"I am worn out and sick in spirit . . . about this dragging and planless condition of things, and with all my love for this Academy, I feel that I owe it my very life, which is needlessly wearing out here in an apparently hopeless task, to accept any change that will promise to me opportunities for permanent usefulness."
Although this quote sounds as if it could come from someone involved in the recent efforts to restore the Brigham Young Academy buildings, it isn't.The words were written 107 years ago by L. John Nuttal, who was then the executive secretary to the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a scolding to Brigham Young Academy President Karl G. Maeser for a lack of progress on the school building.
At the time, the idea to build an LDS university in Provo was on its last legs. The Education Building was unfinished with no plans for its completion. Unpaid teachers held classes in the city's ZCMI warehouse in anticipation of a new building. Community support for the academy dwindled, and most Utah residents regarded the prospect of an LDS university in Provo as bleak at best.
It was turn-of-the-century visionaries like Maeser, George Brimhall and A.O. Smoot who saw to it that the Brigham Young Academy was completed, paving the way for today's Brigham Young University, a nationally accredited, four-year school.
In the prime of its life, the Brigham Young Academy was a haven for students looking to receive a higher education in the academic isolation of the Wasatch Mountains.
Some students would travel for weeks by covered wagon to enroll at the academy. It offered classes ranging from home education to physical education, clubs from the Rialto Club to the Guitar and Mandolin Club, and degrees ranging from chemistry to drafting. Plays, debates and lectures were normal occurrences in College Hall; Founders Day was celebrated with a parade that included marching bands, floats and clowns. Sports were played with fervor, including baseball, football, track and field and men's and women's basketball.
For some, it was the social hub of Utah.
"You would sit out on the lawns and just hope you met someone to ask you out on a date that evening," said Maureen Brimhall, a member of the Brigham Young Academy Foundation, an organization devoted to the welfare of the building. "You met all of your friends on the steps under the big clock, and then hoped you met them again at the matinee dances. Everyone knew everyone - it was just a happy social experience."
Brimhall's great-grandfather-in-law, A.O. Smoot, gave everything he had to ensure that an academy was built in Provo.
Called to be stake president in Provo, the former Salt Lake mayor became a driving force behind the completion of the Education Building.
At one point his fight to save the building became so fierce that he wrote a letter to Karl G. Maeser decrying "the deplorable financial condition of the Academy, which places the whole burden to carry the institution upon the shoulders of the teachers, some of whom, like myself, have already lost more than one half of their last year's salary and cannot afford another sacrifice of that kind."
After 100 years, Brigham Young Academy is again on its last legs. And although Smoot devoted his life to preserving the academy, his descendants are supporting the plans that could finally bring the buildings down.
Doug Smoot, president of the A.O. Smoot family organization, is afraid that if action isn't taken soon, the dilapidated buildings might pass the point of no return. That's why he and most of the 4,000 people he represents are backing the Georgetown Development plan to build an Education Building look-alike from the original building's rubble.
"Of all the options I've seen this seems to be the best because it will restore much of the historical significance of the place," he said. "After 20 years of sitting vacant you worry about it not being restored at all."
Even the Brigham Young Academy Foundation is changing its tune. For almost 10 years the private organization has tried to assure the buildings stay standing for another 100 years.
Members who once rallied behind a 20-year-old easement attached to the original sale that forbids the demolition of the buildings feel that 20 years of damage have pushed the buildings beyond repair.
"We don't want to see the buildings fall apart," Brimhall said. "It's time that we listen to the voice of reason. It's gone too far and it can't be restored now. It's just too late."
In 1986 the easement was turned over to the Utah Heritage Foundation, a statewide, nonprofit organization designed to protect property that is culturally and historically significant. At the time, the prospects of finding an interested developer with the money and desire to restore the buildings were bright. The easement was needed only to ensure the buildings weren't torn down in the interim.
Provo Mayor George Stewart asserts the easement is not valid, and because the city legally owns the buildings, he wants them demolished to make way for Georgetown Development's proposal.
When the city edged closer last month to bringing in the bulldozers and other equipment needed to raze the buildings, the Heritage Foundation responded by bringing a lawsuit against Provo and Stewart to stop any destruction.
