Renovation preserves distinct character

Excluding the Hawaii Temple, the Alberta Temple was the first to be completed outside the United States. Dedicated in 1923, the temple, like many of the earlier temples, has a distinct character all its own.

The original architects, Hyrum Pope and Harold Burton of Salt Lake City, were influenced by the designs of their famous contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright. This influence gives the temple a darker and heavier feel than most LDS temples. Even the celestial room, which is usually bright, is decorated in dark exotic woods and colors.The architect for the renovation, Michael Gibb from Calgary, Alberta, felt it was necessary to try and adhere to the original architects' desires.

"When this temple was originally erected, it was a very contemporary building for its time," Gibb explained. He pointed out that even in 1923, it had many unique features, including the first temple to not include a spire.

Preserving detail was one of the prime concerns during the entire renovation project. Over the years, many of the original fixtures inside the temple had been replaced and given to Church members in the community.

One light fixture was found in a member's family room. However, it was happily returned when it was discovered that it would be used in the temple once again.

Even other Church units had become the beneficiaries of unwanted fixtures from temple modernization projects. The terrestrial room once included circular pews, each one curved to fit the increasing radius toward the outside of the room. At some time they were replaced by straight benches. Gibb and his crew went on the detective path once again, and sure enough, they found the benches in a chapel in southern Alberta.

Any of the original fixtures that could not be located were substituted by exact replicas, usually custom-made. Both the light fixtures and the curved benches required replica replacements, as all of the originals could not be located.

Probably the most visually stunning change in the temple is the restoration of the original stencil detailing on the walls and ceilings. Church art restoration expert Mia Struteanu devoted countless hours of time that brought back the stenciling that was hidden under various layers of paint and plaster.

Her efforts also resulted in the restoration and cleaning of the murals in the chapel and ordinance rooms. Some of these had been cut in half to accommodate mechanical changes through the years. However, she was able to join old materials with new, resulting in a finished mural with no visible retouching.

All of the crew members working inside the temple were current temple recommend holders. This stipulation was a challenge to the contractors, as many of the skills required were unusual.

Gibb related one incident where a welder was required to replicate a staircase that was added in the design and to accommodate current safety requirements.

Gibb explained that bids were received for the ornamental welding, but they were all too costly. He was still determined to have the work done. Eventually one of the laborers in the temple offered to try.

"He had two hours of welding experience . . . working on his car," Gibb related. Final inspection of the staircase, however, would never reveal the lack of training.

Although workers were originally hired to work in their respective areas, "most of the workers were unskilled in the jobs they [eventuallyT did," he said. "They learned here and saved [the ChurchT a great deal of time and money."

He explained that the work allowed all of the participants to grow and expand their talents.

Richard Carter, the contractor for the job, related incidents that showed how the spirit of the Lord assisted the effort.

"Our crew was harmonious and involved in a labor of love. They gave of themselves," Carter said. "Men came seeking employment and coincidentally their offers and skills were just what we needed."

Carter related another story of how additional granite was required for the reconstruction. It was then discovered that granite from the original construction was stored on a nearby farm. The owner of the farm had died some years earlier, but on his deathbed he requested that the granite not be thrown away, as he felt one day it would be required.

There were many more examples that demonstrated man's capacity to work and learn when assisted by the Lord, he said. "There have been many examples of where the Lord assisted after all that man could do had been tried." – Rod Gustafson