A Tour of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building
September 1993

“A Tour of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building,” Ensign, Sept. 1993, 32

A Tour of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building

A showcase building that will serve as a visitors’ center, Church offices, and Church meetinghouse is dedicated, adapting the former Hotel Utah to meet the growing needs of the worldwide Church.

The day is June 27, 1993—the 149th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is no coincidence that on this day President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency, joined by all members of the Quorum of the Twelve, have gathered to memorialize the great Prophet of the latter days by naming after him a restored and adapted historic Church headquarters building. Also attending the dedicatory services are other Church leaders, their wives, many members of the Quorums of the Seventy, and stake presidents from all over the Salt Lake Valley.

The solemn occasion is the dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, previously known for seventy-six years as the Hotel Utah. During the last three years, the landmark structure has undergone major renovation. Housed within its majestic white walls today are areas impressively designed for a variety of uses:

Joseph Smith Memorial Building

An impressive foyer with informative displays, maintained by the Church’s Missionary Department, is adjacent to the theater.

  • Visitors’ center functions are served by a magnificent reception lobby featuring a statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith; the FamilySearch® Center, where, with the help of modern technology, visitors can easily identify family data; a theater that shows a powerful film depicting much of the Latter-day Saint pioneers’ story; two top-floor scenic outlooks; and restaurants and some facilities for public meetings and events.

  • Church headquarters office needs are served on eight floors of the building. Two departments, Public Affairs and Family History, are presently assigned space in the building. Some floors remain unoccupied, awaiting Church growth.

  • Church meetinghouse needs for downtown Salt Lake City wards are met with a chapel and teaching and leadership rooms on a mezzanine level of the building. In addition, a Church distribution center located in the basement serves members.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building chapel

Chapel from the pulpit. The Relief Society room, beyond the chapel’s closed doors, can be used for chapel overflow.

“This is a wonderful day—the completion of a tremendous project, which I am confident was inspired by the Lord,” remarked President Hinckley during the dedication ceremonies. “I am satisfied He wanted it this way. I am satisfied that the time had come when the Church should no longer be in the business of running the Hotel Utah as a hotel.

“This elegant building was planned in 1909,” President Hinckley continued. “The first meeting of the committee that was organized to build it was held on 17 April 1909, presided over by President Joseph F. Smith.

“They went to work immediately. Architects from San Francisco were hired, and the building was started the first of June, 1909. It took a lot longer for us to make a decision regarding what to do with it, and it has taken longer to restore it than it took to build it. But it has happened, and I think it is a miracle.

“Some people may feel in their hearts that we have been extravagant,” he observed. “We hope there won’t be any feelings of that kind. … Nothing is too good to remember the Prophet Joseph Smith, called and ordained of God to open this, the dispensation of the fulness of time.”

Joseph Smith Memorial Building Empire Room

The Empire Room’s ceiling is bordered by beautiful replicas of English hunting scenes.

During his remarks, President Monson noted, “I’m pleased to think that thousands … will have an opportunity to mingle in this building and to see the film and otherwise enjoy the restoration which has taken place. … That number will go beyond, into the hundreds of thousands and possibly into the millions of people who will honor the name of the Prophet Joseph and behold for their own benefit that which has transpired in the history of the Church. They can experience the inner satisfaction of inspired knowledge.”

Speaking of the building’s completion, he concluded, “It is magnificent. I love the lobby. I love the statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and it kindles within me gratitude for that leader.”

Joseph Smith Memorial Building Grand Lobby

The Grand Lobby, restored to its original elegance and spaciousness, is the Joseph Smith Memorial Building’s centerpiece. The chandelier, although not original, is comparable to fixtures typical of the early twentieth century.

In his remarks, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “I would like to express my deep appreciation to the First Presidency for what they have accomplished here in this beautiful Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The lobby, as it has been restored, is more beautiful than I ever remember it. The chapel is truly a lovely place where we may come in spiritual worship to remember God our Father. The film shown in the theater makes real the struggles of our early pioneers.”

The chapel was the first finished room in the building, said Bishop Robert D. Hales of the Presiding Bishopric. “The organ is a magnificent instrument. The organ in the Tabernacle is built after the English tradition, the organ in the Assembly Hall after German orchestration and work. This is built after the French tradition, built in Quebec, Canada. After the chapel was finished, the workers would often come in here and sit down to get their inspiration for the work they needed to do.”

Bishop Hales quoted from Doctrine and Covenants section 135, which reads: “To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock P.M., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. …

“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!” (D&C 135:1, 3.)

Such is the Prophet whose work is memorialized in the newly finished edifice. The Joseph Smith Memorial Building retains the white terra-cotta exterior of the former building, but except for restored areas on the ground floor and mezzanine levels, and the preservation of top-floor eating areas, little about the building is the same.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building exterior

The exterior of the white-glazed, terra-cotta building includes details like the window shown here.

Architectural work for the building, including renovation and remodeling, was done by FFKR Architects/Planning/Interior Design. Construction was done under the direction of Christiansen Brothers Inc. and Bodell Construction Company.

“The intent of the project has not been of a restorative nature,” explained Mike Enfield, project manager. “Restoration is bringing a structure back to pristine original condition as much as possible. This project is termed ‘adaptive reuse,’ meaning that elements from the original building were adapted to fit the new functions of the facility.”

Joseph Smith Memorial Building

The original jewel-toned art-glass skylight lights the lobby with its brilliant colors.

In 1911, when the hotel was completed, there were no building requirements for earthquake resistance. In order to meet current earthquake safety codes, many of the building’s original footings were replaced by larger, new footings. In addition, seven massive concrete shear walls extending from the basement to the top (tenth) floor were added.

The original structure had no tenth floor. Only two years after opening, however, a garden roof restaurant was added.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building Beehive Tower

Atop the building is the Beehive Tower, part of the original Hotel Utah, flanked on all four sides by an eagle perched on a U. S. shield. The origin of the beehive as a symbol hearkens back to Joseph Smith. In the Book of Mormon, the word deseret means “honeybee.” (See Ether 2:3.) When early Latter-day Saints settled Utah, they called the area Deseret. The beehive, often used as a symbol for united human industry, can also represent what its laborers offer to others—the sweet nourishment of honey, an apt symbol for gospel fruits offered by the Lord’s last-day laborers.

A two-level underground parking deck, built in the 1940s, was removed during the recent renovation, and in its place a four-level parking area was built, with accommodations for as many as 350 vehicles.

Included in the 468,433-square-foot Joseph Smith Memorial Building are the following:

  • A large distribution center and a Beehive Clothing Center are included on the basement level. The basement also houses several kitchen facilities, including a prep kitchen used in connection with the tenth-floor main kitchen.

  • It is on the ground floor where much of the original grandeur of the building has been retained through restoration. The lobby is the same size as that of the original 1911 structure. Adjacent to the lobby are the Nauvoo Room (formerly known as the Pioneer Room), the Empire Room, and the Bonneville Room. These three beautifully restored rooms are available for public use.

  • A half floor below the ground level, the large FamilySearch center at the north end of the building features more than 130 computer stations to accommodate visitors interested in family history research. The computers provide access to the genealogical files of the Church. With the help of volunteers who assist visitors in their research, information found can be printed on the spot for only the cost of the paper. If visitors wish to follow up on their research, they can go directly to the Family History Library, located one block west, or to the fourth floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where sixty additional computer workstations are located. In addition, rooms there can be reserved for computer research by family groups and other organizations. The FamilySearch Center is open from 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. in the summer and from 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. after the first weekend in September.

  • In a comfortable theater directly over the FamilySearch Center and just a few steps above the ground-floor lobby, visitors can view the new epic film Legacy. (See Ensign, July 1993, pp. 32–39.) The 53-minute film follows the experiences of a pioneer family during the early years of the Restoration. Pivotal events depicted in the film include the Church’s beginnings in upstate New York in 1830; the violent persecution of the Saints in Missouri; the founding of Nauvoo, Illinois, and the building of the temple there; the martyrdom of Joseph Smith; the trek across the plains to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake; and the completion of the Salt Lake Temple.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building

Outside the theater is a large lobby where visitors may await the film’s next showing. The lobby will feature a prominent painting of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Overlooking the Joseph Smith Memorial Building’s Grand Lobby is a lovely mezzanine from which visitors may view the lobby below. Also, rooms on this level have been converted into a chapel and a Relief Society room, with additional classrooms, ward, branch, and stake offices, a library, and a small kitchen.

Intricate moldings
Intricate moldings

Intricate moldings are found throughout the room, and beehive carvings decorate the pulpit.

  • Floors two through nine will serve as Church headquarters office space.

  • The tenth floor provides breathtaking views of the valley from two public viewing areas located on the east and west sides of the building and from two rooftop restaurants for visitors. Also located on the tenth floor, on the east wing of the building, are facilities for the use of Church leaders and departments.

