Prominent BYU buildings of the past

Maddi Dayton
BYU tears down and upgrades the buildings on campus throughout time. The Witdsoe building was the most recent building to be torn down. (Maddi Driggs)

Brigham Young University has grown continuously since its beginnings in 1875. The BYU campus sees frequent construction projects as new buildings are built and old ones are remodeled or torn down.

Demolition began in May on the John A. Widtsoe Building located at the south end of campus. The nine-story building was built in 1968 and housed the College of Life Sciences for several years until it was replaced by the new Life Sciences Building this year.

With each building that has come and gone, a unique impression has been left upon the university grounds. These are some of the most notable buildings that once graced the campus:

The Lewis Building

The Lewis Building was a brick building located in downtown Provo on the corner of Center Street and Third West. It was personally purchased by Brigham Young on Oct. 16, 1875. With the purchase of the Lewis Building, classes were soon underway beginning the following January for the new Brigham Young Academy. The J.W. Lewis Store was built in 1857 and served as the home of the Brigham Young Academy until January 1884, when it was destroyed by a fire.

The destruction of the Lewis Building initiated a period of homelessness for Brigham Young Academy, which lasted eight years. The school held classes in a variety of buildings throughout Provo until the Academy Building was completed in 1892.

The Academy Building

The Academy Building was the campus’ main building in 1903 when the name of the school officially changed to Brigham Young University. However, the Academy Building, located on present-day University Avenue, was located south of the main campus. When the library was built on the upper portion of campus in 1925, the Academy Building gradually became the center of the Brigham Young High School. BYU ended all use of the building when the high school closed in 1968. The building was later sold to the city of Provo and is now the Provo Library at Academy Square.

Hillside Stadium

The old Hillside Stadium was the location of hundreds of football games, track meets, commencements, theater productions, rallies and numerous other events for more than 35 years. The stadium was first used in September 1928 when BYU head football coach Ott Romney led the Cougars to their first win against the Idaho Coyotes.

The stadium was eventually abandoned in 1963 due to the construction of the new all-steel stadium, which is now LaVell Edwards Stadium. The stairs that were once part of the old Hillside Stadium can still be found on the southwest end of campus near the Richards Building.

Joseph F. Smith Family Living Center

The Smith Family Living Center was the largest academic building on campus when it was finished in 1957. The building was designed to enable BYU to become a leader in the field of family relations.

The Smith Family Living Center featured an indoor-outdoor nursery school, kitchens, sewing rooms and child observation facilities. It housed all school departments of the College of Family Living, the School of Nursing and the department of Sociology and Psychology. The Smith Family Living Center was razed in the summer of 2002 to make room for the new Joseph F. Smith Building.

Deseret Towers

The Deseret Towers were constructed in the early 1960s to meet the growing demand for student housing. The towers were comprised of seven residence halls that were seven stories tall and had six stories of dormitory-style rooms.

The towers were built using the lift-slab method where all the concrete floors and ceilings were poured on the ground, and hoisted into place by hydraulic jacks and secured. This created the possibility of the buildings crumbling during an earthquake and was one of the factors that contributed to the university’s decision to demolish them in 2006.

Deseret Towers was home to tens of thousands of students, summer athletic campers and Especially For Youth participants. The new Heritage Halls facilities have replaced what once was Deseret Towers and the old Heritage Halls apartments.

The Alumni House

The Alumni House was dedicated May 25, 1962. It housed business offices of the BYU Alumni Association and served as a reception center for the nearly 80,000 alumni at the time. The building was also the location where the original Missionary Language Institute began. It provided classroom and office space for missionary training until June 1963.

The Alumni House sat on the brow of the hill at the west edge of campus overlooking the Provo Valley. Demolition on the 11,000-square-foot building began in May 2006 to make space for the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building

Groundbreaking for the Joseph Smith Memorial Building began in October 1939. The building was built to harmonize aesthetically with the surrounding Brimhall, Grant and Maeser Buildings. It was built as a welfare project with students volunteering to construct it on top of what used to be the university’s athletic track.

“Students who volunteered to build the Joseph Smith Memorial Building clocked in their hours in log books to keep track of their hours and wages earned,” said university archivist Cory Nimer.

The work logs can be found on the first floor of the Harold B. Lee Library in Special Collections.

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building was the third building to be built on the upper portion of campus. It was the location of many religion classes, and the main auditorium served as a theater until the Harris Fine Arts Center was built.

Commencement exercises, which had previously been held in the Provo Tabernacle, were relocated to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building after its completion in 1941. The building also had a ballroom and housed the campus’ first cafeteria in the basement. Located in its tower were chimes that sounded the hour.

The building was razed in 1990 to make way for the Benson Building after the new Joseph Smith Building had been built.

In “Brigham Young University: A Pictorial History of Physical Facilities,” Ephraim Hatch wrote, “It was decided to make this building a church welfare project. It was one of the largest ever attempted by the church up to that time. The work was correlated by Harold B. Lee, Director of Church Welfare. Twelve stakes were involved, with all wards supplying donated labor. When the ward supply of labor was insufficient, additional labor was obtained from BYU students. Howard McKean was the general superintendent and Burt Russell, foreman.”

Knight Mangum Building

The Knight Mangum Building was dedicated on May 26, 1954 and was named after Lucy Jane Brimhall Knight and Jennie Knight Mangum, two sisters-in-law who were lifelong friends of the university.

The building originally served as a women’s dormitory and housed more than 280 coeds at a time. With a growing number of LDS missionaries, the Knight Mangum Building became the central office of the Language Training Mission on June 16, 1963. All missionaries learning a foreign language were sent to the Knight Mangum Building, as it served as a place for them to live, eat and learn.

After the Language Training Mission moved to the current site of the MTC, the Knight Mangum Building was used by the history department, the sociology department and the school of social work, as well as all parts of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.

Located at the southeast hillside of campus, the Knight Mangum Building was demolished in the summer of 2008.

Elliott Miller
The Life Sciences Building (LSB) was the most recent building to be built and dedicated on BYU campus. There are plans for more buildings to be torn down and built in the near future. (Elliott Miller)
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