Seconds after Church leaders on Friday invited the public to tour the Salt Lake Temple following its four-year renovation, a lifelong Utahn (and a non-Latter-day Saint) texted his reporter friend who was covering the morning press conference.
“Looks like I’ll finally be able to visit the Salt Lake Temple,” he wrote, followed by a grinning face emoji.
Church leaders and temple workers can’t wait to welcome that man — and the rest of the world — inside this faith’s most iconic edifice following its 4-year renovation project.
“This will be an incredible opportunity,” said Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. “For generations, only faithful members have been able to enter the Salt Lake Temple. Now everyone — people of our faith, other faiths or no faith — will be able to come to the temple.”
But open-house visitors, he added, will see more than beautiful architecture and interior design.
“They will also feel the ‘sense of the sacred’ in the temple. I can’t think of a more wonderful opportunity. It may take more than two months to get everyone through.”
Public tours won’t happen for several years, but Latter-day Saints can already start making plans to invite their friends, family and neighbors.
“We want everyone to know they are welcome,” said Bishop Davies. “We want them to come and see and feel why this temple is so beautiful to us. We want it to be their temple too. The temple is part of the community.”
The upcoming temple renovation will include significant seismic upgrades to the 126-year-old edifice. There are plans for interior design improvements and new buildings will be constructed on Temple Square.
But ultimately, the renovation project is about renovating souls and helping bring people to Jesus Christ, said Bishop Davies.
Every element of the renovated temple and its surrounding buildings, gardens and artistic elements will signal the Savior.
We want people to come and feel that this is the center of Christianity.
“We want people to come and feel that this is the center of Christianity,” he said. “We will have failed if visitors come to this place and all they notice is, say, the beautiful architecture — but don’t think of Christ.”
Bill Williams, an architect and the Church’s director of temple design, said he and his colleagues are charged with preserving the Salt Lake Temple's defining architectural features even while making upgrades to make the temple more accessible and adhering to present-day building codes.
Many modifications will be a nod to the temple’s architectural past.
“That’s our intent,” he said. “You can look at, say, historical photos from 1893, and see that ceilings in the temple were lowered (since) for mechanical systems. We are going to try to raise ceilings wherever we can. We’re going to restore the baptistry look and add pilasters and other historical elements.”
Williams smiles imagining what it would be like hosting Brigham Young or Wilford Woodruff — who dedicated the temple in 1893 — on a tour of the Salt Lake Temple following renovations.
“I think they would be very excited,” he said. “It would have a familiar spirit to it.”
As a trained architect, Williams still finds pleasure gazing at the Salt Lake Temple and relishing the distinct building elements that make it the defining structure of the Salt Lake Valley.
“The temple is incredibly unique to the Pioneer heritage. It’s very obvious that it was done by hand — and with a lot of love.”
As a believer, Williams said the power of the Salt Lake Temple transcends aesthetic wonder. It is rich with architectural symbolism and visual reminders of restored doctrine.
“When we look at it, we feel that it is an ecclesiastical edifice,” he said.
Williams is most excited to one day welcome the world to a renovated Salt Lake Temple.
“We really want to do it right, so we’ve spent a lot of time with Church historians and the best professionals so we can to make sure we do it right.”