Sunday, October 2, 2011

The sad future of the Provo Tabernacle

On December 18, 2010, the Provo Tabernacle, a historic meetinghouse in the heart of Provo, UT, burned to the ground.  Yesterday, the LDS Church announced that it would rebuild the tabernacle as a temple. The response to the announcement was effusive--with civic leaders and church members thrilled that the building would be restored.

Let me dissent.  It is a good thing that the building will be rebuilt; it is a bad thing that it will be rebuilt as a temple.  The tabernacle was a public building of sorts--owned by the LDS church but open to the community for concerts, meetings, and the occasional funeral of a big-name local.  The temple is a private building, open only to certain members of the LDS Church.  So while the city will have a sparkling new "historic" building that attracts Mormons downtown to shop, sightsee, and visit; the city has lost a public place--a venue where people could gather to sing, and play music, and talk.

Once, 20 years or so ago, St. Francis of Assisi parish in Provo had a series of structural problems with its building that made it impossible for the parish to hold Christmas services there.  The parish moved those services to the Provo Tabernacle, and so on Christmas eve thousands of Catholics and well-wishers celebrated mass in a Mormon building.  That will never happen again.

The tabernacle wasn't a perfect community center.  Its capacity was a bit large for most local arts groups, and the acoustics were sketchy, and it didn't have much in the way of green rooms for performers to warm up in.  Now it won't be a community center at all, though.  That is our loss.


Anonymous said...

Nice piece. In a time when people seem to be withdrawing from public life more and more, losing a place that built community, not just affirmed an existing one, is sad.

Ellen said...

I'm with you, Gary. When I first heard the announcement, my heart sank. It was a center of civic life, not just Mormon life, in an area that needed a revived civic heart. I love temples, but like removing many of the original historic murals from the early temples, this is also a poor and sad decision, though that will probably only be recognized in hIndsight.

Kim Abunuwara said...

I agree with Gary. Though I am a Mormon myself and temple attending, and though I was glad the tabernacle wouldn't be razed, I was ambivalent about its reconstruction as a temple. I kept thinking about the population that this choice would disenfranchise who probably loved the tabernacle as much as I did. I am from Provo and I teach at UVU. I have been researching the tabernacle and I am interested in talking to people who, because they are not temple attending Mormons, will no longer have access to the building. I am writing a paper about this compelling community issue and would welcome any thoughts and feelings. 801 473 7836 Kim