What the Church did to restore, refurbish the Washington D.C. Temple and why it matters

KENSINGTON, Maryland — In the days before the Washington D.C. Temple open house this April — while filming an exclusive tour of the renovated edifice with a national media outlet — Elder David A. Bednar made an interesting discovery.

There are no shadows in the Washington D.C. Temple.

“The lighting in the temple seems to permeate everything,” said Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Simply said, Elder Bednar and a CBS news crew were “impressed by the light.”

The media specialists, working to produce an Easter morning special report with Ed O’Keefe, would normally use a number of devices to balance the lighting in a room. But in the temple, that equipment was not necessary, explained Elder Bednar.

The domed oval and pointed arch motifs culminate in the celestial room of the Washington D.C. Temple. Entering this sacred space symbolizes the ultimate progression one can achieve toward heaven itself. The newly added Austrian-crafted crystal chandelier is a central focus with 12 supporting chandeliers set in their individual pointed-arch alcoves.
The domed oval and pointed arch motifs culminate in the celestial room of the Washington D.C. Temple. Entering this sacred space symbolizes the ultimate progression one can achieve toward heaven itself. The newly added Austrian-crafted crystal chandelier is a central focus with 12 supporting chandeliers set in their individual pointed-arch alcoves. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dan Holt, the Church’s project manager for the Washington D.C. Temple renovation, said the crew was amazed by the “even and easy” lighting.

“When you walk through the building, you just feel a sense of rightness,” said Holt. “It feels good. You don’t necessarily know why because everything works together to just make it feel like you belong. There’s nothing that draws your eye too much. There’s nothing that detracts from the rest of the design at all. It just fits.”

It is quintessential mid-century modern design, he added. “Everything works, and it just feels right.”

That includes the distribution of light, which “comes from all sides of you,” he said. “The light of Christ is ever present in our lives. And available to us. And it hides nothing.”

The Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland on Sunday, April 17, 2022.
The Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland on Sunday, April 17, 2022. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Gerrit W. Gong, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said he hopes people who saw the CBS special will come to the temple open house, the first time the public will be able to tour the temple since its 1974 dedication. Then in coming months and years, as they see the iconic building on the Capital Beltway, they can “remember that this is a place that connects them with God, connects them with each other, connects them to their own hearts and their best, truest selves.”

Restoration

The temple, the Church’s 16th in operation and the first built in the Eastern United States, closed in 2018 to update mechanical and electrical systems, refresh finishes and furnishings, and improve the grounds.

Crews took the temple down to the studs and put it back to the way the temple was designed — “mid-century modern, only more modern,” said Holt. “There wasn’t a space we didn’t touch, inside or outside.”

One of six instruction rooms in the Washington D.C. Temple is shown in July 2021. This is where devout Latter-day Saints learn about God’s creation, the purpose of life, and how to become more like Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.
One of six instruction rooms in the Washington D.C. Temple is shown in July 2021. This is where devout Latter-day Saints learn about God’s creation, the purpose of life, and how to become more like Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The mechanical space, he said, is “ready for another 100 years of maintenance and upkeep.” In addition, LED lights, high efficiency boilers and chillers and equipment make the temple significantly more energy efficient than before the renovation.

This was accomplished with great deliberateness.

Read more: Elder Bednar speaks of the Washington D.C. Temple: ‘It is not just about this building’

Take, for example, the exterior art glass located on the east and west sides of the temple. Designed by Willet Hauser Architectural Glass of Winona, Minnesota, the frame and the epoxy resin between all the glass had worn out and deteriorated over time. Holt said as part of the project, crews removed panels and sent them to Minnesota — where artists took a charcoal rubbing of the windows. Every piece of glass was cleaned and returned exactly to the original design, held in place by new epoxy resin. “Every piece is exactly where it was,” said Holt. “It is just restored and improved and perfected.”

The Washington D.C. Temple's stained glass windows that span the east and west towers have been refurbished. Each piece of colored glass was removed, cleaned and reinstalled in updated, weather-insulated frames — by hand. The work was completed by the same company of artisans who first created the art glass and is shown in July 2021.
The Washington D.C. Temple’s stained glass windows that span the east and west towers have been refurbished. Each piece of colored glass was removed, cleaned and reinstalled in updated, weather-insulated frames — by hand. The work was completed by the same company of artisans who first created the art glass and is shown in July 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Although less visible, Holt said the most impressive parts of the building for him are the “minimalistic millwork details” and the drywall and plaster. The simple lines of the building require the highest level of craftsmanship and took time and innovation, he explained.

