Building a temple in Laie Hawaii

Edifice on Oahu’s north shore is first built outside North America

LAIE, HAWAII

Almost precisely 91 years ago, on Nov. 27, 1919, Church President Heber J. Grant dedicated the first temple outside North America, at the village of Laie on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It was Thanksgiving Day.

A 1919 photo of the Laie Temple.
A 1919 photo of the Laie Temple. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

This year, on Nov. 21, Church President Thomas S. Monson will rededicate the temple, which, for the second time in its history, has undergone extensive renovation. The temple was enlarged and remodeled during a two-year period from 1976-78. Church President Spencer W. Kimball rededicated the temple June 13-15, 1978. Other remodeling and renovations have taken place without completely closing the temple and then holding a rededication.

President Heber J. Grant dedicated the Laie Hawaii Temple in five sessions, beginning on Nov. 27, 1919. The first session was attended by 310 members; some 1,500 people came to Laie that day. Many posed for this photo.
President Heber J. Grant dedicated the Laie Hawaii Temple in five sessions, beginning on Nov. 27, 1919. The first session was attended by 310 members; some 1,500 people came to Laie that day. Many posed for this photo. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

For many years, the edifice was called the Hawaiian Temple or the Hawaii Temple. It is now the Laie Hawaii Temple, one of two temples in Hawaii. The other is the Kona Hawaii Temple.

The Laie Hawii Temple, which was built in 1919, will be rededicated on Nov. 21 by President Thomas S. Monson. Thursday, Nov., 18, 2010.
The Laie Hawii Temple, which was built in 1919, will be rededicated on Nov. 21 by President Thomas S. Monson. Thursday, Nov., 18, 2010. Credit: Gerry Avant, Church News

The building of the temple at Laie was an undertaking of great magnitude, accomplished by ingenuity, brawn and, most of all, what many deemed as miracles.

This 1924 photo shows the area around the temple in Laie.
This 1924 photo shows the area around the temple in Laie. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

The Laie temple today is surrounded by beauty, with an abundance of trees, shrubs, flowers, green grass, reflecting pools and walkways. The scene was much different when Church President Joseph F. Smith selected the site on June 1, 1915. On that day, President Smith, who had spent several years in Hawaii as a missionary and visited the islands on other occasions, went to the I Hemoele chapel, a small Church-owned building located on a hill about half a mile west of the island’s north shore on the Pacific Ocean. Determining that this was where the temple should stand, he offered a prayer of dedication on the temple site.

The I Hemolele chapel was removed in order to begin construction of the Laie Hawaii Temple.
The I Hemolele chapel was removed in order to begin construction of the Laie Hawaii Temple. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

The I Hemoele chapel was moved, having been lifted onto rows of timbers, and “using tackle, ropes, 12 to 16 horses, a crew of husky Hawaiians pushed and pulled the building down the hill, rotating the timbers underneath the chapel” (from the forthcoming book, Gathering to La’ie, by Fred Woods, Jeff Walker and Riley Moffat).

The Fairbanks brothers, J. Leo and Avard, sculpted freizes, bringing beauty to the temple's exterior.
The Fairbanks brothers, J. Leo and Avard, sculpted freizes, bringing beauty to the temple’s exterior. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library
The Laie Hawii Temple was originally dedicated on Thanksgiving Day in 1919. President Thomas S. Monson will rededicate the temple on Sunday, Nov. 21. The temple recently underwent renovation. Thursday, Nov., 18, 2010.
The Laie Hawii Temple was originally dedicated on Thanksgiving Day in 1919. President Thomas S. Monson will rededicate the temple on Sunday, Nov. 21. The temple recently underwent renovation. Thursday, Nov., 18, 2010. Credit: Gerry Avant, Church News

A description of building the temple is contained in Chapter 6 of the book:

“In 1916, constructing a building worthy of a temple in rural O’ahu required ingenuity and a lot of hard work. …” The chapter describes how “men drove teams of horses to the river beds in the mountains back of Laie and hauled rocks to the temple site. The rocks were used in the thick foundations of the temple to give it strength in place of the loose corals found there. Smaller rocks were used in the wall around the temple grounds. Some of the other men made large excavations necessary for the temple foundation with picks, hand shovels, and blasting powder. The men worked ten hours a day, six days a week. They received a salary of $1.25 per day.”

Arriving for dedication to the Hawaii temple in November 1919, are from left: Arthur Winter, Sarah J. Cannon, Rudger Clawson, Anthony H. Lund, President Heber J. Grant, Charles W. Nibley and Stephen L. Richards.
Arriving for dedication to the Hawaii temple in November 1919, are from left: Arthur Winter, Sarah J. Cannon, Rudger Clawson, Anthony H. Lund, President Heber J. Grant, Charles W. Nibley and Stephen L. Richards. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

The remoteness of Hawaii posed challenges in acquiring building materials. Work on the temple was threatened by the scarcity of lumber when ships that ordinarily would go to Hawaii were diverted to Europe as the United States became embroiled in World War I. Gathering to La’ie describes how lumber was miraculously delivered after Ralph Woolley, the temple’s builder, “found his way to the chapel and went up into the belfry and knelt down and called on the Lord to please help. He needed lumber, for the temple work couldn’t go on.”

President Joseph F. Smith selected the temple site at Laie on June 15, 1915; construction began after ground was broken on Feb. 8, 1916 and was completed on April 18, 1918.
President Joseph F. Smith selected the temple site at Laie on June 15, 1915; construction began after ground was broken on Feb. 8, 1916 and was completed on April 18, 1918. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

The chapter describes how a lumber ship somehow got off course on its way to Honolulu and became stuck on a reef in Laie Bay. Brother Woolley called the company that owned the lumber. Its owner told him he could have the lumber; he didn’t know how they would get the ship off the reef with it on board. Missionaries and men of the community swam to the ship or went by canoes. They tied lumber together to form rafts. “With the waves pushing from the back they got the lumber on shore.”

Brothers Wood, Walker and Moffat write: “The entire structure of the temple is made of steel-reinforced, poured concrete, made from crushed lava aggregate, as the lava was ready and plentiful. This included the entire edifice, floors and roofs, as well as the walls.”

A rock crusher was used to prepare lava, limestone and coral to make cement for building the Laie temple.
A rock crusher was used to prepare lava, limestone and coral to make cement for building the Laie temple. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

A rock crusher on the site was used in making the concrete.

“As the temple took form through concrete and steel, artisans were employed to create both the exterior and interior ornamental detail. The Fairbanks brothers, both young sculptors from Salt Lake City, were put in charge of these aspects of the temple. J. Leo Fairbanks was twenty-eight, his younger brother, Avard, only eighteen.”

Brother Moffat, in an e-mail to the Church News, wrote that the Hawaiian workers questioned why the temple had to be built of concrete, since they were quite capable of making a nice wooden one like their chapel, I Hemoele, and that a concrete building was harder to make and had never been attempted around Laie. The answer given them, Brother Moffat wrote, was that the House of the Lord was meant to last long after a wooden building would have deteriorated.

This 1950 photo shows beauty of the temple's grounds, which are landscaped with trees, shrubs, flowers and water features.
This 1950 photo shows beauty of the temple’s grounds, which are landscaped with trees, shrubs, flowers and water features. Credit: Photo courtesy Church History Library

“The recent renovation has revealed that these amateurs did, indeed, make a solid building meant to last a very long time,” Brother Moffat wrote.

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