigham Young’s presidential appointment as the first territorial governor of Utah, signed in 1850 by U.S. President Millard Fillmore.
- An American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
- The standard works — the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants — and selected Church magazines and books.
- Copies of current Washington newspapers and a Sept. 7 issue of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.
- Photos of the Church’s general authorities and local leaders.
- A replica of the statue of Brigham Young that stands in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
- Samples of tickets used for the public viewing and dedication sessions and photos of the temple’s construction.
21. Meet the press: President Kimball, President Romney, Elder Hinckley and Fetzer were featured in a news conference conducted after the completion ceremony. It was held inside the temple — actually, on the bridge leading to the temple proper — and more than 100 reporters and photographers participated in Church’s largest news conference to date, in terms of media and breadth of coverage. The leaders offered brief prepared remarks and then answered questions.
22. Cleaning and preparing: Between the public viewing and dedication, members from the four local stakes helped clean and prepare the Washington Temple for its dedication. Two daily shifts involved about 200 women, with men working in the evenings.
23. Temple dedication, by the numbers:
- 2 — number of Church’s 45 general authorities at the time who did not attend (Elder Alma Sonne, Assistant to the Twelve, and Elder Milton R. Hunter of the First Quorum of the Seventy). Each of the other attending general authorities spoke during a dedicatory session.
- 4 — days of dedicatory sessions, Tuesday through Friday, Nov. 19-22.
- 10 — total dedicatory sessions, each presided over by President Kimball. The sessions were held at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. the first two days and 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. the final two days.
- 10 — different choirs, one for each session, representing different parts of the temple district.
- 4,300 — members seated for each session. Nearly 2,000 were seated in the temple’s seventh-level solemn assembly room.
24. Church News coverage: Devoting 13 pages of its 16-page Nov. 23, 1974, issue to the dedication of the Washington Temple and related topics, the Church News listed all the session speakers — comprised of the attending general authorities as well as architects and local Church leaders. Coverage also included quotes and themes from session messages and an interview with the temple president and matron, President Drury and Sister Louise F. Drury. Church media today do not cover the messages from the dedicatory sessions nor interview sitting temple leaders.
25. Press, TV coverage: By the time it had been dedicated, the Washington Temple was featured in 1,374 articles published in 931 newspapers, including at least five articles in each of the 50 states — except Hawaii (three) — as well as reports published in Europe and South America and carried on international wire services. Also, a 30-minute television documentary on the temple was shown on 35 television stations, including in Salt Lake City; Seattle, Washington; Baltimore, Maryland; Los Angeles, California; Boston, Massachusetts; Houston, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; New Orleans, Louisiana; Topeka, Kansas; and Anchorage, Alaska.