MESA, Arizona — What a difference a century makes.
Consider the Monday, Oct. 11, start of the public open house period of the recently renovated Mesa Arizona Temple, when compared to nearly 100 years ago as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was preparing to dedicate and operate what would be its seventh operating temple and its first in the continental United States built outside of the state of Utah since the faith’s move west.
No fewer than five Church leaders — including Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — were on hand for Monday’s media tour, signaling the beginning of five weeks of open-house tours throughout the 94-year-old temple.
Coinciding with Monday’s news conference and media tours, the Church released via Newsroom a series of interior images of the Mesa Arizona Temple, along with a collection of historical photos as well.
Elder Rasband acknowledged being assigned by President Russell M. Nelson to preside at the hosting of the media and special guests at the Mesa temple and then spoke of walking inside the temple’s main entrance and seeing the pronouncements of “House of the Lord” and “Holiness to the Lord.”
“Once you have the assignment to come on the errand of the Prophet and then to be inside the Lord’s house and to be on His errand, it’s just a great privilege and a great honor — it’s the best.”
He added: “And then you strive to communicate that Spirit to those you’re with, especially in a way that they can understand … and gain some appreciation for the temple.”
Elder Gong — who like Elder Rasband led groups of media, cultural and ethnic representatives through the temple — cited three overarching themes to the temple: first, to realize divine identity and purpose and recognize God’s love for all; second, to have opportunities to make covenants that link us to God and those we love and to be endowed with the ability to be better; and third, to learn how to meet God and prepare for that.
He also underscored the “beauty and belief” of the temple to his guests, with the temple being a place of great beauty, which is a reflection of the core doctrines and beliefs. “Everything in the temple is refined and designed to lift our souls, to give us a sense of inspiration of who we are, to bring before us the possibilities,” he said.
Looking back over the decades, the Mesa temple had a much different debut originally.
In October 1919, Church President Heber J. Grant announced plans for a temple for Mesa, and local residents pledged in a month’s time $125,000 — what would be more than $2.3 million today. However, the project was delayed due to an economic depression in 1920.
On April 25, 1922, ground was broken on a 20-acre lot bordered by LeSueur, Main and Hobson streets and Second Avenue in Mesa, with a design inspired by Solomon’s temple of ancient Jerusalem.
Rather than a formal yet brief public open house held just prior to dedication, tours were offered the last two years of the temple’s construction, with an estimated 200,000 people visiting the edifice from May 1925 until its Oct. 23, 1927, dedication.
In the mid-1970s, the temple was closed for renovations, with more than 205,000 visitors touring the temple in a two-week open house before President Spencer W. Kimball — an Arizona native — rededicated it on April 15, 1975.
And now, after closing May 2018 for renovations, the Mesa Arizona Temple will enjoy a longer open house of five weeks, with an anticipated attendance at least double that of the previous 1927 and 1975 open houses and public accessibility.
Joining Elders Rasband and Gong for Monday’s event were their spouses, Sister Melanie Rasband and Sister Susan Gong, as well as Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department; Elder Paul B. Pieper, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area; and other general authorities and their spouses.
Open house, rededication and temple history
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, will preside at the Sunday, Dec. 12, rededication, which will be done in three sessions — at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Along with a Saturday, Dec. 11, youth devotional, the rededicatory sessions will be broadcast to all units in the Mesa Arizona Temple district.
Following the Oct. 11 media tours and subsequent tours for construction works and special guests, the public open house begins Saturday, Oct. 16, and runs through Saturday, Nov. 20, excluding all Sundays during the five-week event.
Announced June 2017, the temple renovations began May 2018 — the second major renewal for the 94-year-old temple.
When President Grant dedicated what was then called “the Arizona temple” on Oct. 23, 1927, it was the Church’s seventh chronologically in the terms of dedicated and operating temples, following the St. George Utah, Logan Utah, Manti Utah, Salt Lake, Laie Hawaii and Cardston Alberta temples. The Laie, Cardston and Mesa temples were similar in appearance— blockish edifices with no spires or towers and fashioned in the neoclassical design suggesting Solomon’s temple in ancient Jerusalem.
In 1945, it became the first temple to offer ordinances in a language other than English, with Spanish ordinances being performed, and it became an endearing temple of destination for Latter-day Saints in Mexico and Central and South America.
Sister Aburto noted that meant Latin Latter-day Saints coming from Mexico to Argentina, to make covenants, perform ordinances and become endowed with power. “They had to sacrifice so much to come, many had to travel for weeks by bus to get here,” she said, adding that they would be welcomed, hosted and fed by local Church members before returning and being a source of endowed, powerful members and leaders in their home wards and branches.
She said she felt she and her husband, a native of Mexico, both are beneficiaries of the Mesa temple’s long reach into the past generation of temple-endowed and temple attending Spanish-speaking Saints. “I honestly feel that the fact that I’m here today is in a big way a blessing that comes from the sacrifices that they made.”
