“Tabernacle Reopens after Extensive Renovation,” Ensign, May 2007, 123–24
Since it was first used for general conference in 1867, the Salt Lake Tabernacle has stood as a symbol of the pioneers’ faith and ingenuity. Now, nearly 140 years later, the Tabernacle still stands, and never before has it rested on such a firm foundation.
During the Saturday afternoon session, held on March 31, President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the Salt Lake Tabernacle after two years of renovations.
Some new benches, made of oak, were installed and spaced farther apart to give visitors more legroom; the original staircases leading to the balcony from outside were relocated indoors to provide easier access for visitors, and two new staircases were added inside; a new layer of gold leafing was applied to the visible organ pipes; the ceiling was repaired and repainted; new dressing rooms and a music library for choir members were created; the rostrum was remodeled so it can be removed to accommodate a secondary seating arrangement or a stage for performances; and all plumbing, mechanical, and electrical systems were replaced and brought up to code.
Although the Tabernacle received these noticeable upgrades and more, the most important changes are those the general public cannot see.
The foundation and walls of the Tabernacle were modified to improve structural strength in order to better withstand earthquakes.
All 44 piers that support the Tabernacle’s unique roof were reinforced with steel bars, which were inserted into the piers from top to bottom. The foundation of each pier was also reinforced with concrete. Steel boxes were used to connect trusses to piers, and long ceiling trusses were also attached to the piers, cinched tight with structured steel.
Now the Tabernacle stands stronger than it was only a short time ago, much like the membership of the Church itself.
“At one time most of the Latter-day Saints lived here in this valley and in other surrounding areas where settlements were established,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley during the dedicatory prayer of the renovated Tabernacle. “Now, Thy work has grown and spread over the earth until we have more members outside of this nation than we have in it.”
President Brigham Young turned to Henry Grow for help in transforming his vision for the Tabernacle into reality. A convert to the Church and a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Brother Grow was a bridge builder with the skills necessary to take on such a task.
Plans were made, and in 1863 construction began.
Unable to acquire many common building materials, workers recycled materials and used local resources to build the Tabernacle. Lumber was harvested from local canyons, excess stone was taken from the Salt Lake Temple construction site, leftover military equipment and wooden oxen shoes were transformed into nails and washers, glue was created by boiling animal skins, and plaster was created from local limestone and enhanced with animal hair for strength.
Considering the materials available at the time, the Tabernacle truly was built with faith and ingenuity.
Four years after construction began, conference was held in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was officially dedicated in October 1875, after the completion of the interior.
Every President of the Church except Joseph Smith and Brigham Young has been sustained in a solemn assembly in the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle housed a baptistry that served members in the Salt Lake City area until the most recent renovation, when it was removed for space.
The original pews were made of pine and painted to look like oak.
The organ casing is made of ponderosa pine, painted to look like mahogany.
Before the Salt Lake Tabernacle was built, a tabernacle now referred to as the “Old Tabernacle” was built on the southwest corner of the temple block as a gathering place for the Saints.
Twelve presidents of the United States have visited the Tabernacle.
The acoustics in the Tabernacle are unlike any other building’s. Someone can drop a pin onto the pulpit at the front of the Tabernacle and others can hear it hit from the back row.