MESA, Arizona — As the Mesa Arizona Temple closes for two years, a clearer picture of a “refresh” of the building’s aging operational systems and the surrounding grounds as well as the replacement of the longtime visitors’ center has come into focus.
Known as “an oasis in the desert,” the temple is not only the oldest of six temples in Arizona but one of the Church’s oldest as well — the seventh overall of the current 159 operating temples.
The Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center, originally built in 1958 to the north of the temple and expanded in 1981, will be razed. Demolishing the building will provide a clear view of the temple from Main Street, which runs through downtown Mesa. Recently, a light rail system was built throughout the metro Phoenix area and an extension project to the existing route will take the rail line past the temple on the north side.
The visitors center will be replaced with a 'Discovery Center’ on the southwest corner of LeSueur and Main Street, across the street from the current temple grounds. This will be a combined family history and visitors’ center where visitors can enjoy various interactive exhibits, learn historical information about the temple and do family history research. The facility will be free and open to the public.
The temple grounds will also be renovated and enhanced.
A significant number of trees will be added to the square block and lining the side streets to provide more shade and garden areas to gather in even during the hotter months.
Brent Roberts, managing director for special projects for the Church, said Church officials have been working on the plans for many years to update the temple, which was dedicated in 1927 by President Heber J. Grant.
“We’ll have the opportunity to stabilize the building systems and, at the same time, refresh the building itself,” Roberts said.
This is the second renovation for the temple. It was rededicated in 1975 by President Spencer W. Kimball following refurbishment.
The temple, as constructed in the 1920s, was “absolutely spectacular,” said Bill Williams, director of the Church’s Design Services. “Over 90 years later, we’d like to maintain it almost exactly like it was.”
Improvements throughout the interior of the temple will bring more consistency with the historic character and feel of the original design, he added. Special care is being taken to clean and protect historic murals throughout the temple and some are being added to complement the originals.
“For over nine decades, this temple has been an important part of this community,” said Roc Arnett, director of the Phoenix-area Church’s public affairs committee, at a May 10 briefing to local media of the proposed changes.
Beloved community traditions held on the temple grounds — including the Mesa Easter pageant, which began in 1938, and the Christmas lights display, started in 1979 — have both been put on hiatus during the temple renovation, he noted, adding that those events would resume after the temple re-opens.
Each year, more than 75,000 attend the Easter Pageant on the north lawn of temple grounds during the two weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, while more than 500,000 view the Christmas lights display during the Christmas season.
“We’re excited to have that move forward,” he said.
The Mesa Temple has served not only Arizona but the southern part of the United States, Mexico and Central and South America.
Emily Utt, Church historical curator, pointed out other historical highlights, including temple ordinances being performed in Spanish.
“It was at this temple in 1945 that temple ordinances were first completed in a language other than English,” she said.
Giving a brief overview of the history of the 75,000-square-foot temple and its renovations over the years, Utt said some of the major changes were not “fully compatible with the historic character of the building.”
The building and surrounding grounds will be brought back to much of its original state. “When you come back at the end of the project, you will see a Mesa Temple preserved,” said Emily Utt, Church historical curator.
Before the temple re-opens, the Church plans to hold a public open house, followed by a rededication.
The Church has also acquired some properties on the east and west sides of the temple and redevelopment plans for those areas will be announced at an upcoming media briefing. Plans and rendering of the renovations were released at the May 10 briefing prior to the Mesa Arizona Temple’s May 20 closure.
Temple work will include site improvements, exterior maintenance, interior finishes, and building system maintenance for HVAC systems. Historical murals inside the temple will be preserved, while additional murals will be added.