Chapter 9 Section A
Marvelous as was the achievement of the people in rearing the great Temple, and particularly so in the commencement of the work under conditions that appeared so generally unfavorable, the undertaking becomes even more remarkable when we take into consideration other building-work carried on while the Temple was in course of erection. Not only were three other Temples begun and completed during this period, but meeting-houses were reared all in the various wards and stakes, and other structures of yet greater capacity were erected for assemblies of the Church in general. The buildings constructed on Temple Block in Salt Lake City represent in and of themselves great undertakings when considered in the light of circumstances prevailing at the time. Among such buildings are the existing Tabernacle; the structure long since removed and now referred to as the Old Tabernacle, and the Assembly Hall.
It is interesting to know that the first shelters erected for public gatherings within what is now Salt Lake City were boweries; among these the Old Bowery is distinctively named and known. On the 31st of July, 1847-but one week after the arrival of the pioneers in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, a detachment of the Mormon Battalion, which had just reached the settlement, or as it was even then called, the city, built for the accommodation of worshipping assemblies a bowery of poles and brush. This in time was superseded by a yet larger structure of the kind, one hundred feet by sixty feet, which came to be known in local history as the Old Bowery. It consisted of posts set up at convenient intervals around the sides of a quadrangle, the tops of the posts being joined by poles held in place by wooden pegs or lashed in position by rawhide thongs, and upon this skeleton-roof, willows, evergreens, sagebrush, and other shrubs were piled, resulting in a covering which was a partial protection from the sun, though but a poor barrier against wind and rain.
The old Taberancle: At first this building was known as the Tabernacle; since the erection of the present building bearing that name, the earlier structure has come to be known as the Old Tabernacle. It was one hundred and twenty-six feet in length by sixty-four feet in width, and occupied the site of the present Assembly Hall in the south-west corner of Temple Block. For its day and time it was a large and pretentious building. As to its seating capacity, we read that at the time of its dedication during the April conference of 1852, there were twenty-five hundred persons present at one session. Its ceiling was arched and was supported without pillars. Many of the posts and poles of the Old Bowery entered into the construction of the Old Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle: The building now so known was distinctively designated the New Tabernacle at the time of its construction. It was begun in July, 1864, and was so far advanced as to permit the holding of the general conference beneath its roof in October, 1867. This remarkable structure was planned and erected under the direction of President Brigham Young. For it no claim of architectural beauty is asserted; the general appearance is that of a huge inverted bowl resting on pillars. It is in truth a vast elliptical dome supported at the edge by massive sandstone walls and buttresses. The buttresses measure nine feet in width or depth and three feet in thickness. The space between the buttresses is occupied by doors, windows, and walls; the doors open outward, thus affording ready means of exit. The building measures two hundred and fifty feet in length and one hundred and fifty feet in width at the center. The ceiling is seventy feet from the floor in the middle; and from the ceiling to roof the distance is ten feet. A capacious gallery, thirty feet wide, extends along the inner walls and is broken at the west end only, where it gives place to the grand organ and the seats reserved for the great choir. In contrast with the usual methods of construction this enormous gallery is not continuous with the walls. At intervals of twelve to fifteen feet great beams connect the gallery with the wall buttresses, but between these beams the gallery is set forward two and one-half feet from the inside of the walls and the open spaces are guarded by a high railing. It is believed that the surprising acoustic properties of the building are due in part to this feature of construction; the great dome is, in fact, a colossal whispering gallery, as the hundreds of thousands of visitors who have inspected the building know. When it is emptied save for the few, the fall of a pin dropped at the focal point of the ellipse near one end of the building may be heard at the corresponding point near the other end. The convenient seating capacity of the building, including that of the gallery, is nearly nine thousand, though under conditions of crowding, congregations much larger than this have assembled.
