About The Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle

Salt Lake Tabernacle March 31, 2007

Salt Lake Tabernacle March 31, 2007 courtesy Getty Images

The famous Salt Lake City (Mormon) Tabernacle underwent a massive renovation project from 2005-2007. This involved a meticulous process balancing historic preservation with essential modernization and seismic upgrades. According to my site stat tracker, the majority of my readership now lives outside of Utah, and a considerable amount of you reside outside of the United States. Therefore many of you have either not had the opportunity to visit beautiful Temple Square yet, or you have not returned since the renovation. I thought you may enjoy reading a brief history and watching some nice video clips about this unique, beloved and world-famous building. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Salt Lake Bowery

Salt Lake Bowery

First, a little background history. Shortly after the July 1847 arrival of the first pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, the prophet Brigham Young invited the members of the Church to build a gathering place to join in worship and social events. Even before homes were constructed, returning soldiers from the Mormon Battalion labored to create a Bowery — a simple structure of logs and branches to protect congregations from the sun as they worshiped.

Old Tabernacle & Bowery

Old Tabernacle & Bowery

In 1857 a more permanent gathering place was built called the “Old Tabernacle”. However, by 1861 it had already been outgrown.

Tabernacle Arch Section

Tabernacle Arch Section

Plans for a second Tabernacle were drawn. It would be a building with a curved ceiling and a seating capacity of more than 12,000. Brigham Young was a carpenter by trade, and his “turtle back” Tabernacle design came by inspiration, and was innovative. With the assistance of the Church architect, William H. Folsom, the construction of the Tabernacle began during the spring of 1863.
Every detail was attended to. The pioneers lacked standard building materials and had to be resourceful to undertake such a large structure. The timber for the large support beams had to be hauled from steep canyons far away. Some of the former Bowery was also reused. Often wooden pegs were used instead of nails, and beams were wrapped with strips of boiled animal skins (all which would prove the test of time amazingly well).

Tabernacle 1869

Tabernacle 1869

The Tabernacle would become one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world, measuring 150 feet wide, 250 feet long, and 80 feet high on the outside. When completed, the acoustics were unparalleled. The crowning glory was a large pipe organ hand crafted and brought at great sacrifice and through perilous Indian territory from California by ox drawn wagons.

By the fall of 1867, the Tabernacle and its organ was completed enough to be used at the October conference. By 1870, the organ and many of the inside fixtures were finished. The gallery was started in 1870. President John Taylor, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the completed Tabernacle at the October conference in 1875.

SL Tabernacle 1896 Statehood

SL Tabernacle 1896 Statehood

Originally there were 700 pipes. Additional pipes were added, bringing the 1885 total to 2,648. A talented cabinetmaker named Ralph Ramsey created the famous and beautiful casework surrounding the organ pipes.

Tabernacle Organ Expansion 1916

Tabernacle Organ Expansion 1916

Many modifications took place over time, including the addition of a balcony and later a choir loft (both of which improved the acoustics according to reports of the times).

SL Tabernacle Today

SL Tabernacle Today

After being closed for nearly two years for renovation and seismic upgrade, the historic Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square officially re-opened in April 2007.
Before the renovation began, the late President Gordon B. Hinckley asked designers to maintain the historical integrity of the Tabernacle, while bringing the 140-year-old building structurally into the 21st century.

SL Tabernacle Aerial Photo

SL Tabernacle Aerial Photo

New Tabernacle Benches

New Benches

As part of the renovation, the foundation and structure were seismically strengthened and a new aluminum roof was set in place. Inside new lighting and sound systems were installed and the organ pipes received new gold leafing. Upgraded benches now offer more leg room. In addition, backstage workspace has been updated to better accommodate the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

SL Tabernacle Rededication

SL Tabernacle Rededication

All visitors to Temple Square in Salt Lake City are given free tours of this historic building, and it is always amazing to hear the accoustic miracle of the hall. From time to time selected groups are even given back-stage tours of the newly completed Tabernacle upgrades, for an exclusive “behind-the-scenes”.

You may take a 360 degree visual tour of the SLC Mormon Tabernacle here.
Here are two video clips from the October 2007 World Report that summarize the extensive work, and give a glimpse of the gala reopening concert. I thought that you may enjoy these. The first clip summarizes the careful renovation process, the second highlights the dedication and celebration afterwards.



A series of ten gala performances were held to celebrate the re-opening of the Tabernacle! Joining the choir was the renown welsh baritone, Bryn Terfel.

11 thoughts on “About The Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle

  1. This was great! I sent it to my sister who is visiting from NC sept 17 & 18. We plan to attend the rehearsal on the 18th in the conference center. We hope to tour Temple Square, too.

  2. Pingback: Mormon Tabernacle Choir Practice - a blog by Jackie Ann Patterson

  3. I very much enjoyed your blog. It was very interesting and beautifully done. You have a great talent. I wonder if you might know when the Tabernacle Baptismal font stopped being used for “live” baptisms. I joined the church in 1962 and was baptized there. We lived on 2700 South, and used the Tabernacle for our stake meetings at that time.

    • Sue – thanks for reading, and your comment! According the the church history website, the Baptistry at the SLC Tabernacle was dedicated in 1958. Many thousands of baptisms were performed there (including my own father and mother). By the 1980’s and 90’s the baptistry was used less and less frequently. Wards in the surrounding area now had larger meeting houses and Stake buildings, with their own fonts available. A trip to Temple Square was no longer necessary. The Tabernacle font remained in limited use, by reservation only, up until December 2004. In January 2005 under the direction of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Tabernacle was closed for seismic retrofitting and extensive renovations. The Tabernacle baptistry was removed as part of the renovation, and provided space for the new Choir Administrative Office. A list of the many upgrades and changes can be found here

    • Randy, Great question!
      Simple answer: No. The baptismal font formerly located inside the SLC Tabernacle was a standard tiled font approximately 6 feet x 4 feet in diameter and 4.5 feet deep, used for baptism of general church membership.
      Extended answer: There are two types of baptismal fonts in the LDS faith.
      #1. Fonts built for the purpose of baptising new members of the church – age 8 and up.
      #2. Fonts built in Holy Temples used exclusively for proxy baptisms for deceased ancestors.
      Only the fonts which are built in Temples rest upon oxen statues, which symbolize the gathering of the 12 tribes of Israel, and the strength upon which God’s work rests.

        • Hi Roger, thanks for commenting. I have never heard of baptism for the living being performed inside an LDS Temple during the 20th Century, let alone “lots”. As far as I know, all fonts located inside LDS temples have always been reserved exclusively for baptisms for the dead. However, I certainly could be mistaken and would be interested in reading historical accounts. Do you happen to have a link for the source of your info?

  4. Such a beautiful building. I traveled a number of times thru UTAH and made a point to stop and listen to the choir practicing for a Christmas concert. Of course someone was there to demonstrate the acustics by dropping the pins on the timpani heads. Just AWESOME.

    Last evening (Nov.24th) we watched the concert for AMERICA. AGAIN, AWESOME!! The renovation on the tabernacle is mind boggling. It is gorgeous. Could you tell me how many members make up the choir? I thank you for your time and God bless you all.

  5. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back down the road. All the best

Say something! I love comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s