A first-of-its-kind Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Utah and the western United States will open its doors in downtown Salt Lake City this weekend.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has built a 39,000-square-foot, four-story meetinghouse at the base of a new commercial office tower called 95 State at City Creek, complete with a steeple jutting skyward next to its entrance on the north side of the building.
The unique house of worship is located just a block from Temple Square and faces Social Hall Avenue, where Latter-day Saint pioneers once gathered for social events. That’s why church leaders have named it the Social Hall Avenue Meetinghouse, located at 110 East Social Hall Avenue.
“This will be a wonderful gathering place,” said Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy who is president of the church’s Utah Area. “Not just for weekly worship services, but for a host of other events that are part of our culture. ... All are welcome.”
The new building is the third tallest in Salt Lake City, standing at 395 feet with 25 stories. Construction started in April 2019 and endured a 5.7 magnitude earthquake, a global pandemic that interrupted the global supply chain, and multiple wind events.
The new meetinghouse includes two chapels, each with a capacity of more than 500 people, along with classrooms to accommodate two full congregations at the same time.
A public open house will be held at the new meetinghouse on Saturday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Multiple congregations will attend a stake conference this weekend before Elder Pearson is scheduled to dedicate the new meetinghouse in a special service Sunday afternoon.
Elder Pearson and others led news media and later, city officials and leaders of other faiths on tours of the new meetinghouse on Friday.
Why build a meetinghouse downtown?
As a large number of new residential projects are being completed or under construction in Salt Lake City, church leaders saw a need for a new urban meetinghouse to accommodate growth and serve close-in residents, especially young Latter-day Saints.
“The idea came to have a joint-use space and build an office tower and combine that with a meetinghouse, and it’s a very economical way to do it,” Bishop L. Todd Budge of the church’s Presiding Bishopric said in a news release.
The church also saw an opportunity for growth amid the changes currently happening in downtown Salt Lake City.
“We anticipate that many members will come and want to live downtown because they work downtown. They want to be part of a vibrant, urban kind of setting,” Elder Pearson said. “We are hopeful that this won’t just be a gathering place for existing members, but in fact, it will help the church grow and bring more people to downtown as well.”
The meetinghouse design complements the new office tower and provides a dual-use for the building and resources, including existing parking.
Congregations can utilize parking in existing garages on Social Hall Avenue, with special needs parking eventually available on a section of the Harmons roof parking structure.
The meetinghouse also will become the worship site for church members who had used a historic meetinghouse two blocks west of Temple Square. The church has leased that building (142 W. 200 North) to American Heritage School, which will open a new Salt Lake City campus this fall. American Heritage currently has a sprawling campus in American Fork and has been educating students both domestically and internationally since its founding in 1970.
Why is Social Hall Avenue historically significant?
The meetinghouse is located on the site of the pioneer-era Social Hall, constructed under the direction of Brigham Young in 1852 and used as a community gathering place until 1922.
“This downtown block has always been a place of gathering, a place of community,” Emily Utt, curator of the Church History Department, said in a news release. “It’s kind of exciting that there’s now a new building almost on the exact same site that is a place of gathering.”
A memorial with remnants of the original structure has been encased in an underground tunnel entrance to the building.
“We’re excited about that legacy because it will continue to provide the same role that it did from the very beginning,” Elder Pearson said.
What meetinghouse visitors will see
Along with traditional chapels and classrooms, the halls of the Social Hall Avenue Meetinghouse feature beautiful artwork depicting Jesus Christ.
Some items have been brought from other historic church meetinghouses. One is a painting of the late, white-haired church President David O. McKay posing in front of a younger portrait of himself. The painting used to hang in the old Salt Lake Stake Center, according to Doug Wilks, president of the Salt Lake Stake.
“We have cherished it,” Wilks said. “We feel the responsibility of maintaining the legacy of sacrifice that all the Saints have given since the stake was first founded in 1847, three months after the pioneers arrived in the valley. With sacrifice comes opportunity, and we invite all to be a part of it new opportunity here in Salt Lake City.”
Wilks is also executive editor of the Deseret News.
Beyond the chapel on the lower floor is space with half a basketball court and hoop. Next to it is the door to a small kitchen.
Upstairs, beyond the larger chapel is another wooden floor without a basketball hoop. That’s because of the stained glass windows, said Ashley Powell, president and CEO of Property Reserve Inc.
“(The glass) catches the light in the evenings and throughout the day, and the reverse at night. If you drive by along State Street it is really quite dramatic,” Powell said. “It’s made up of over 100,000 individual pieces of glass fused together, then laminated.”
“The lighting will be spectacular,” Elder Pearson said.
A room near the chapel on the second floor also features a baptismal font. Sisters will gather in a Relief Society room with large windows that provide an impressive view of the activity on the street below. It’s part of the unique character of an urban meetinghouse.
The development also comes with a roof terrace, which can be used by office tenants during the day and church groups in the evenings. Facing west provides a view through the heart of City Creek; to the north is the Church Office Building and the Utah State Capitol; and to the east is the University of Utah.
“This is going to be a great social gathering place,” Elder Pearson said. “From a location perspective, it’s just unique.”
Other Latter-day Saint urban meetinghouses
The Social Hall Avenue Meetinghouse joint-use facility is not a first for the church.
Similar urban meetinghouses exist in New York City; Alexandria, Virginia; London, England; and Brussels, Belgium.
“New York, London, Brussels and Alexandria, Virginia, are all cities that are expensive and real estate is difficult to acquire. We’ve been able to do these types of joint-use facilities to make it a much more economical proposition,” Bishop Budge said. “Having the office tower provides a source of revenue to pay for the meetinghouse. We’re trying to be wise stewards of these sacred resources that the Lord has blessed us with.”
Which Latter-day Saint congregations will use the new meetinghouse?
The new meetinghouse will become home to six existing Latter-day Saint congregations:
- Pioneer Stake YSA (Young Single Adult) Ward (Spanish-speaking).
- Liberty Park YSA Ward.
- Salt Lake 14th Ward and stake offices.
- 4th Ward in the Salt Lake Liberty Stake.
- 12th Ward in the Salt Lake Central Stake.
- 13th Ward in the Salt Lake Ensign Ward.
Additional notes of interest
- The tower and meetinghouse were developed by City Creek Reserve, a real estate investment affiliate of the church.
- Okland Construction was the general contractor. Church tithes were not used to construct the office tower.
- The building is the third tallest in Salt Lake City, behind the Wells Fargo building (422 feet) and the Church Office Building (420).