My brethren and sisters, as we conclude this great conference, we experience considerable emotion. If present plans hold, this is the last time we will meet in this Tabernacle for general conference. With few exceptions, a half-dozen perhaps, for 132 years our conferences have been held here.
This Tabernacle was conceived in 1863 and was first used for the October 1867 conference. There was no gallery in the building at that time. This was added for the April conference of 1870.
What a remarkable and wonderful structure this has been. But it has grown too small for our needs. At the time of its building it was a tremendous undertaking, built to accommodate all who wished to attend conference. It replaced the old Tabernacle, which was built to the south of us and which seated about 2,500.
We salute President Brigham Young on his boldness in undertaking the construction of this unique and remarkable building at a time when this was still frontier territory. The concept of the design was original. Its builders knew of nothing else quite like it.
These large sandstone pillars were first constructed to form an oval, 250 feet east to west. On these pillars was placed a great bridgework of timbers. For most of the roof structure they spanned 150 feet. There were no interior supporting pillars. The doomsayers predicted that when the interior scaffolding was removed, the whole roof would come down. The roof structure was nine feet thick. It was formed by a great latticework of timbers pinned together with wooden pegs. Green rawhide was then wrapped around these timbers so that when it dried it tightened the grip on the pegs.
Sheeting was then applied on the roof, and this was covered with shingles. The interior was lathed and then plastered, the hair of cattle being mixed with the plaster to give it strength.
The scaffolding was removed and the roof remained solid. It has so remained for a century and a third, although the shingles were replaced with aluminum some years ago.
It has served the needs of this Church and this community through all of these years. General conferences of the Church have been held here. The voices of prophets have spoken out from this podium. The law and the testimony have been quoted and declared. Numerous other Church meetings have been held here. In this magnificent old structure the funeral services of beloved leaders have been conducted. Presidents of the nation and other distinguished men have spoken from where I now stand. This has been home to the Tabernacle Choir since the structure was completed. More recently it has been home also to the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony. It was the first home of the Utah Symphony. Handel’s Messiah has been presented here over a period of many years. Countless concerts of various kinds, a variety of musical ensembles, and many distinguished soloists have all entertained the public in this great and singular hall.
What a remarkable and useful building it has been. What great purposes it has served. I know of no other structure like it in all the world.
It is true that with electronic means we can broadcast to wherever we wish to be heard. But looking at a television screen is not the same as being in the hall with the speakers and singers.
The new hall, which we are erecting on the adjoining block and which we have named the Conference Center, will seat 21,000—with its adjoining theater, 22,000—nearly three and a half times the capacity of this Tabernacle. I do not know if we will fill it, but I do know that we have spoken to much larger gatherings of Latter-day Saints. For instance, in Santiago, Chile, we spoke to 57,500 in a great football stadium; in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to 50,000; in Manila in the Philippines, in a great coliseum, we spoke to 35,000 gathered under one roof.
This Tabernacle will continue to be used for a great variety of purposes. It is expected that the Choir will go on originating its weekly broadcast here. This building will continue to accommodate various Church gatherings, public gatherings, and serve a variety of purposes.
The new hall will take some getting accustomed to. But it will be more pleasant. It will be air-conditioned. The seating will be more comfortable than these hard wooden pews. My fear is that too many will fall asleep. It is not of the same design as this Tabernacle, but it is also of a unique and wonderful kind. It represents the very latest in architectural and engineering skills. Parking will be improved.
We anticipate that next April we will meet in a new hall as we usher in a new century and a new millennium. The building may not be complete at that time. The organ probably will not be finished. There will be other construction details needing attention. It will likely be dedicated a year from this conference.
It is a very large and a truly magnificent structure, designed and built to the highest seismic codes. It is constructed with reinforced concrete with a granite veneer. That granite is the same stone that was used in the building of the Salt Lake Temple, including the blemishes which you will recognize in both buildings.
And so, in terms of general conference, we bid good-bye to an old and wonderful friend. We hope it will be around and that it will be useful for a very long time to come. It is a bold step we are taking. But this boldness is in harmony with the tremendous outreach of the Church across the world.
We have no desire to outdo Brigham Young or his architects—William H. Folsom, Henry Grow, and Truman O. Angell. We wish only to build on the tremendous foundation which President Young laid in pioneering this marvelous work here in the valleys of the West.
As today we close the doors of this Tabernacle and look forward to opening the doors of the new Conference Center next April, we do so with love, with appreciation, with respect, with reverence—really with affection—for this building and for those who have gone before us, who built so well, and whose handiwork has served so long.
A building develops a personality of its own. The Spirit of the Lord has been in this structure. It is sacred unto us. We hope, we anticipate, we pray that the new structure will likewise radiate the same spirit.
Now I leave with words that have been spoken so often from this great assembly hall—my testimony, my blessing, and my love—with you, my dear associates in this great cause. This work is true. You know that, as do I. It is God’s work. You know that also. It is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the way to happiness, the plan for peace and righteousness.
God our Eternal Father lives. His Son, our Redeemer, the resurrected Savior of the world, lives. They appeared to the boy Joseph Smith to part the curtains in opening a great work of restoration, ushering in the dispensation of the fulness of times. The Book of Mormon is true. It speaks as a voice from the dust in testimony of the divinity of the Lord. The priesthood with its keys, its authority, and all of its blessings is upon the earth.
And we are partakers of these precious gifts. And so, as we might say to an old friend, good-bye. May the blessings of God rest upon this sacred and wonderful hall. And may we, as those who have come here frequently to partake of the Spirit felt here, live worthy of the title Latter-day Saints is my humble prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.