The business end of an excavator ripped open the roof of the rotunda on the north side of Temple Square’s North Visitors’ Center on Friday as crews continued to work on demolishing 58-year-old building in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.
A hose sprayed water to tamp down dust and debris as the excavator tore at concrete, rebar and metal siding that had housed a famous replica of the Christus sculpture by Bertel Thorvaldsen.
The statue was removed during the summer and placed in storage. It will return to a different location on Temple Square when the renovation of the block and the Salt Lake Temple is complete.
The North Visitors’ Center will be gone for good, however, replaced by new gardens.
“This area will become a peaceful, quiet space on Temple Square,” Andy Kirby, director of historic temple renovations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has said.
“The plans for this area will also provide a more direct and clear view of the Salt Lake Temple from the northwest area of Temple Square, enhancing the prominence of the temple,” he added.
The gardens are expected to be done by 2023, according to a news release, while the Salt Lake Temple renovation is expected to continue at least into 2024.
Despite the ongoing demolition work, part of Temple Square will open to visitors for the annual Christmas lights display beginning on Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving. Nativity scenes will be open inside the Tabernacle and between it and the Assembly Hall.
The North Visitors’ Center was built in 1963 to welcome visitors to Temple Square from the north side of the temple block.
The 11-foot Christus replica was on the upper floor, framed in a large glass window facing the world-famous Tabernacle. Lighting helped the statue shine a bright white through the window each night.
Demolition work on the North Visitors’ Center began a week ago. The east end of the building closest to the Salt Lake Temple has been torn down. On Friday, the excavator tore away at the rotunda in the center of the old building, exposing the area that had housed the Christus. The work was prominent along North Temple.
The Conference Center across the street is serving as the Temple Square visitors’ center during the renovation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It offered excellent elevated views of the demolition across the street over the past week. It also displays a smaller Christus replica and cutaway model of the Salt Lake Temple.
“Visitors will also find immersive and interactive experiences to help them understand the history and significance of the Salt Lake Temple,” a news release said. “These include an orientation film, a media presentation about the importance of social and religious gatherings, historical artifacts and photos, and sacred art galleries.
Guests can also tour the Conference Center, site of the church’s semiannual general conferences and other events. More information is available at TempleSquare.org.
The Temple Square renovation is an immense project.
Crews demolished the South Visitors’ Center and the wall along South Temple at the beginning of the project in January 2020.
Workers also have removed the fountain on the east end of Temple Square between the Church Office Building and Church Administration Building.
The removal of the fountain, which had been shut down because it was leaking into an underground parking garage, is part of the effort to improve landscaping and sightlines around the temple before it reopens.
A major part of the temple renovation is centered on installing a base isolation system that will protect the sacred, 128-year-old edifice from earthquakes. That work has included temporarily removing of the Angel Moroni statue and spires from atop the temple and drilling holes to fill the foundation with strengthening grout.
The renovation inside the temple is significant, too. In October, President Russell M. Nelson shared a video of the work during the church’s general conference. In the video, he is seen touring the inside of the temple, revealing that much of it has been gutted to the bones of the structure.
“We promise that you will love the results,” President Nelson said when he announced the renovation of the temple and the grounds. “They will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry, and mission of Jesus Christ in his desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”