In February 1974, the Mesa Arizona Temple was closed for extensive remodeling, adding new technology in the ordinance rooms as well as a new entrance. With an expansion of 17,000 additional square feet and rededicated in April 1975, the temple saw an increase in ordinance rooms and larger dressing rooms.
The recent renovations
Inside, features such as the recognizable stone checkerboard patterns and the tall stone bases and wainscots remain, having been restored or replicated. Interior paints — some 50 colors — are based on original schemes and hues, as suggested by reviewing early photographs and uncovering layers of paint during renovation.
Massive original murals in the baptistry and along the grand stairs have been cleaned and restored, featuring Joseph and Hyrum Smith sharing the gospel with Native American nations and John the Baptist giving Joseph and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood.
Murals in the instruction rooms were removed, allowing repairs to walls and upgrades to utilities. Remnants of the murals are displayed in other areas of the temple, with new murals — created by Linda Curley Christensen and a team of artists — have been re-created and installed, based on photographs of the originals.
Historical light fixtures original to the building have been restored and reused where possible, with new fixtures designed to match the original ones.
Millwork has been replicated, and plain sliced walnut doors highlight the wood type of the original doors. Furniture and fabrics throughout are based on the period’s neoclassical style.
Emily Utt, Historic Sites curator, calls the temple’s historic and intricately tiled baptismal font “one of the jewels of the Church — it speaks to me about how important baptism is for us as a people … that we would create this beautiful tiled art and then take such care to restore it.”
She and others call the temple “an oasis,” adding that “it is a place of calmness and serenity and peace and prosperity in a desert in a dry place.
Around the temple
Outside, frieze panels depict Latter-day Saint beliefs in Isaiah’s Old Testament prophecies about the gathering of Israel from the four corners of the earth.
For Utt, the friezes underscore the Mesa temple as a place of community and gathering. “I can look up at this building and see not only my ancestors, but the ancestors of my friends and my neighbors all gathering together to a temple.”
The latest project included the relocation of the temple’s visitors’ center and revamped temple grounds. The temple property features more than 300 olive, palm and other ornamental trees, with some preserved at existing locations and others moved to help accommodate plans for two beloved annual events, the Mesa Easter Pageant and Christmas lights.
The area north of the temple remains open to accommodate the pageant’s large crowds, with the stage planned for the east side facing west, meaning pageant-goers will have the sun at their backs.
The two pools remain — the large reflecting pool on the temple’s north side and the smaller one on the west outside the main entrance.
The original temple visitors’ center, built in 1958 to the north of the temple and renovated in 1981, was razed, with a new visitors’ center built across the street from the temple grounds’ northwest corner. The relocation allows an unobstructed view of the temple from Main Street.
The first members of the Church entered what is now the state of Arizona in the winter of 1846, as members of the Mormon Battalion preparing to fight — but never pressed into action — in the Mexican-American War.
Two groups of Latter-day Saints were sent from Utah in the 1870s to explore and colonize the Arizona territory. The 15-wagon group known as “Lehi Company” and led by Daniel Webster Jones settled 20 miles east of Phoenix along the Salt River, establishing the community of Lehi in 1877.
The second — the 25 wagons led by Francis M. Pomeroy and known as “Mesa Company” settled a year later. Soil was considered fertile, lacking the critical water. Early settlers found the remnants and outline of an extensive irrigation system from the area’s first inhabitants, the Hohokam, and tirelessly worked to dig a 12-mile canal to bring river water to Mesa.
In 1883, Mesa was incorporated as a village; in 1897 as a town; and in 1929 as a city.
Facts and stats
- Members: More than 436,000
- Stakes: 115
- Congregations: 926
- Temples: 6
- Missions: 6
Mesa Arizona Temple District
(includes the cities of Mesa, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Payson and parts of Phoenix and Tempe)
- Members: About 83,000
- Stakes: 28
- Congregations: 215
- Spanish-speaking congregations: 17
Mesa Arizona Temple
- Address: 101 S. LeSueur St., Mesa, Arizona
- Original plans announced: Oct. 3, 1919
- Original groundbreaking: April 25, 1922
- Original dedication: Oct. 23, 1927
- First rededication: April 15, 1975
- Latest renovation began: May 2018
- Rededication: Dec. 12, 2021
- Architect: Young and Hansen
- Contractor: Porter Brothers Inc.
- Property size: 20 acres
- Current building size: 113,916 square feet
Corrections: The Mesa Arizona Temple was closed for extensive remodeling in February 1974, not 1972 as originally stated. John the Baptist ordained Joseph and Oliver Cowdery to the Aaronic Priesthood, not Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The full name of the leader of the “Lehi Company” to settle in the Phoenix area is Daniel Webster Jones.