The Salt Lake Tabernacle was constructed between 1864 and 1867 to be a meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often misnamed the “Mormon Church”) and is on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, today. This world-famous building housed the semi-annual LDS General Conference for 132 years, until the LDS Conference Center was completed in 2000. It is a much larger building which is now used for the semi-annual conference.
The Salt Lake Tabernacle was a center for cultural in the Salt Lake Valley and houses the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir still broadcasts its radio and television program Music and the Spoken Word from the Salt Lake Tabernacle each Sunday morning. The Tabernacle was once also home to the Utah Symphony Orchestra, until Abravanel Hall was constructed for that purpose.
Because the building was so old, it went under extensive renovations for two years, from January 2005 to March 2007, which were intended to earthquake proof the building and to restore things which needed restoring.
The now iconic roof of the Salt Lake Tabernacle was constructed in an Ithiel Town lattice-truss arch system which is held together by dowels and wedges. The foundation is made of sandstone, and the dome is supported by forty-four sandstone piers. Civil engineer Henry Grow oversaw the initial construction of the Tabernacle and engineered the 150-foot by 250-foot roof. Many insisted the roof would collapse when the scaffolding was removed, by the nine-foot-thick structure has held for more than 100 years now.
The seating capacity of 7000 (which includes the choir area) was once ample, but as the Church continued to grow, a larger building became essential. The Salt Lake Tabernacle was first used for General Conference in October 1867.
The organ, possibly the most famous feature of the Tabernacle, has 11,623 today, though it was originally constructed with 700. It is one of the largest pipe organs in the world. The current organ was constructed by G. Donald Harrison and was completed in 1948.
The structure of the Tabernacle was truly a wonder of its day. While it had some critics, Frank Lloyd Wright, viewed it as “one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world.”
What many people do not appreciate is that the Tabernacle is a functioning building. It has incredible acoustic qualities. Built in a time of no electric audio amplifiers, the building was designed to allow the entire congregation to hear the sermons. A current Mormon Tabernacle Choir member noted that all the wooden surfaces in the tabernacle resonate with sound, effectively making the entire building an instrument. This allows the congregation to both feel and hear the music.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir continues to rehearse in the Tabernacle, and most Thursday rehearsals are open to the public. There are also many other activities and performances open to the public. Admission is free. The beautiful building is a testament to the early Latter-day Saints who sacrificed a great deal, trekking across the plains to build up a kingdom to God.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.