Brigham City Tabernacle 1865

  • Architect: Truman O. Angell
  • Groundbreaking 1865
  • Dedicated 1897
  • Style: Gothic Revival
1879 (Jackson pg. 95)

The Brigham City Tabernacle (sometimes called the Box Elder Tabernacle) took 32 years complete. At first it was delayed so that workers could focus on completing the transcontinental railroad. A simplified version of the tabernacle was finally completed in 1879. It had no balcony and had a tower similar to the Bountiful Tabernacle.

1889 (Jackson pg. 95)

The tabernacle’s 2nd permutation came in 1889, when a new mansard tower was added along with a series of brick buttresses on each side. This structure burned down in 1896, leaving only the outer shell standing. A third version of the tabernacle was built in 1897 with a much grander tower. Pinnacles were attached to the buttresses and a U-shaped gallery was added to the new interior.

1897 (Jackson pg. 95)

The exterior of the Brigham City Tabernacle betrays a lack of coherence which is most likely due to the haphazard history of its construction and the oversized ambitions of local leadership. The tower is too large, making the tabernacle look “top-heavy.” The sides of the building are crowded with so many pinnacles that it looks “prickly,” like a flank of marching soldiers carrying spears.

The Salt Lake City Assembly Hall (1882) makes an interesting comparison. It also has a large victorian tower and multiple gothic pinnacles. However, the Assembly Hall incorporates these details in a balanced way because it was designed from the beginning with a grand scheme in mind. The Brigham City Tabernacle is hemmed in by the humble silhouette of its original structure.

In spite of these faults, the overall appearance of the Brigham City Tabernacle is mitigated by the remarkable quality of the polychromatic brickwork and impressive gothic detailing.

The tabernacle also has one of the finest interiors built in the LDS church. The woodwork contains delicately carved gothic and classical details painted to look like oak or marble. The plaster work is exceptional and is painted to highlight its egg and dart motifs.

St. George Tabernacle 1863

  • Groundbreaking 1863
  • Dedication 1876
  • Architect Miles Romney with assistance from William H. Folsom.
  • Style: Federalist with some Greek Revival detailing.

Of all the meetinghouses built in the LDS church, the St. George Tabernacle most closely resembles the prototypical New England churches built by architects such as Charles Bulfinch (for example the First Unitarian Church of Burlington). It is a two story rectangular structure with orderly rows of symmetrically placed windows in the Federalist style, although there are some Greek Revival details, such as the cornice returns. It has a colonial style clock tower which may have been included because the building was originally intended to double as a court house.

The entablature has been decorated with stars, a feature Miles Romney may have borrowed from the Nauvoo Temple, a building he had worked on as an architectural assistant. Another uniquely LDS feature is the set of two symmetrically placed front doors. Churches typically have either a single centrally placed entrance or two additional doors flanking a central entrance. The source of this odd arrangement may have been Joseph Smith’s original designs for the Independence and Kirtland temples, both of which feature two separate front entrances. Perhaps Joseph Smith had a theological purpose in mind: the division of the two priesthoods, or maybe the separation of genders in temple ceremonies. In any case, the two-door arrangement was a feature that LDS architects continued to use in a number of early tabernacles.

The interior contains a beautiful wrap-around gallery accessed by spiral staircases. The fine wrought-iron seating in the gallery was originally used in the Salt Lake Temple’s 1892 annex. After the annex was demolished in 1962 the seating was relocated to the St. George Tabernacle.

Behind the rostrum is a magnificent faux door frame in an exotic, one might even say, masonic style. Above the doorway is a painting of a coat of arms with a handshake, an all-seeing eye, and the phrase “Holiness to the Lord.” These are features typically seen in LDS temples but rarely in tabernacles or meetinghouses. The presence of so many temple-like symbols may indicate that at this stage (the 1860s) church members did not yet fully distinguish between meetinghouses and temples. The Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples had been used as church meetinghouses and administrative offices, in addition to their more unique purpose as a sacred place set aside for rituals. Like these early temples, the St. George Tabernacle had similar civic and communal functions. It was only later that temples were set aside as places reserved solely for ritual worship.

Salt Lake Tabernacle 1864

  • Groundbreaking 1964
  • Dedicated 1867
  • Architects: Henry Grow, Truman O. Angell (1870 gallery addition).

The Salt Lake Tabernacle combines two traditional architectural features in an utterly unique fashion: a dome and a rectangular meetinghouse. Historically, these two elements would be combined by building a central circular dome buttressed and extended with normal rectangular architecture, for example the Roman Pantheon or St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Brigham Young’s idea was to elongate the dome to accommodate the entire length of a rectangular meetinghouse, forming a large oval. It was a simple but audacious concept and required the skillful engineering Henry Grow to bring it about. The result was a masterpiece of innovation that looks nothing like a normal domed church and nothing like a standard rectangular meetinghouse either.

Domed architecture is symbolic of the vault of heaven and is sometimes decorated with stars, or a picture of Christ looking down on His creation. The Salt Lake Tabernacle also has a vast, sky-like quality. However, because the dome has been elongated, the eye is continuously led toward the “show front,” with its magnificent organ and rows of seating for the priesthood leadership.

Truman O. Angell’s 1970 gallery addition added further dimensionality to the structure. As a teenager I remember sitting at the very top of this gallery for General Conference and looking down at the priesthood leadership. It was a heavenly experience. It was as if I had joined the angels perched up beside the domed vault, observing the proceedings below. It felt simultaneously expansive yet enclosed, vast yet intimate.