To a Wild Rose: The New Ogden Temple

Mormon residents of the Ogden, Utah region were recently excited by the announcement of the open house and dedication dates for the renovated Ogden Temple. Earlier this year, Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Committee announced that, “We are confident we can have the temple rededicated in the latter half of 2014…. It has been a wonderful project and also a challenging project…. We are happy with how the temple is looking, and when it is done it will be spectacular and stunning.”[1] Finally, this last weekend, the First Presidency announced that the open house will begin on Friday, 1 August, 2014 and run through Saturday, 6 September 2014, and that it will be rededicated on Sunday, 21 September 2014 in three separate sessions.[2]

The New Ogden Temple. Image courtesy of LDS Temples.com

The New Ogden Temple.
Image courtesy of LDS Temples.com

This dedication ceremony will be the culmination of over four years of hard work and controversy. On the 17 February 2010, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans to remodel and architecturally change the appearance of the Ogden Utah Temple and its grounds. The actual closure was scheduled for 2 April 2011, with the estimation for the closure timeframe being 18 months to two years.[3]

Initial discussion in the media focused primarily on the appearance of the temple and its future looks. William R. Walker was cited in the Salt Lake Tribune as stating that the First Presidency decided to update the temple because “they thought it was somewhat dated,” also noting that it was a “huge investment” that was “basically… the same as building a new temple.” The article went on to cite Paul Anderson—a Mormon architect—who discussed why the old temple’s looks were controversial in the first place: “people found it uncomfortably unfamiliar.”[4] Articles appearing in the Deseret News and the Ogden-based Standard Examiner also detailed the changes that would take place; cited Walker’s comment about the temple being “somewhat dated” and briefly discussed some of the history of the old temple.[5] Meanwhile, the official Church-released announcement sought to find a balance between discussion of the looks and functionality of the temple being important consideration for the renovation, citing presiding bishop Keith B. McMullin as stating that “These improvements will not only help us meet the increased needs at a busy temple but will also be part of the enhancement and beautification of downtown Ogden,” and pointing out that internal improvements and plans for an underground parking lot were other reasons for the renovation. It also, however, entitled the renovation as an “architectural facelift,” and declared that it was connected to Ogden “city’s downtown revitalization plan,” somewhat mitigating the focus on functionality in the work that would be performed.[6]

The Old Temple and the New Temple

The Old Temple and the New Temple

As a result of this focus on the temple’s façade in the initial announcements and evaluations, there was some negative backlash against the project that continues even today. A friend of mine, feeling that the appearance of the temple was the main reason for the renovation project, stated that “it hurts me that they would tear down a temple just because it isn’t as pretty as the others.” Along a similar vein, Alan Barnett published a Sunstone article in which he discussed how he came to appreciate the unique architecture of the Ogden and Provo temples—initially seeing no problem with them as a child, to being embarrassed about them as a teenager, and finally coming to appreciate the temples as an adult. He lamented that he “felt a particular sense of loss as I watched the demolition of the Ogden Temple…. I’m sure many people will prefer the new Ogden Temple to the old, but in the long run it will likely be just one more among the many new temples.”[7]

Other reasons were given for objecting to the renovation. Steve Cornell—a Salt Lake City architect and preservationist—wrote that the Ogden temple ushered in a new era of temple building and, as such, had deep historic value that the Church was trying to erase in the renovation. He would later state, “Whether you like or dislike the architecture of a building is a superficial way to look at it…. You need to look at the history, culture and context in which it was built.”[8] Another major concern to individuals has the cost associated with redoing the temple. For example, there was a recent comment that was posted on a KSL news article that focused on the temple. The comment by BigRog28 stated that:

I for one, am not happy with this project. I loved the old Ogden Temple– it was my temple through four years of college and I find all of the “rennovations” to be a giant waste of tithe-payer money. These “rennovations” involved completely destroying the old temple, then rebuilding it facing a different direction and making it look like every other temple built in the last 10 years. I don’t understand how the expense could be justified– it would be cheaper to build a whole new temple in Layton, or how about in Watertown NY, so I don’t have to drive three hours to attend. So, was this all for cosmetic reasons, or does a general authority have a relative/friend that owns a construction company?[9]

Not all reactions to the project were negative. The majority of residents of Ogden or members of the Church—as observed by the current writer—was approval of the change or indifference to the project. The comments and laments above, however, represent significant concerns about the project. If the temple was redone for “cosmetic reasons” only, the investment of time, effort, and money would truly be somewhat of a waste—why make a “huge investment” in improving the façade of a fully-functioning temple in the heart of Utah when the money could be used to build temples elsewhere or put to other uses?

