A gleaming new temple stands in the center of Provo which has risen Phoenix-like from the flames of December 17, 2010. For nearly 130 years the Provo Tabernacle stood in downtown Provo accommodating myriad church meetings, concerts, and commencement exercises. Here are a few interesting items from the Tabernacle’s history:
1. The Tabernacle was Provo’s second tabernacle. The original tabernacle was considerably smaller, stood to the North of the second, and faced Center Street. This first tabernacle was built 1852-1867, was constructed from stone, adobe brick, and wood. The original tabernacle—also known as the Provo Meeting House—was used as late as 1902 by the Provo 6th Ward while their building was under construction. This first tabernacle stood until it was razed in 1919. (1)
2. The Tabernacle was patterned after the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake. The plan for the Tabernacle was done by William H. Folsom and was initially modeled after the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. (2)
3. It was first used for a presidential memorial service. The first use of the building was a memorial service held for U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant on August 8, 1885—before there was a permanent floor laid down or doors and windows installed.(3)
4. The Tabernacle hosted a U.S. President. In 1909 U.S. President William H. Taft visited Provo on the campaign trail and spoke in the Tabernacle to a crowd of 3,000. (4)
5. The Tabernacle was long infested with bats. For many years thousands of bats inhabited the attic of the Tabernacle. They would occasionally fly about during meetings providing quite a distraction. The worst part was the smell of the bat guano in the summertime. (5)
6. Sergei Rachmaninoff performed at the Tabernacle. His performance filled the tabernacle with 3,000 attendees on December 5, 1938. The evening was memorable not just for the virtuoso’s performance but for an unwelcome interruption when the Orem Inter-Urban came clanging by. During the interruption Rachmaninoff reportedly held his hands suspended above the keys during the interruption and then drove down again upon the keys once the disturbance had passed. (6)
7. Its signature stained glass windows were installed in 1917. The stained glass windows adorning the Tabernacle were not original—they were added to the building in 1917, replacing the original frosted glass windows. (7)
8. General Conference was held in the tabernacle. The April sessions of the 56th (1886) and 57th (1887) Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were held in Provo’s Utah Stake Tabernacle. The building was far from complete (no benches, windows, or doors) and there was much that had to be done in order to accommodate the congregation for a General Conference. (8)
9. It was wired for electricity in 1891. The Tabernacle was wired for electricity in 1891—for the first few years this power was supplied from the turbines at the Provo Woolen Mills on 2nd West. Employees of the Provo Woolen Mills provided the tabernacle with three chandeliers each outfitted with 24 incandescent bulbs. (9)
10. The building held an original Minerva Teichert painting. Teichert’s painting of Joseph Smith receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood was sold to the Provo Stakes in 1953 and placed in the Tabernacle. It was among the many losses when the building caught fire. (10)
- Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship: 150 Years of Latter-day Saint Architecture (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003), 74-75.
- C. Mark Hamilton, Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture & City Planning (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 72-73.
- N. LaVerl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them ([Provo]: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983), 120.
- Susan Easton Black, Glenn Rawson, and Dennis Lyman; The Story of the Provo City Center Temple: Commemorative Edition (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2015), 8.
- D. Robert Carter, Tales from Utah Valley ([Provo]: Daily Herald, 2005), vol. 1, 91.
- D. Robert Carter, Tales from Utah Valley ([Provo]: Daily Herald, 2005), vol. 1, 87-91.
- N. LaVerl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them ([Provo]: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983) 160.
- N. LaVerl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them ([Provo]: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983) 124.
- “The First Large Factory in Utah,” Utah History to Go (http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/statehood_and_the_progressive_era/thefirstlargefactoryinutah.html), accessed 17 Dec 2015; Tabernacle to Temple: The Past, Present & Future of Provo’s City Center, Daily Herald Supplement, 21 Jul 2013, 16.
- Anna Jean Backus, Provo Pioneers and Their Tabernacles (Hurricane, Utah: AJB Distributing, 2004), 54-56.