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Visitors centers commemorate 100 years

At any time of the day, a stroll across Temple Square reveals a mixed market of languages from around the world.

The South Visitors Center on Temple Square is one of 23 visitors centers around the world. These visitors centers share the gospel with 6 million to 7 million people yearly and play a prominent role in the Church's missionary effort.
The South Visitors Center on Temple Square is one of 23 visitors centers around the world. These visitors centers share the gospel with 6 million to 7 million people yearly and play a prominent role in the Church's missionary effort. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

It's been that way now for 100 years. Since the first bureau of information was opened on Temple Square Aug. 4, 1902, visitors centers have played an increasingly important role in aiding missionaries proclaim the gospel to the millions who come.

Over the century, 23 visitors centers have been erected at major Church historic sites and many of the larger temples around the world.

Here in these centers, approximately 6 million to 7 million visitors come each year; many hear the message of the restoration presented in their language and in a peaceful setting. Missionary guides and interactive displays allow visitors to study the gospel at their pace and to the level of their interest.

Curious visitors have long been drawn to Temple Square, even before the temple was completed in 1893.

"As early as 1875, Charles J. Thomas, custodian of the Salt Lake Temple, . . . was assigned to meet tourists, show them around the Temple Square and answer questions.

"During the 1880-90s, James Dwyer, a book merchant in Salt Lake City, went to Temple Square daily where he discussed the gospel with tourists and gave each an Article of Faith card on which he had printed a picture of the temple and his name. . . .

Visitors make their way up to the Christus at the north visitors center at Temple Square, Tuesday, July 30, 2002.

photo by Jeremy Harmon                                (Submission date: 07/30/2002)
Visitors make their way up to the Christus at the north visitors center at Temple Square, Tuesday, July 30, 2002. photo by Jeremy Harmon (Submission date: 07/30/2002) Photo: Jeremy Harmon

"In July 1901, President Lorenzo Snow's son, LeRoi, overheard a hack [cab] driver telling colorful falsehoods regarding the Church. As a result of LeRoi Snow's efforts, the First Presidency requested the Seventies of the Church to establish a bureau of information on Temple Square." (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 474.)

"The object was to distribute Church literature and impart all necessary information to tourists and other strangers visiting Salt Lake City. A small building for the entertainment of strangers and for the distribution of literature had been erected on the Temple Block at a cost of $600. (Church Chronology, p 14.)

The building was, "a gazebo-like thing built near the south gate, not so much as to accommodate the visitors as to keep the guides warm," said President Gordon B. Hinckley who spoke during dedicatory services held November 2001 for the renovated North and South Visitors Centers on Temple Square. (See Church News, Nov. 10, 2001, p.3.)

This booklet produced by the Church in the early 1900s was distributed to visitors to Temple Square.
This booklet produced by the Church in the early 1900s was distributed to visitors to Temple Square. Photo: Photo courtesy Gary Thompsons Antiques

"About seventy-five active members of the Church, of both sexes, were called to spend part of their time in entertaining visitors and escorting them around the block. During the first year of its operation the registry books indicated that 150,000 people were entertained." (Church Chronology, p 14.)

Three years later, in 1904, construction began on the Visitors Information Bureau on Temple Square. The building was located on the southeast corner of Temple Square and also served as a museum. A second story was added in 1910.

The building was replaced with the present-day South Visitors Center, which was completed in 1978. The North Visitors Center was completed in 1963.

Concerning the two visitors centers on Temple Square, President Hinckley said, these two structures "have served very well to the present time when we have these beautifully renovated buildings."

In his dedicatory prayer, he called them, "an island of peace in this great bustling city."

Since the two visitors centers on Temple Square were rededicated, the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center in New York was dedicated by President Hinckley on July 1 after being rebuilt.

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