“In many designs, you can hide mistakes in all sorts of places,” he said, noting that trim or other details can cover imperfections. “With a mid-century modern type of design, you can’t hide anything. You have a 200-foot run of just one straight line of drywall, and it better be straight. If it is not, everyone will know it.”

Plasterers and drywallers who worked on the temple have also done work on the U.S. Capitol building, the White House, the Smithsonian Institution and other beautiful buildings in the District of Columbia area. “We had a great group of people who were experienced and knew exactly what they were doing,” Holt said.

Temple renovation efforts also impacted work on the temple grounds, where crews replaced or transplanted 260 trees that were harvested from surrounding states. Other trees were moved to other locations on the temple grounds. “We didn’t lose a single tree,” said Holt.

A landmark

Sister Sharon Eubank of the Relief Society general presidency and director of Latter-day Saint Charities, lived and worked in Washington, D.C. in the early 90s. “This is, of course, a landmark everybody knows,” she said. “It is just stunning to see. It’s so clean and shiny and beautiful and the architecture is like a monument in Washington, D.C., and the craftsmanship inside is so beautiful.”

But the temple “is not about the architecture, it’s not about the craftsmanship. It’s about how it feels to connect with God in your heart.”

Motorists drive on the Capital Beltway with a view of the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland on Sunday, April 17, 2022.
Motorists drive on the Capital Beltway with a view of the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland on Sunday, April 17, 2022. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sister Reyna I. Aburto, also of the Relief Society general presidency, said it is humbling to see the Church’s temple-building efforts across the globe. A member of the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council, Sister Aburto said it is beautiful to know that more and more Latter-day Saints and more and more communities can experience the blessing of a temple.

She said that in the temple active Latter-day Saints can leave the world behind and focus, not on the architectural details of the temple, but on the feeling of peace found inside the walls. “We can feel peace in this world, even though we may be troubled,” she said.

Troy Howard, a member of another faith who visited the temple during the VIP tours, also spoke about the temple’s architecture. The visitors’ center and the temple are “very clean, very pure, very big,” he said. “It feels inviting because the space is so open. It makes you feel like you could just walk in and be part of it.”

The unique domed oval design of the Washington D.C. Temple rotunda features African anegre and maple hardwood and mid-century modern furnishings and is shown in April 2022.
The unique domed oval design of the Washington D.C. Temple rotunda features African anegre and maple hardwood and mid-century modern furnishings and is shown in April 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Kisha Sogunro, the Church’s North America Northeast Area assistant director of outreach, said that as she has walked through the temple, she has been struck by how diversity in artwork reflects a global Church. “When you see the artwork you see that, even for me as an African American woman, that I am represented in the temple,” she said. “It feels like home. It feels welcoming.”

A gathering place

When the Washington D.C. Temple was dedicated in 1974, it serviced every Church unit east of the Mississippi River. Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, were living in Indiana while he completed graduate work at Purdue University, and this was their temple district. They lived about nine hours and 600 miles from the temple — a Latter-day Saint hub for the entire eastern United States.

“Plus, you have Washington, D.C. as a world hub, with people coming for business and other professional reasons from all over the world,” said Elder Bednar. “So this has historically been a remarkable gathering place for Latter-day Saints to be able to worship in the temple. It still has that same draw and attractiveness.”

The celestial room inside the renovated Washington D.C. Temple features gold leaf-adorned walls, a central crystal chandelier supported by 12 smaller chandeliers in individual pointed-arch alcoves and modern design furnishings and is shown in July 2021.
The celestial room inside the renovated Washington D.C. Temple features gold leaf-adorned walls, a central crystal chandelier supported by 12 smaller chandeliers in individual pointed-arch alcoves and modern design furnishings and is shown in July 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Bednar said during tours of the temple, an important stop is in the celestial room. “We specifically invite the people to not say anything, and just go in and sit down. And we can discuss it after we come out of the celestial room, but we don’t speak in the room.”

The quiet in that setting reminds Elder Bednar of the verse in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

“So we bring people through of all kinds of religious and professional backgrounds, but for a few minutes, regardless of who they are or where they came from, they sit in the celestial room and they are still, and I think they are reminded that there is a God,” he said.

Read more coverage of the Washington D.C. Temple