SALT LAKE CITY — Major renovation work has begun on the St. George Utah Temple, the longest-operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A crane smashed a 20th-century addition off the west side of the sacred 19th-century building, unveiling an exterior window that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s and marking the start of a project designed to preserve and retain the historic nature and feel of the temple.
Crews also removed a modern addition on the north side of the building, according to a news release.
“One of the aspects of this project is preserving the original building,” project manager Eric Jamison said in the release. “The structure of the building is in fantastic condition given its age. Despite its age, the temple has endured very well.”
The St. George Temple opened in 1877, making it the first completed temple in Utah. The church abandoned the two temples completed before it, leaving the Kirtland Ohio Temple in 1838 and the original Nauvoo Temple in Illinois in 1846.
Once the church reached Utah, it again began to build temples. The Salt Lake Temple was announced first in 1847, followed by the St. George Temple in 1871. But the Salt Lake Temple was not completed until 1893.
The church closed the St. George Temple in November. The renovation will include extensive work on the structure and finish as well as mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
Plans for the renovation were released in May 2019. The temple renovation is scheduled to be completed in 2022. Following a public open house, the temple will be rededicated.
The Salt Lake Temple also is under reconstruction. A special visitors’ center is now open in the Conference Center. The Salt Lake Temple renovation is scheduled to be completed in 2024.
Both projects aim to retain and even restore the original pioneer craftsmanship.
“The point of all of this is to preserve the building while making it safer and more functional,” the church’s historic sites curator, Emily Utt, said in a statement.
The work of historians has uncovered dozens of small details being used in the reconstruction.
“For the first time in 100 years, we’re able to see where the original door openings were in this building, what the floor plan was, what the paint colors were,” she said.
Grant Mackay Demolition Company is taking down the additions that are being removed.
“It feels amazing to me to have the opportunity to be able to work on temples, to be able to feel the love that the Lord has for His house and for each one of us,” said Jason Cobb, a church member who is the company’s on-site foreman.