Future of Provo Tabernacle still unknown

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The memory of the Provo Tabernacle is still fresh in the minds of many in Utah. It’s that emotional connection that motivates these people to get together in support of rebuilding the historical icon.

“This building is priceless. … Let’s rebuild it for ourselves, for our community and for our posterity,” said Ingrid M. Asplund, a member of the Facebook community Rebuild Provo Tabernacle, a group dedicated to helping Provo raise money to rebuild the Tabernacle or at least help and encourage The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to do so.

Firefighters attempt to control the blaze in the historic Provo Tabernacle Dec. 17, 2010. The cause of the fire, reported around 2 a.m., is a series of human errors. (Angela Decker)
Firefighters attempt to control the blaze in the historic Provo Tabernacle Dec. 17, 2010. The cause of the fire, reported around 2 a.m., is a series of human errors. (Angela Decker)

The 128-year old building was destroyed by a fire on Dec.17, 2010. Sometime around 2 a.m. a fire broke out in the roof structure near the west end of the building. By the time a security guard, specifically employed for an upcoming concert, noticed smoke and alerted the fire department, the fire had well taken hold of the roof structure.

Today the building’s future is unknown, but there are hopeful signs of a possible restoration of the building. Immediately after the fire, the LDS Church hired a construction company to shore up the walls with a massive scaffold of steel girders mounted on concrete footings, built specially for that purpose. Construction company officials would not comment on whether the Church plans to reconstruct the tabernacle’s interior.

“The Provo Tabernacle incident has removed a piece of historic fabric from the city,” said Kirk Huffaker, executive director of Utah Heritage Foundation. “It has taken away an important piece of the story of the city’s rise to modern prominence, and eliminated opportunities for economic development downtown from regular use, special events and tourism.”

Since the fire marshal completed his investigations earlier this year, the property has been in the hands of its owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The fire was devastating, not just for the city but also the wider community,” said Helen Anderson, Provo City community relations and public information officer. “Many went through something of a grieving process for days and weeks after. But I think most people trust that the LDS Church will make a good decision about what to do next.”

From a practical standpoint, the last seven months have been difficult for schools and other organizations that used it as a venue for concerts, graduations and cultural events.

Oficially, the LDS Church is still weighing its options and has given no hints about the tabernacle’s future.

“The Church hasn’t announced its plans yet, but the scaffolding and other care that has been taken with the property is obviously a good sign,” Anderson said. “Provo City is waiting like everyone else to hear what will happen to it, but we think we’re very fortunate that it is in good hands.”

While some are anxious to see the tabernacle rebuilt, many groups interested in rebuilding the site agree the decision will involve multiple complex factors.

“Rehabilitation of a building is always a complex process, both in decision-making to do it and in its execution,” Huffaker said.

For some experts in the field, any reconstruction at the Provo Tabernacle site should focus on preserving the exterior integrity and appearance of the original structure.

“The public should not notice major differences between a rebuilt tabernacle and photographs of the original structure,” Huffaker said. “Since the interior is gone, there would be opportunities to rebuild on the interior with configuration that may better suit the needs of all the building’s users, yet still honor the past with a new floor plan.”

The LDS Church and Provo City are currently considering the best options for possibly rebuilding the structure.

“As the statewide nonprofit historic preservation organization, Utah Heritage Foundation stands ready to assist with and bring our expertise to these discussions,” Huffaker said.

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