Roof Restaurant
Garden Restaurant

The top floor features two restaurants—the Roof Restaurant, with its panoramic view of Temple Square, and the Garden Restaurant, with a retractable glass roof, garden columns, trellises, flowers, and trees.

“This building has had more than a facelift,” observed President Monson at the dedication ceremony. “It has been restored to its youth of bygone days. In addition to that, its purpose has been ennobled and enlarged, and its future has been assured.”

In Memory of the Prophet

Plans called for the newly renovated edifice to be renamed the Utah Building. However, that was not to be.

The Brethren were aware that various buildings at Church headquarters had come and gone over the years. Today several structures remain in remembrance of Brigham Young—such as the Lion and Beehive houses. But there was nothing to memorialize the Prophet Joseph Smith.

After the First Presidency discussed the matter, President Hinckley and President Monson met with the Quorum of the Twelve in their weekly meeting in the Salt Lake Temple. There it was proposed that the name of the building be the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

“They were all agreeable with it,” said President Hinckley. “I think the Lord wanted this building named the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.”

A Heroic Figure

“We needed something in the building to focus on the Prophet Joseph Smith,” said President Hinckley at the dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. “We thought of various possibilities, but they didn’t seem right.

“Then Brother David Burton, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, brought word that there was a statue of the Prophet in a warehouse. It had come from the Independence Missouri Visitors’ Center, where it was no longer used because there had been a change of exhibits. We went down to look at it.

“It was crated, had been on its back, and was dirty. But we knew it could be washed and cleaned and made sparkling. It was more than nine feet tall, heroic in size, and cut from beautiful Carrara marble after the pattern of the life-size figure made by Mahonri M. Young which stands on Temple Square.

A Heroic Figure of Joseph Smith

“We had it brought up here. It wasn’t easy to move—it weighs 3,950 pounds—but we placed it where you see it. And it reminds me of the words I love: ‘Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah! Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer. Blessed to open the last dispensation, Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.’ (Hymns, 1985, no. 27.)

“I think of the great words of section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants, written when the Prophet was in Liberty Jail, after spending five months of that terrible, bitter winter in a dungeon cell. He cried out to the Lord in an hour of stress: ‘O God, where art thou?’ (D&C 121:1.)

“And among the words which came in response to that cry were these: ‘The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;

“‘While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.

“‘And thy people shall never be turned against thee by the testimony of traitors.’ (D&C 122:1–3.)

“This is another day of fulfillment for that prophecy, my brothers and sisters. I love the Prophet Joseph Smith. I love the Prophet Joseph Smith!

“I bear testimony of the divinity of his calling. There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind of the fact that he was called of God. I know that the conversation which took place in the grove was as intimate and as real and as personal as is my conversation with you this night. I know that. I thank the Prophet for his testimony, for his work, for his life, for his sacrifice, for his witness of the living reality of God our Eternal Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Decision of 1987

“We didn’t know what to do with this building,” noted President Gordon B. Hinckley at the dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building as he reflected on the Church’s decision to close the structure as a hotel. The building was seventy-five years old, did not meet the present-day seismic codes, yet community and state historical organizations clamored for the building’s preservation.

Detail of decorative molding

Detail of decorative molding.

“It was a problem,” President Hinckley continued. “We talked about it on a number of occasions. Should we refurbish it as a hotel? Should we raze it and make this a park? We were faced with other pressures. The Church is growing tremendously across the world. Existing facilities have become inadequate because of this tremendous growth.

“It was determined that we would do two things: preserve it as a very precious thing in this community and at the same time use the building to meet the growing needs of a growing church.

Grand Lobby

Grand Lobby from mezzanine level.

“No one can walk about the lobby downstairs, look at those tremendous pillars, without saying to himself, ‘This is something unusual and unique and beautiful.’ No one can step into the old Empire Room without recognizing that this room is remarkable. And certainly no one can come into this chapel without recognizing that here is the kind of beauty that is not built these days.”

The Public Areas: A Modern Nauvoo House

In some ways, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building’s public areas meet in spirit the counsel given by the Lord in January 1841 that the Church build an edifice to house strangers and visitors who came to Nauvoo, the Church’s headquarters at the time.

“You are now called immediately to make a solemn proclamation of my gospel … to all the nations of the earth scattered abroad. …

“Build a house unto my name. …

“And it shall be for a house for boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein; therefore let it be a good house, worthy of all acceptation, that the weary traveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord; and the corner-stone I have appointed for Zion.