A recent meeting between the two sides ended with the city offering the Heritage Foundation a month to find a developer willing to restore the Education Building or to continue the battle in U.S. District Court on Sept 8.
"We just don't think the city's belief in Hal Magleby's idea of destroying the academy building and building his building on the land is the best idea for everybody," said Mike Leventhal, Heritage Foundation spokesman. "It's just the wrong site."
With the matter now in the court's hands, the buildings seem to have been granted a temporary reprieve. It could take over a year before the courts decision is handed down, said Leventhal.
"What we have here is something of extreme value to the community and state," he said. "Just because everything looks bad at the place right now, doesn't mean it is not structurally sound."
Developers of a proposed office space/condominium complex disagree.
"Twenty years ago this should have been saved, preserved and retrofitted with steel beams to preserve it," said John Dester of Georgetown Development.
Those 20 years have only brought big promises and no results.
In all, eight owners have come and gone.
"We would have liked to restore this place," Dester said. "But it has been raped and pillaged for so long that it's no longer economically feasible to completely restore the buildings. It needs to come down."
Magleby and Dester's proposal has been bolstered lately by the same groups who once opposed them because of the pair's willingness to use the original brick and fountain from the academy block and to include a museum dedicated to the historical significance of the academy buildings.
But Provo is not as concerned with the structural integrity as much as the health and safety hazard. It condemned the buildings last year.
"The longer those buildings sit, the more liable we become for an accident of one kind or another," Stewart said.
Important events in academy's history
1875 - October - Brigham Young Academy is founded by President Brigham Young at 300 West and Center Streets.
1884 - Original building burns down. Classes continue in ZCMI warehouse. Ground is broken for new academy building at its present site between 500 and 600 North on University Boulevard.
1890 - Work resumes on the academy building after a six-year lapse from lack of monetary support.
1891 - Construction is completed on the academy building.
1898 - College Hall, east of the academy building, is dedicated.
1901 - The Training School, with a gymnasium on the northeast corner of Academy Square, is dedicated.
1904 - The Missionary and Preparatory Building, north of the high school building, is dedicated.
1946 - A master architectural plan presented to Brigham Young University board of directors places little emphasis on the lower campus (Academy Square) but plans a large expansion for the upper campus. The old buildings are relegated to the Education Department to become a high school and elementary school.
1967 - BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson announces the closing of the lower campus buildings. They are closed the next year.
1974 - BYU puts the lower campus up for sale. University officials attach a historical easement to the buildings, a stipulation that they cannot be demolished.
1975 - Academy is sold to Academy Square Land Associates.
1979 - Academy Square Land Associates sells the academy block to JMB Construction, acting in behalf of Great Northern, for $800,000 to construct a shopping mall.
1984 - Security Agencies proposes a cultural center in Academy Square.
The academy buildings are considered as a possible site for the city's proposed library. But the City Council decides to build the new library at the current Center Street site instead.
In November, Provo businessman Robert Allen announces the purchase of the square by Allen Group Inc. for $1,401,000 for a cultural events center.
1986 - The Allen Group, facing multiple financial problems, sells Academy Square to Historic Utah, owned by Craig Call, who had earlier developed the Provo Town Square in the downtown business district.
1987 - Call warns that foreclosure of the buildings has begun and that a creditor will take control of the property in January 1988 if he can't find funding for his project.
1989 - A group led by Betty Harrison purchases the buildings to renovate into a Community Service Foundation.
1991 - The Community Service Foundation lobbies the Provo City Council unsucessfully for $219,200 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to renovate the buildings.
1993 - Officials from BYU's Earth Science Museum campaign to purchase the site for their vast collection of fossilized dinosaur bones. It never passes the planning stages.
April - Kerri Heinz purchases the academy to renovate it into a cultural events center.
1994 - March - The academy buildings are sold to Provo city for $765,000. City officials say they will demolish the buildings if no private group can be found to renovate them.
June - Provo Mayor George Stewart announces a plan presented by Georgetown associates to demolish the academy buildings and turn the site into a structure similiar to Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
July - The Utah Heritage Foundation files a lawsuit against the city to stop any demolition, and pay for damages.
August - Stewart says he will allow the Heritage Foundation one month to find a developer to restore the historic block. If no one can be found, the court battle resumes in September.