Historical records indicate that plans and construction for the new Tabernacle began in 1863. The building was to be 150 feet wide, 250 feet long and 64 feet tall. The 44 stone piers that support the roof structure are 3 feet by 9 feet by 20 feet high. The trusses for the unique elliptical roof were designed to span the entire width of the building.
General conference was first held there on 6 October 1867. The building was completed in 1867, with the interior balcony and pews finished in 1870. It was dedicated at general conference on 9 October 1875.
Before this most recent renovation, the Tabernacle's history has included several remodeling projects, as noted below:
- 1870 — Adding the balcony
- 1915 (and other earlier occasions) — Enlarging the organ
- 1965 — Designing a new rostrum
- 1967 — Digging out the basement
Duration: January 2005 through March 2007
Seating Capacity: Before renovation: 4,787 - After renovation: 3,456
Jacobsen Construction Co.
Tabernacle Project Key Points
1. Seismic Upgrade
After creating very detailed computer models of the building using the latest technologies, engineers performed seismic resistance capacity studies on the Tabernacle to see how it would fare in a hypothetical severe earthquake. The results of the tests showed that the original engineering of the building was very good, but that the building would fare much better in a major earthquake if the building blocks were tied together. The structural strength of the building with connected building blocks is far greater than the sum of its individual parts. The following steps were taken:
- Each of the 44 piers of the Tabernacle was reinforced with steel bars that were inserted by drilling through each pier from top to bottom and permanently attaching each bar using epoxy grout.
- The foundation of each of the piers was reinforced with concrete.
- Structured steel boxes were placed between the large rough-sawn timbers connecting the trusses to the reinforced piers and cinched tightly together with bolts.
- The long trusses spanning the ceiling were also attached to the rough-sawn timbers and cinched tightly together using structured steel.
2. General Upgrades to the Tabernacle
Given all the work that had to be done for the seismic upgrade, this was the perfect time to correct and upgrade other areas of the building that had been issues for building management.
- The staircases to the balcony, which could be reached only from the outside of the Tabernacle, were relocated to the inside of the building. This allows people to move between the main floor and balcony without having to leave the building and also allows for easier audience management at events.
- All plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems were replaced and brought up to code.
- Since 1929, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been broadcasting its weekly program, Music and the Spoken Word, to the nation from the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle also became a live recording studio for choir productions. The mix of recording and non-matching lighting devices that was purchased and installed over many decades has been replaced by state-of-the-art sound, lighting and broadcasting equipment.
- Given that the choir is often accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square — a group that did not exist when the original building was designed — the configuration of the rostrum in the Tabernacle can now be changed to allow for a conference mode or a concert mode, in a manner similar to how the Conference Center is used.
- The administrative offices of the choir have moved into the lower level of the Tabernacle. New dressing rooms for choir members and a new music library have been built in the basement area.
- The baptistery that once served most of the Church members in the Salt Lake Valley was removed. Other accommodations have been made for the stakes that used the Tabernacle baptistery.
- The great organ was serviced, and a new layer of gold leafing was applied to the large pipes that are visible to the public.
- The ceiling, which had been patched with varying materials over the years, was completely stripped of several layers of paint and patches, re-patched using a special plaster material that is compatible with the original lime plaster and covered with a final coat to match the color before the work started.
- The original pine pews, which had been hand painted to look like oak, were replaced by new oak pews, using a similar but more comfortable design. Many of the original pews were in need of repair. However, several of the original pews have been preserved in the Tabernacle for exhibition purposes. Also, because today’s population is taller on average, the new benches were spaced further apart to provide more legroom. This resulted in a decrease in the seating capacity to just less than 3,500. The Conference Center just across the street will be used for larger gatherings.
- Given the high risk of fire when working with old, dried-out wood, all welding had to be done outside the building. Even when any cutting or grinding (“hot work”) was taking place inside the building, a worker with a fire extinguisher in hand was designated to make sure no sparks could ignite.