Skip to content

WYS isn’t always WYG

December 18, 2017

What you see isn’t necessarily what you get. As a native Chicagoan and Louis Sullivan enthusiast I’ve been interested in the work of Utah architects Hyrum Pope and Harold Burton, who had a direct connection with Chicago and Sullivan. Their LDS Temple at Cardston, Alberta is a remarkable echo of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple. I made a pilgrimage to Cardston many years ago just to see the exterior; Mormon temples are inaccessible to all but the most orthodox Mormons. So imagine my surprise when I found two more LDS temples — one each in Blackfoot and Montpelier, Idaho — which seem to have been influenced by Louis Sullivan’s church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for St Paul’s UMC.

St Paul’s UMC, Cedar Rapids, IA / Louis Sullivan, architect

Strictly speaking, St Paul’s isn’t an A-A church; it has only the auditorium component of an A-A church. Nonetheless, as an example of the auditorium plan, I was curious about its offspring. There is one in Temple, Texas, which I visited in the 1980s. Internally, they are very similar.

First UMC, Temple, TX / Sanguinet & Staats, architects

The two Idaho examples seem to be equally reflective of Sullivan’s “original.” Except they’re not.

Temple, Blackfoot, ID / Pope & Burton, architects?

Tabernacle, Montpelier, ID / Pope & Burton, architects?

Unfamiliar with LDS practices, I foolishly assumed that both temples and tabernacles serve purposes similar to those of a cathedral for Romans and Anglicans: that there is an auditorium inside, shaped by those dynamic semi-cylindrical forms. For tabernacles, this may be true; for temples, on the other hand, it is definitely not. Tabernacles often do contain auditoria. Montpelier does. But temples — the most iconic LDS buildings to those of us looking for the outside — are a rabbit warren of smallish interior rooms for the administration of what Mormons call “temple ordinances”, rituals like the sealing of marriages for time and all eternity (look it up).

The former Blackfoot temple was de-consecrated and sold for secular purposes some years ago; it is now a mortuary. So when Richard Kenyon and I drove through several years ago, we “crashed” a funeral to get a gander at the building’s innards. What a disappointment to find two things: 1) there is no evidence of a semicircular auditorium ever having been in there, and 2) the contrast between exterior hints at Progressive details and a cheesy “Colonial Revival” interior that was truly ghastly.

Unlike what is often the case with A-A churches, in these Mormon examples, WYS isn’t necessarily WYG.

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: