Thursday, January 19, 2012

25: A FINE SANCTUARY: The Joseph Smith Memorial Building

Last year marked the 100 year anniversary of this elegant  LDS Church Memorial Building that is located east of and overlooks the Salt Lake Temple. This prominent location was previously the site of the Bishop’s Tithing Office. In 1911, the tithing office was moved, and the finest hotel in the Intermountain West, known as the “the Grande Dame of Hotels” was built. After two years of construction and a 2 million dollar price tag, the building was completed on June 9, 2011 with the cooperative effort of church and business leaders.   

Most are unaware that the largest and finest bar in the West was built in the basement of the Hotel to pay off the $2M construction loan. The financing was secured by Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley from New York financier Charles Baruch.  The terms of financing  required the sales of hard liquor. When informed of the need to sell alcoholic beverages, “President Joseph F Smith went through the ceiling. Which was it to be? the word of Wisdom or fiscal soundness?”…. The dollar won.” (Hugh Nibley, "Approaching Zion", p. 470. Deseret Book 1989). An unfortunate compromise.

In order to maintain the eloquence and beauty, the Hotel Utah underwent a massive remodeling in the 1970’s that was projected to cost $6 million, but actually exceeded $15 million at completion. Two and half times overbudget.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the Church undertook another major remodeling project to change the hotel into a retail and multi-use church building including adding an LDS meeting house and chapel.  The cost was undisclosed.  On the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Prophet, The Joseph Smith Memorial Building was rededicated on June 27, 1993. It was President Gordon B Hinckley who chose the name of the building when he observed that there were many monuments to pioneer leader and Utah founder Brigham Young but none to Joseph Smith.

Inside the building are the following features:
  • Three dining restaurants: Two upscale restaurants, The Roof (range of $30-60 dollars a plate) and The Garden which are both on the top floor, providing views of the Temple; and the Nauvoo CafĂ© on the main floor.
  • Many banquet and conference rooms that can be rented out for wedding receptions or dinners.
  • A gift shop.
  • Church Meetinghouse and Chapel for LDS church services on Sunday.
  • Offices for the bishops and other church leaders.
  • The Legacy Theater,  a 500 seat theatre with an IMAX sized screen where the public can enjoy inspirational church-produced movies including the Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration.  
  • The Family Search center, where the public can use the provided computers and materials to do family history research and genealogy.
  • Church headquarters office for Public Affairs and Family History.

      This week I took my family to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to see the new version of the Joseph Smith movie playing in the Legacy Theatre. This new release is expected to help those unfamiliar with Smith's story understand it better than the original did. The revisions to the film included a new narration given by Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and 40 percent of the film is new content. The revised film is available online, on the Church's YouTube channel—Mormon Messages—and is available for download on their radio service website, the Mormon Channel.
      At the beginning of the movie has a disclaimer. “The historical events represented in this story are true.” As to leave no doubt in the viewers mind that everything they will see is truth.  The church has done an amazing job at creating an emotional and an inspirational  movie. Media is very powerful at convening information and events in our minds as truth.  There are interesting subtleties that are put into the movie;  for example, when Lucy bears her testimony at the end of the film, we see Brigham Young putting his arm around her, and kindly helping her back to her seat. Even if certain events did not exactly happen, subconsciously they have a huge impact on us. Nothing that was put in the new movie is on accident, there is a reason. The movie ends with a fly-by of the Salt Lake Temple with the following statement: The Church Jesus Christ re-established in 1830 is today a global faith.  
      Interesting choice of words… re-established, global, Church.
      I think I would prefer:  restored, personal, and Gospel

      Just an interesting quote from President Gordon B Hinckley’s given at dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in 1993:

      “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. ..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.”