Friday, March 21, 2014

The forgotten history of Ogden’s Tabernacle Square

                           Author and wife, LeAnn, at the former Ogden Temple in 2010.

THE lengthy history of Ogden’s Tabernacle Square reveals a potpourri of events, even changes in ownership and failed dreams for some never-materialized projects.
Here’s just a sampling of the Square's  rich and diverse history:

-The original Ogden Pioneer Tabernacle, on the southeast corner of the block, was began in 1855 and finally opened on Oct. 10, 1869, seating 1,250 people.

-However, soon after the railroad came to Ogden, work began on a new, larger tabernacle and the old one was to be a concert hall. The sandstone foundation actually reached a height of 4 feet before such plans were completely abandoned, for a lack of funds.
 (The leftover blocks were sold or given to nearby property owners and their use was visible in the foundation or steps of some downtown Ogden homes.)

-In the early 1890s, the LDS Church actually gave Ogden City the deed to the property that is now Tabernacle Square.
A report in the Standard on Dec. 20, 1893 stated: “The city gives it up. City Council gives back the Tabernacle Square to the church.”

-Also, in 1890, classes for Weber Academy students (forerunner to WSU) were held in the Pioneer Tabernacle.

-Next, the Pioneer Tabernacle was completely remodeled in 1896 at a cost of $15,000. A county-wide “Tabernacle Fair” helped raise the funds needed.

-There must have still been plenty of open space, because “Football on the Tabernacle Square,” was a May 2, 1897 headline in the Standard-Examiner. The Gordon Stake and Weber Stake boys teams played for the pennant.
A week later, the May 9 Standard reported a baseball game being held on Tabernacle Square, with the YMCA beating the Quincy Schools by a score of 11-6.

-Despite the presence of sporting events on the Square, it wasn’t until the spring of 1913 that the area was fully leveled and made into a park. Some 4,000 loads of dirt were brought in, as the ground level was still low. Grass was planted and water lines for irrigation were installed.
The Tabernacle building itself was spruced up and an electric blowing apparatus replaced the old water-powered one for the organ. More than $13,000 in improvements were made.

-The April 28, 1913 Standard report mentioned each area stake wanting its own building on the square and that a $100,000 tri-stake tabernacle should be built at the center of the lot.
In fact, a Dec. 27, 1907 Standard article mentioned earlier plans for a $200,000 new Tabernacle. None of that new construction happened.
(However, the Ogden 3rd Ward Chapel and amusement hall resided on the southwest corner of the square for many years. In addition, the Relief Building, now DUP Museum, resided on Tabernacle Choir for many decades, as did the Miles Goodyear Cabin, with both now moved to 2100 Lincoln Avenue.)

-By 1921, LDS Church members in the Ogden area were eager for their own temple. However, Church President Heber J. Grant made a special visit to Ogden’s Tabernacle Square that year and left indicating it was not the proper time to have a temple there.

-Despite Ogden City having given back Tabernacle Square to the Church in 1893, the Standard of May 7, 1924 reported the new possibility of the Church trading Tabernacle Square for Lester Park, 663 24th Street (near today’s downtown main library). Then, the Church would perhaps construct an Ogden Temple there, while Ogden City and Weber County would build a joint city and county facility on Tabernacle Square. (Of course, that never happened either.)

-The next proposal for Tabernacle Square was outlined in the March 11, 1925 Standard, where Weber College wanted to create a first-class 440-yard running track, plus goal posts, bleachers and a football field on the interior. (That proposal never happened either.)

-Elder Harold B. Lee finally broke ground on July 24, 1953 for a new Tabernacle on Ogden’s Temple Square. The $723.000 building was dedicated on Feb. 12, 1956 by President David O. McKay.

-When word of a future LDS Temple planned for Ogden hit the downtown business district in the mid-1960s, businessmen lobbied Church leaders to be sure and have the Temple built downtown, to help bolster the struggling city center.
There apparently had been some serious consideration by the Church to have the Ogden Temple built on the east bench, somewhere just south of today’s Weber State University, in a location similar to that of the Provo Temple.

-How would the original temple have appeared, if it had been built on the Ogden hillside instead?

                                             Keith W. Wilcox's "What If?" Painting.

The late Keith W. Wilcox of Ogden actually inadvertently painted a striking scene of the original Ogden LDS Temple as if it were sitting along the Wasatch Mountains of Ogden.
(Wilcox was architect of the Washington, D.C. LDS Temple, a general authority and also a former president of the Ogden Temple.)

That painting now resides in the primary room of an LDS Chapel in South Weber, though some ward members there mistakenly believe the painting is of the Provo Temple.
(Wilcox's wife said her husband just liked the closer Ogden mountains in his painting ...)

-Sadly, the Pioneer Tabernacle was razed in August of 1971 to make way for the first Ogden Temple. Officially, the Church said it was removed because of its very visible conflict with Ogden Temple. (This was in an era when the Church tore down many old buildings, whereas restoration would more likely happen now.)

-Now the revamped Tabernacle and the totally remodeled Ogden Temple are almost completed as the latest anchors to Ogden’s historic Tabernacle Square.

                   The now steeple-less Ogden Tabernacle, next to the Ogden Temple,  in February of 2014.

The Tabernacle does look a little odd now, being steeple-less, apparently permanently. It makes sense not to have a taller steeple on the Tabernacle than the new Temple, but I wish the top half of the Tabernacle steeple have been saved and used on the top of the building (at a height lower than the revamped Temple's steeple), or even cemented in the ground next to the structure?
Steeples are standard for religious buildings and outside the Salt Lake Tabernacle, is there a large LDS Church building out there without one, except the Ogden Tabernacle?
Anyone who reads the 1956 Souvenir program of the Ogden Tabernacle's original dedication will realize back then that Church members described that now missing steeple as simply a gleaming marvel.

Other source: “Souvenir Program” for the Ogden Tabernacle, Feb, 12, 1956; and personal interviews.

(-Originally published in the Ogden Standard Examiner, March 21, 2014. Note: This is an expanded version over the original.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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