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Joseph Smith Memorial Building

In the early pioneer era, the site of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building was occupied by the Deseret News press buildings, the Tithing Offices, the General Bishops’ Storehouse, and stockyards.

Joseph Smith Memorial Building

The Tithing Office


Latter-day Saints believe that the payment of tithing is a law of God (see Malachi 3:8–10; D&C; 119). The main Church Tithing Office was on the northeast corner of the intersection of South Temple and Main streets. Church members donated 10 percent of their income “in kind.” That meant tithing often came in the form of cattle, poultry, and produce. Consequently, stockyards were located to the northeast, behind the office and storage buildings. The Church paid its workers from the proceeds available at the “tithing store.”

As a young man, President Joseph F. Smith told of bringing his mother’s tithing to the site: I was a little boy at the time, and drove the team. When we drove up to the steps of the tithing office, ready to unload the potatoes, one of the clerks came out and said to my mother, “Widow Smith, it’s a shame that you should have to pay tithing.” He said a number of other things that I remember well, but they are not necessary for me to repeat here. The . . . name of that tithing clerk was William Thompson, and he chided my mother for paying her tithing, called her anything but wise or prudent; and said there were others who were strong and able to work that were supported from the tithing office. My mother turned upon him and said: “William, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing, I should expect the Lord to withhold His blessings from me. I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it. By keeping this and other laws, I expect to prosper and to be able to provide for my family.”

The Hotel Utah


The Hotel Utah was built in harmony with a revelation the Prophet Joseph Smith received in Nauvoo, Illinois, that encouraged the building of “a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein; therefore let it be a good house, worthy of all acceptation, that the weary traveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord” (D&C; 124:23). When the revelation was received, the Nauvoo Saints began construction of the “Nauvoo House,” which was to become a large hotel in town, but it was never completed as envisioned.

However, once the Church was firmly established in Utah, the need for a well-appointed hotel near Church headquarters was discussed. The Hotel Utah opened for business on June 9, 1911, as one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi River. Its underground parking facility, built in the 1940s, was the first of its kind in the nation. Many U.S. Presidents and other world dignitaries stayed there. President David O. McKay and later President Spencer W. Kimball each lived in a private apartment on the eighth floor as their health became more delicate due to advanced age.

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building

The lobby and balconies in the Joseph Smith Building are ornate, reflecting early-twentieth-century style
Photo by David M. Whitchurch

When President Gordon B. Hinckley proposed the hotel be renovated in 1987 for Church purposes, the community was concerned, and some even spoke harshly of the decision. But when the renovation was complete in 1993, the results were impressive and pleasing to almost everyone. Public access was enhanced. Structural stability was improved. The original hotel had no building requirements for earthquake safety.

The cupola above the Joseph Smith Memorial Building bears symbols of freedom and industry important to Latter-day Saints.
Photo by David M. Whitchurch

Today the building’s original footings have been replaced with new larger footings with seven huge concrete shear walls that extend from the basement to the tenth floor. Since it is no longer a hotel, the building was renamed the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building houses the Legacy Theater, the FamilySearch Center, two rooftop restaurants, a chapel, and other special events facilities. The Legacy Theater shows a seventy-millimeter movie every ninety minutes. For many years the film Legacy was shown, which highlights early events in Church history. Then a movie about the visit of Christ to the Americas called The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd was shown. In December 2005 Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration was introduced.

A heroic-size statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith highlights the lobby of the building that bears his name
Photo by Robert L. Hall

The FamilySearch Center contains two hundred computers, and helpful assistants can show visitors how to fill in their family trees. This training area assists patrons who wish to start computer research on their ancestors.

Elegant detail reminiscent of the gilded age adorns the lobby
Photo by David M. Whitchurch

There are intricate moldings throughout the building, and beehive carvings adorn the pulpit in the chapel. A heroic-sized statue of Joseph Smith is found in the lobby and can also be viewed from the mezzanine floor above. Many meetings and receptions are held in the beautiful setting of this renovated structure.

The view from the tenth floor is spectacular. It offers a unique view of Temple Square and the entire Salt Lake Valley. Emigration Canyon can be seen in the Wasatch Mountains to the east, where the Saints first entered the Salt Lake Valley. Immediately to the east is the Church Administration Building, which houses the offices of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. The Church Office Building sits across a plaza to the north with a fountain between it and the Administration Building. The Relief Society Building is on the northwest corner of the block. Temple Square occupies the entire block just across the pedestrian plaza to the west of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

A chapel on the second, or mezzanine, floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building is used by Latter-day Saints who live around Temple Square
Photo by Robert L. Hall

On the top floor, the northernmost eatery is the Garden Restaurant, a fine-dining buffet with a retractable glass roof. The Roof Restaurant offers a less formal atmosphere. Both of these restaurants enjoy a gorgeous view of Temple Square and the western expanse of the Salt Lake Valley.


Inspired Name

The naming of the renovated structure came about in an unusual way. On May 5, 1993, President Hinckley had been reflecting in the night on the new name of the structure: After trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep, he finally got up and stared out the window at the historic block that housed the old hotel, the Church Administration and Office Buildings, and the Lion and Beehive Houses. For a few moments, his mind raced back and forth between past and present. He had spent a lot of his life on that block—beginning at the Deseret Gym as a boy and continuing as a teenager at LDS High School, where the campus had included both a Young Building and a Smith Building—one named for Brigham Young, the other for Joseph F. Smith.

Then he had a powerful and clear impression: There were many monuments to Brigham Young in downtown Salt Lake City, but none to the Prophet Joseph Smith except a statue within the walls of Temple Square.

The Hotel Utah, which had been exquisitely restored and would not only serve various Church functions but provide the public with many reasons to visit its precincts, should be named the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.