When the Provo City Center Temple was announced, by Pres. Monson, on Oct 1, 2011, a gasp could be heard in the Conference Center. A fire had destroyed this beautiful, and beloved building and to turn it into a temple was a merciful revelation from the Lord.
I sang in Christmas concerts many times in that building, and even attended stake conference there, as a married student at BYU. This building was most certainly beloved by all who knew firsthand of the beauty, and history, within its walls.
There is a sweet history that goes along with this building. Richard O. Cowan (retired professor of Religion at BYU) has been a member of the stake presidency, as this building has been renovated, and has had the privilege of watching it be born again. He gave a presentation on the remarkable circumstances that surround the rebirth.
Brigham Young saw a hill overlooking the city of Provo, and called it Temple Hill with the thought that a temple would reside there. The first building to be built on that hill was the beginning of BYU’s campus, and it was named for Karl Maeser. Below the hill, the original LTM (Language Training Mission), or training home for missionaries was developed, and it was hoped that one day there would be a temple nearby for the missionaries to attend.
Years later, they wanted to build a temple next to the Provo Tabernacle, similar to what was done in Ogden, but there was no room for parking. Pondering a solution to this dilemma, it was Sidney B. Sperry, one of the first leading LDS scholars to base instruction on the Book of Mormon at BYU, who saw in vision a white building at the foot of Squaw Peak. The Provo Temple was meant to be a working temple, so form took precedence over symbolism. Today, the Provo Temple continues to be the most productive temple of all temples throughout the world.
But Provo would receive her second temple downtown, one to rival the symbolism and history of the Salt Lake Temple.
Originally, Fort Provo was built close to Utah Lake until flooding made life difficult. Brigham Young came to visit and gave directions for the settlers to build a new fort. The settlers apparently chose not to follow Pres. Young’s direction, and built a new fort in another location. Pres. Young came down, accompanied by the entire First Presidency, with the purpose of reprimanding everyone and showing them exactly where they should build this new settlement. He took everyone to a certain spot and said this is where you will build a tabernacle to the Lord. This is where the original Provo Tabernacle was constructed. Years went by and a new Tabernacle was constructed right next to the original. These two buildings stood side by side for 30 years.
You’ll notice a new middle tower sits atop the temple. This was original to the building, but was removed when it proved to be too heavy for the roof to support. Pres. William Howard Taft is the only U.S. Pres. to have spoken in the tabernacle, but many concerts have favored this building for its wonderful acoustics. The night the fire struck, Lex de Azevedo’s “Gloria” was being performed. (If you haven’t heard this beautiful oratorio, you must!)
The stake president, in charge of the Provo Tabernacle at the time of the fire, was A. LeGrand Richards. He was devastated to see the smoking remains of the burned out building, until he heard the voice of the Lord whisper to him, “What’s it to you if I decide to remodel?”
Sis. Reeves spoke in Women’s Conference about the horrible fire.
“Ten months later, during the October 2011 general conference, there was an audible gasp when President Thomas S. Monson announced that the nearly destroyed tabernacle was to become a holy temple—a house of the Lord! Suddenly we could see what the Lord had always known! He didn’t cause the fire, but He allowed the fire to strip away the interior. He saw the tabernacle as a magnificent temple—a permanent home for making sacred, eternal covenants. My dear sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones—and maybe our own—figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But He does not leave us in the ashes; He stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to Him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally” (Linda S. Reeves, “Claim the Blessings of Your Covenants,” Oct 2013).
They broke ground in May 2011. Everything was saved, that could be saved. The turrets were preserved and restructured. Some of you may have heard that the original pulpit had been removed the night before the fire, and now has found a home in the temple chapel.
Because the building is small, in comparison to a temple, and there is no space surrounding the building, they decided to dig downward. In order to accomplish this, they dug a huge trench all the way around the building. The building was never elevated, they simply hollowed out underneath and placed steel girders underneath to support two floors underground. Inspired construction to say the least! The Old Tabernacle was excavated and the underground temple extends underneath the temple grounds.
Where every temple has a story, and is favored among those who live closest to it, the Provo City Center Temple will certainly stand as the “miracle temple.”