President Nelson details plans for Salt Lake Temple during its 4-year closure for renovation

The Salt Lake Temple will close Dec. 29 and remain closed for approximately four years, President Russell M. Nelson announced Friday morning, April 19.

“We promise you that you will love the results,” said President Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “They will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry and mission of Jesus Christ in His desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”

Speaking at a press conference held in the Temple Square South Visitors Center, President Nelson joined other senior Church leaders and renovation project managers to talk about the massive and historic Salt Lake Temple renovation and preservation efforts.

“The project will enhance, refresh and beautify the temple and its surrounding grounds,” he said. “Obsolete systems within the building will be replaced. Safety and seismic concerns will be addressed.”

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Renovations will also make the temple more accessible to those with limited mobility, and translation capabilities will be incorporated. Some of the grounds will be restored to resemble conditions that existed when the temple was first constructed, he said. Work will also be done on the adjacent plaza near the Church Office Building.

“Every reasonable effort will be made to honor and maintain the temple’s historic beauty. We will strive to preserve its reverent setting and character as originally directed by President Brigham Young.”

President Nelson said looking at the historic Salt Lake Temple brings to remembrance the pioneers who built the temple. With the site identified by Brigham Young soon after the pioneers' arrival in 1847, construction on the building began in 1853 and was completed 40 years later.

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“One of the many evidences of the Restoration of the Savior’s Church is the building of temples across the world,” he said. “Temples are precious to us, because in them, Church members and their families participate in sacred ceremonies and ordinances that are the crowning facet of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

For 126 years the Salt Lake Temple has inspired and served generations of Church members, he said.

“This temple and others built in Utah by these pioneer forebears represent some of the finest examples of architectural design, engineering and use of materials then available,” he said, noting the Church has a sacred responsibility to care for the buildings.

“To some extent, buildings are like people. Not only is the aging process inevitable, but it can also be unkind. The good news is that buildings can be renovated. The bad news is that needed renovations takes time.”

President Nelson noted that the press conference was held on Good Friday. The day reminds the world that “Easter Sunday is nigh,” he said.

“Easter stands as a recurring testimony that Jesus is the Christ, our redeeming Lord and Savior. We express our love for Him along with the witness that God lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church.”

Bishop Gérald Caussé, the Church's Presiding Bishop, conducted the media conference. Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, called the project “very significant and impactful.”

On July 28, 1847, just four days after arriving in the great Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff, and several others walked from their north camp to a section of land located between two creeks in the heart of the valley, he explained.

“It is recorded that Brigham Young waved his hand and said ‘here is the 40 acres for the temple. The city can be laid out perfectly square north and south, east and west.’ It was moved and seconded that the temple lot was to be set aside and to contain 40 acres. However, after further review, the 40 acres was later reduced to 10.”

But construction did not begin immediately.

“The most important task facing Church leaders was to settle the saints, plant crops and to prepare the way for the many thousands who would soon come to Zion, and for the building up of the Kingdom,” he said.

In 1853, Brigham Young determined to begin work.

On February 14, 1853 ground was broken. At the groundbreaking, Brigham Young spoke for about 30 minutes. Then after an interlude of music and song, Heber C. Kimball offered a prayer consecrating the ground.

The First Presidency led the procession to the southeast corner of the temple site where they loosened a piece of frozen earth about one-foot square. President Young then lifted his spade and cast the first shovelful of earth aside for the building of the temple, and the work commenced.

“Many Church members tithed their time and resources for the building of the temple,” Bishop Davies said.

“The project was monumental, even by today’s standards.”

It would take 40 years to complete the temple.

“Stone was quarried from the nearby mountains, trees were felled from nearby forests, and every effort was made to erect a lasting monument to God and to His people,” said Bishop Davies.

The Salt Lake Temple after its dedication in April 1893.
The Salt Lake Temple after its dedication in April 1893. Credit: IRI

The temple was dedicated 40 years later by President Wilford Woodruff on April 6, 1893.

The Salt Lake Temple has been renovated many times since its original dedication, he said, noting the most extensive renovation took place from 1962 to 1966.

“The temple and support facilities have served the Church with distinction,” said Bishop Davies, who was employed by the Church as the managing director of the Special Projects Department with responsibility for temple design and temple construction before his call to the Presiding Bishopric.