The fact of the matter is that the renovations were not only meant to be a facelift for the façade. There were serious structural concerns for the temple as well. Otto Gehring, a project architect with the Richardson Design Partnership, indicated that, while an important goal in the reconstruction was to make the temple more of a destination for weddings and wedding parties, another major goal was to seismically upgrade the temple.[10] The senior missionaries working at the temple site confirmed this report to me. As recorded in my journal from this January:

I… went to the Ogden temple site to look at the displays & talk to the missionaries ….

As far as why they did such extensive renovations, they showed me pictures of some of the old temple’s framework—the columns for the ellipse section were pretty thin & probably fairly flimsy in an earthquake. That & other seismic safety issues were the biggest reason for the renovation, though they did admit that looks helped [push the decision through].[11]

The columns supporting the ellipse section have been strengthened. Image courtesy of LDS Temples.com

The columns supporting the ellipse section have been strengthened.
Image courtesy of LDS Temples.com

Further, a former member of the temple presidency who has also served as a sealer at the Ogden Temple expressed that “one of the reasons they did [the renovation] was because the structure, the foundation and all that stuff was to the point that it needed to be changed—to be seismic proofed…. We had an opportunity [to see most of the temple]… and you could see when you looked down, underneath that things were getting bad enough that they needed to do something to restructure that.”[12]

Another concern has been the high water table in Ogden. As former Weber State University president and temple worker Robert H. DeBoer stated: “Ogden has a lot of (natural) springs…. There are a lot of things to do for that. This was a way of correcting these problems. It also gives the area a different perspective, a different look.”[13]

Some waterproofing was necessary to deal with the high water table in Ogden. Image courtesy of LDS Temples.com

Some waterproofing was necessary to deal with the high water table in Ogden.
Image courtesy of LDS Temples.com

Finally, reports from the Church have consistently stated that “the renovation of the temple also includes reconfigured rooms and new energy-saving electrical, heating and plumbing systems. Other notable improvements include underground parking.”[14]

Granted, most of this could have been done while saving the exterior of the temple, as has been done in a variety of other historic Mormon buildings, including the Logan and Manti, Utah temples. Further, much of the framework of the temple has remained the same. As Elder William R. Walker stated, “When the decision was made by the First Presidency to do the renovation, there was obvious respect for [President David O.] McKay and other considered, and it is being built on the footprint of the first temple.” [15] This would indicate that looks were a part of the decision to redo the façade, but this was probably not the primary consideration in starting the reconstruction project.

"It is being built on the footprint of the first temple"  ~William R. Walker Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

“It is being built on the footprint of the first temple”
~William R. Walker
Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

To summarize, there were many reasons for the temple’s reconstruction:

1)     Structural Concerns

  1. Seismic upgrading
  2. High water table
  3. Foundation decay
  4. Updating electrical, heating, and plumbing systems
  5. Installation of underground parking lot to increase parking space

2)     Appearance:

  1. “Somewhat dated” appearance of old temple
  2. Increased attraction for weddings and wedding parties
  3. Add to the downtown Ogden revitalization project

Preview

That being said, what has been done in the renovation? What can we expect to see with the new temple? Pictures of the exterior are readily available online at a non-Church site, LDS Church Temples. As reported by the Church, “The temple’s entire exterior has been reshaped with new stone and art glass, and the temple entrance was moved from the west side to the east side, where it faces Washington Boulevard…. Other notable improvements include… a complete relandscaping of the temple block and inclusion of a major water feature.”[16] There is a passenger drop-off that can be accessed from Washington Boulevard for the new main entrance to the temple. The same angel Moroni statue that adorned the top the temple has been returned, refurbished, bringing the height of the temple to just under 190 feet.[17]

Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

The core interior design will remain the same, but the space has shrunk from 131,000 square feet to 115,000 square feet. At a presentation given in October of 2012, however, it was stated that “through design, more usable building space has been created.” Further, “the temple will use more natural light from numerous windows on all four sides and a roof design that will admit indirect sunlight.”[18] Beyond that, not too many details have been released about what the temple will look like inside.

Windows in upper temple Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Windows in upper temple
Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Windows on sides of temple. Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Windows on sides of temple.
Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

When I visited the temple site in January, I was informed that “the exterior is granite cut & carved in China, the interior uses marble from Egypt, & mahogany from Africa.”[19]The major motifs are the wild rose and prairie grass. They weren’t able to share any other details about the interior at the time, since they didn’t know those details themselves.

Base of the spire. Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Base of the spire.
Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

In addition to the temple, the tabernacle on Ogden Tabernacle Square has also undergone renovations to improve the interior and seismically upgrade the structure. The spire has been removed so that no confusion will exist as to which building is the temple (in the past, people unfamiliar with the temple often weren’t sure which spired building was the House of the Lord). Inside, the seats angled toward the podium on the building’s far south side have been removed and the area has been walled off as classrooms or offices, leaving the main hall as a more traditional, rectangular shape. The organ pipes in the front of the main hall have been exposed for display and there are fewer windows into neighboring rooms. Also, the tabernacle will now share its heating and cooling systems with the temple, rather than being on a separate system. [20]

The Ogden Tabernacle prior to reconstruciton

The Ogden Tabernacle prior to reconstruction

Ogden Tabernacle during reconstruction Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Ogden Tabernacle during reconstruction

It will be very exciting indeed to finally be able to see the Ogden Temple, version 2.0 in August. While there is some sadness at the loss of the unique architecture of the old Ogden temple, there has been a lot of wonderful work done to make the temple better than it was before.

Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

Image courtesy LDS Temples.com

[1] Tom Christensen, “Ogden LDS Temple to reopen this year,” Standard Examiner, Jan 30, 2014. Online, accessed 26 April 2014: http://www.standard.net/stories/2014/01/29/ogden-lds-temple-reopen-year

[2] “Ogden Utah Temple Will Be Rededicated in September 2014,” Mormon Newsroom, 25 April 2014. Online, accessed 26 April 2014: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/ogden-temple-rededicated-september-2014.

[3] “Ogden Utah Temple Closing for Renovation,” Mormon Newsroom, 7 January 2011, Online: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/ogden-utah-temple-closing-for-renovation

[4] Peggy Fletcher Stack and Kristen Moulton, “’Somewhat dated’ LDS temple to get new look,” Salt Lake Tribune, 17 February 2010.

[5] See Scott Taylor, “Ogden Utah Temple to get extreme makeover,” Deseret News, 17 February 2010, online: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705376907/Ogden-Utah-Temple-to-get-extreme-makeover.html?pg=all. Tom Christensen, “First of an era/Ogden ushered in a new direction of temple building for the LDS Church with an emphasis on ordinance work,” Standard Examiner, 3 April 2010. Online: http://www.standard.net/topics/general-conference/2010/04/01/first-era-ogden-ushered-new-direction-temple-building-lds-churc

[6] “Ogden Temple to Get Architectural Facelift,” Mormon Newsroom, 17 February 2010. Online: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/ogden-temple-to-get-architectural-facelift

[7] Alan Barnett, “Lessons in Mormon Modernism: Or, How I Learned to Love the Provo and Ogden Temples,” Sunstone, 168. Online: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/lessons-in-mormon-modernism-or-how-i-learned-to-love-the-provo-and-ogden-temples/

[8] Cited in “First of an era/Ogden ushered in a new direction of temple building for the LDS Church with an emphasis on ordinance work,” Standard Examiner, 3 April 2010. Online: http://www.standard.net/topics/general-conference/2010/04/01/first-era-ogden-ushered-new-direction-temple-building-lds-churc. Cornell’s original article was published in the Salt Lake Tribune: Steve Cornell and Kirk Huffaker, “LDS should preserve Utah’s Space Age temples,” Salt Lake Tribune, 2 April 2010.

[9] Natalie Crofts, “Rededication, open house dates set for Ogden LDS Temple,” KSL, April 25, 2014. Online: http://www.ksl.com/?sid=29634423&nid=1016&title=rededication-open-house-dates-set-for-ogden-lds-temple

[10] Scott Schwebke, “Facelift nearer for Ogden LDS Temple,” Standard Examiner, 9 September 2010. Online: http://www.standard.net/topics/religion/2010/09/09/facelift-nearer-ogden-lds-temple

[11] Chad L. Nielsen Journal, 4 Jan 2014

[12] Hadley, Roland and Murna Hadley. Personal interview, 28 Dec. 2012.

[13] JaNae Francis, “Retired WSU official has fond memories of old Ogden temple,” Standard Examiner, 28 September 2011. Online: http://www.standard.net/stories/2011/09/27/retired-wsu-official-has-fond-memories-old-ogden-temple

[14] “Ogden Utah Temple Will Be Rededicated in September 2014,” Mormon Newsroom, 25 April 2014. Online, accessed 26 April 2014: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/ogden-temple-rededicated-september-2014.

[15] Tom Christensen, “Ogden LDS Temple to reopen this year,” Standard Examiner, Jan 30, 2014. Online, accessed 26 April 2014: http://www.standard.net/stories/2014/01/29/ogden-lds-temple-reopen-year

[16] “Ogden Utah Temple Will Be Rededicated in September 2014,” Mormon Newsroom, 25 April 2014. Online, accessed 26 April 2014: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/ogden-temple-rededicated-september-2014.

[17] “Loretta Park, “Angel Moroni placed atop Ogden Temple,” Standard Examiner, 9 May 2013. Online: http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/05/07/angel-moroni-placed-atop-ogden-temple

[18] Bryon Saxton, “Ogden Temple renovation update elicits ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’,” Standard Examiner, 21 October 2012.

[19] Chad L. Nielsen Journal, 4 Jan 2014

[20] Bryon Saxton, “Ogden Temple renovation update elicits ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’,” Standard Examiner, 21 October 2012.

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