At the west end are the stands including the pulpits. There are really three pulpits rising in tiers or terraces; these afford accommodations for the Church officers of different grades in authority. On either side of the pulpit-terraces are extended platforms for other bodies of Priesthood. Behind the stands and pulpits, rising on either side to the level of the gallery and occupying the space in front of the great organ, is the choir space, seated to accommodate approximately three hundred singers, with extra provision in the gallery for nearly as many more.
At the west end of the building is the great organ, generally admitted to be one of the best instruments of its class ever built. At the time of its construction it was the largest organ in this country and the second or third largest in the world. One of the many surprising features connected with the instrument lies in the fact of its having been constructed by local artisans; the woodwork, including pipe and mechanical equipment, is wholly of native material. The organ occupies a floor-space of thirty-three by thirty feet, and rises to a height of forty feet for the body of the organ itself, while the towers in front reach a height of forty-eight feet. Its stops and regulators number one hundred and ten; it contains over three thousand six hundred pipes, which range from half an inch to thirty-two feet in speaking length. There are four complete finger key-boards and one pedal system, making in all five individual organs. In size and proportions the organ comports with the great building in which it is installed; while in tonal quality and mechanical equipment it is of an order of excellence corresponding to the other appointments of this splendid auditorium.
The domed roof is constructed on the principle of lattice-work support, and is self-sustaining throughout its entire extent, there being no pillars between ceiling and floor. The roof-work is of wood, and at the time of its construction the beams and trusses were held together by wooden pegs and rewhide thongs. These materials were used instead of nails from necessity rather than from choice; nails were obtainable only as new supplies were brought in by prairie wagons, and the cost of the long haul precluded their use. While at present there are many larger roof-spans in the great buildings of the country, most of the more recent structures are of steel; and it is doubtful if ever there has been made a more stable structure of its kind consisting wholly of wood.
The Assembly Hall: In the south-west corner of Temple Block stands the Assembly Hall, a substantial structure designed for congregations of smaller size than those requiring the great Tabernacle auditorium. During the summer of 1877 the Old Tabernacle, about which so many pleasant memories had clustered, was removed to make room for the new building. The Assembly Hall was begun in the year named, and, though meetings were held in the unfinished structure, it was not until 1882 that the building was ready for dedication. The edifice is one hundred and twenty by sixty-eight feet, including the extreme recesses. The walls are of granite from the quarries in Cottonwood canyon.
General Service Plant: All the buildings at present occupying Temple Block, together with many others on adjoining squares, are supplied with steam, hot-water, and electric current for light, heat, and power, from an independent plant situated near the middle of the city square immediately west from Temple Block. From this plant great subterranean tunnels lead to the several buildings connected therewith. The main tunnel is six feet six inches in height, by five feet six inches in width; through this run all pipes for steam and water, ammonia pipes for cooling purposes, and, in addition, a full equipment of electric conductors. The diverging branch-tunnels are each six feet six inches by four feet. The buildings supplied from this plant with electric light, heat, and power, and with steam and hot water, are the following:
1. All the buildings on Temple Block, comprising the great Temple and its accessories, viz., the Annex, the conservatory, the gate house or porter’s cottage, the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, and the Bureau of Information.
2. All the buildings belonging to the Latter-day Saints’ University, comprising the Business College, Barratt Hall, the Brigham Young Memorial Building, and the Lion House.
3. The Bishop’s Building, and the old Tithing Office or Bishop’s Store House, now used for work in connection with the Latter-day Saints’ University.
4. The Deseret Gymnasium.
5. The offices of the First Presidency of the Church, together with the official residence of the President, known as the Bee Hive House. These buildings are situated at a distance of two and one-half city squares from the main plant.
6. The large and famous hostelry, the Hotel Utah.
7. The Deseret News Building and the Deseret News Annex.
8. The Vermont Building.
9. The Sharon Building, and several other smaller structures.
The entire length of the tunnel system is over fourteen hundred feet, and the tunnels are constructed of reinforced concrete with walls six inches thick. From this brief and partial description, it will be seen that the equipment of buildings occupying or adjoining Temple Block, is commensurate and adequate.