However, he added, there are a number of needs for the temple that President Nelson referred to in his comments and announcement.

The following changes will be made to the temple and Temple Square:
  • The mechanical systems of the temple will be updated and replaced.
  • The temple will be refreshed, renovated, and structurally strengthened “to serve and protect patrons and to preserve the temple for years to come.”
  • Modifications will be made for accessibility.
  • The South Visitors Center and the current temple entry buildings and annex on the north will be removed and replaced with new facilities.
  • The plaza and landscapes from State Street on the east to the Main Street Plaza will be repaired and refreshed with greater emphasis on the visitor experience and on the Savior.
  • West of the main street plaza, the temple renovation and nearby site improvements will extend from North Temple to South Temple and between the Tabernacle and Main Street Plaza.
  • The current temple entry/annex will be removed.
  • Two new temple entry pavilions and guest waiting areas will be built on the north side of the temple, and two new visitor’s pavilions on the south.
  • The architecture of the pavilions will be complementary and supportive of the historic temple.
  • The renovation will include a significant seismic upgrade to help the temple withstand a large magnitude earthquake.
  • A base isolation system — a collection of structural elements which should substantially decouple the temple from the earth — will be installed.
  • The isolation system will preserve the historic footings of the temple.
  • A new access tunnel under North Temple Street will be installed.

Brent W. Roberts, director of special projects for the Church, said the Salt Lake Temple renovation is similar in many ways a temple 1960s renovation completed.

In preparation for this project, he said, extensive research has been undertaken regarding such things as soil composition, granite strength, concrete and plaster sampling, and vibration movement modeling.

“Additional research has been coordinated in cooperation with Church History Department on the historic aspects of the temple including its original design and subsequent modifications,” he said. “A detailed study of this research includes paint samples, murals, millwork and furniture.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson departs after a news conference at the Temple Square South Visitors Center Friday, April 19, 2019, in Salt Lake City. An iconic temple central to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith will close for four years to complete a major renovation, and officials are keeping a careful eye on construction plans after a devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Nelson said the closure will begin in December. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson departs after a news conference at the Temple Square South Visitors Center Friday, April 19, 2019, in Salt Lake City. An iconic temple central to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith will close for four years to complete a major renovation, and officials are keeping a careful eye on construction plans after a devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Nelson said the closure will begin in December. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Credit: AP

Roberts said the installation of the base isolation system will be a challenging and time-consuming process. “It will require deep excavations around the historic footings and foundation of the temple. The work will also require the strengthening of the stone spires and walls.”

Elder Larry Y. Wilson, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, said numerous matters must be considered when a temple is closed for an extended renovation.

The Salt Lake Temple is “one of the largest operating temples of the Church and serves thousands of patrons in the Salt Lake Valley as well as many other Church members who visit Salt Lake City from around the world,” he said.

During the renovation, patrons who normally attend the Salt Lake Temple can attend other nearby temples including the Ogden, Bountiful, Jordan River, Draper, and Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temples, he said,

“These temples are making preparations to welcome additional patrons, although we expect there may be occasions when they experience increased waiting,” Elder Wilson explained, noting that schedules for all temples can be found online at temples.churchofjesuschrist.org.

“There are no plans to formally re-assign any stakes to other temple districts during the closure. Youth and adult Church members are invited to attend any temple of their choosing.”

Temple Square and downtown Salt Lake City are photographed on Thursday, April 18, 2019.
Temple Square and downtown Salt Lake City are photographed on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

Elder Wilson said that after the completion of the renovation project, the temple will be able to serve members who speak more than 86 different languages. “This will be a great blessing for members from around the world who wish to worship in the Salt Lake Temple,” he said.

During the closure, administrative meetings currently held by Church leaders in the temple — including the weekly meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — will then be held in designated areas of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

In addition, the closure will also impact thousands of Church members who volunteer their time to serve as workers in the temple, he said.

“We express our heartfelt gratitude for these faithful and dedicated workers, as well as to our devoted employees,” Elder Wilson said. “Following established precedent, the temple presidency and all ordinance workers will be formally released after the temple closes for renovation.”