“This house shall be a healthful habitation if it be built unto my name. … It shall be holy, or the Lord your God will not dwell therein. …

“And let the name of that house be called Nauvoo House; and let it be a delightful habitation for man, and a resting-place for the weary traveler, that he may contemplate the glory of Zion, and the glory of this, the corner-stone thereof;

“That he may receive also the counsel from those whom I have set to be as plants of renown, and as watchmen upon her walls.” (D&C 124:2–3, 22–24, 60–61.)

In 1841, Church members in Nauvoo began to build both the Nauvoo House and the Nauvoo Temple in obedience to the Lord’s instructions. But when they were driven from Nauvoo in 1846, only two stories of the Nauvoo House had been partially completed. All efforts had gone toward finishing the temple so that the Saints might receive their endowments and sealings.

Empire Room

The magnificent Empire Room, restored to its original beauty, is one of three rooms on the ground floor available for public use. Carpeting in all rooms, designed by Madga Jakovcev-Ulrich, was woven in England.

Once in Salt Lake City, the Saints again began building a temple, dedicating the magnificent Salt Lake Temple in 1893. Sixteen years later, in 1909, Church leadership again turned to the project of building “a house for boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein; … a good house, worthy of all acceptation.” That house was named the Hotel Utah.

Since that time, many facilities for travelers have been developed in the city. Yet the spiritual purposes identified for a Nauvoo House continue to be important. These purposes are now expressed in the new and restored Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which provides a place for those who come from afar to “contemplate the word of the Lord,” a place of “healthful” and “delightful habitation” at its two restaurants and other public rooms, and a “resting-place” in the magnificent lobby. Both the theatre and Family History quarters provide rest and nourishment to the soul who seeks to “contemplate the glory of Zion … that he may receive also the counsel from those whom I have set … as watchmen upon her walls.”

Wasatch Room

The Wasatch Room on the top floor is designed for multiple use.

In the main lobby, the statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith stands outside the entrance of the room named—most fittingly—the Nauvoo Room.

Site History: From Mint to Memorial

In the early years, the northeast corner of Main Street and South Temple was the location of the adobe Church mint. In those days, private organizations often produced their own coins and currency. The Latter-day Saints minted gold pieces and printed currency personally signed by President Brigham Young.

Then in the early 1850s, the mint was torn down and a three-story Deseret Store was built, partly to fill the need for a bishop’s storehouse. As the Church’s tithing yard, the site became one of the busiest in Salt Lake City as wagons loaded with crops and livestock arrived and departed. In addition to the Deseret Store, the building housed the offices of the Presiding Bishopric and the Church’s printing press and newspaper, the Deseret News. But in 1909, the corner was approved as the future site of the Hotel Utah.

The Hotel Utah

The Hotel Utah, circa 1936.

On 1 June 1909, work on the site began. Two short years later, on 9 June 1911, the building, destined to be a world-class hotel, was opened, On 31 August 1987, the hotel closed.

Recent renovation took three years.

Photography by Welden Andersen, Craig Dimond, Mark Philbrick, and Steve Tregeagle

Portrait of Joseph Smith courtesy of Archives, RLDS Church, Independence, Mo.

Right: A 500-seat theater on the first mezzanine features modern projection and sound systems for showing the 53-minute movie Legacy. The film is shown free of charge on a 62-foot-by-31-foot screen.

Above: The FamilySearch Center has 130 computer workstations where visitors can easily obtain data from the Ancestral File™, International Genealogical Index™, and a catalog of records stored in the Church’s Family History Library. Family history missionaries, Temple Square missionaries, and family history employees are always on hand to assist visitors and answer questions. Right: Visitors may ask for help at the main desk to follow up on information they have obtained at the FamilySearch Center.

Right: A chapel for several congregations was created by adapting a ballroom.

The Church’s Family History Department (above) and Public Affairs Department have offices in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Right: A Church distribution center is located in the building’s basement, as is a Beehive Clothing Center.

Above: One of two tenth-floor public viewing areas, complete with fountain and domed stained-glass skylight, provides breathtaking views of the Salt Lake Valley.

Right: The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is nestled amid other historic Church headquarters buildings. To the east (left) is the Church Administration Building, a gray granite structure of neoclassic design. Between the Church Administration Building and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building is a formal flower garden. To the west is the majestic Salt Lake Temple, perhaps the Church’s most famous landmark.