LDS Conference Center
Filling the entire block immediately north of temple square is one of the largest religious auditoriums in the world, a facility known simply as the Conference Center. Twenty-one thousand people have an unobstructed view of the podium, pulpit, choir loft, and organ pipes.
The grandeur of this impressive building, along with the beauty of the surrounding grounds and gardens, is evidence of the Church’s commitment to excellence.
Built under the visionary leadership of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Conference Center was designed to replace the Tabernacle as the site of general conference sessions and other religious and cultural events.
The entire podium can be moved for stage productions, as was done during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
President Hinckley said while it was being constructed: “It is a bold step we are taking. But this boldness is in harmony with the tremendous outreach of the Church across the world. We have no desire to outdo Brigham Young or his architects. . . . We wish only to build on the tremendous foundation which President Young laid in pioneering this marvelous work here in the valleys of the West.”
The Conference Center includes a custom-built organ with five keyboards and over 7,600 individual pipes. There are fountains, rooftop gardens, marble-lined walking paths, beautiful art, facilities for meetings to be translated simultaneously into as many as sixty languages, a state-of-the-art high-definition broadcasting facility, and a four-level underground parking lot with 1,300 spaces.
Construction of the Conference Center
Before construction could begin, the entire block had to be cleared of older buildings, including the Deseret Gym. The ground was broken on July 24, 1997, 150 years after Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley. Less than three years later, the April 2000 general conference of the Church was held here, and in October 2000 President Hinckley officially dedicated the edifice.
On that occasion, he said: “Today we shall dedicate it as a house in which to worship God the Eternal Father and His Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We hope and pray that there will continue to go forth to the world from this pulpit declarations of testimony and doctrine, of faith in the Living God, and of gratitude for the great atoning sacrifice of our Redeemer. . . . It is not a museum piece, although the architecture is superb. It is a place to be used in honor to the Almighty and for the accomplishment of His eternal purposes. I am so grateful that we have it.”
He also commented: “As I contemplate this marvelous structure, adjacent to the temple, there comes to mind the great prophetic utterance of Isaiah: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.
“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. . . . “O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:2–3, 5).
“I believe that prophecy applies to the historic and wonderful Salt Lake Temple. But I believe also that it is related to this magnificent hall. For it is from this pulpit that the law of God shall go forth, together with the word and testimony of the Lord.”
The Conference Center seats twenty-one thousand in the main assembly hall and one thousand more in a separate theater. A Boeing 747 airplane could fit inside the auditorium with plenty of room to spare! The Conference Center has been designed and built acoustically so that those in attendance can hear the speakers and music clearly.
There are no pillars supporting the two balconies; they are completely supported by cantilevers.
The pulpit was made from a black walnut tree planted in 1964 by President Gordon B. Hinckley at his home.
The Conference Center’s roof is landscaped with a waterway, trees, shrubs, and grasses to blend into the surroundings and complement the majestic Salt Lake Temple.
The Conference Center covers ten acres and the interior is 1.5 million square feet. It is constructed of stone from the same quarry that provided granite for the Salt Lake Temple. It took three large construction companies and eighty subcontractors to handle the mammoth project. Often one thousand workers were at the site each day.
The Deseret Gym was located on the northwest corner from 1965 until construction began on the Conference Center in 1996. The Deseret Gym was an important facility and social center for the community. Its barbershop provided thousands of haircuts over the years to newly called missionaries entering the old Salt Lake Mission Home (formerly located across the street north of the Church Office Building—an earlier mission home was also located on the Southeast corner of the Conference Center block).
The Primary Children’s Hospital also stood on this site from 1922 to 1952.
On the southwest corner of the Conference Center block sat the large home of John M. and Elizabeth Barker Bernhisel (1799–1881). John was a medical doctor who joined the Church in New York City in 1837 and subsequently served as a bishop there. He moved to Nauvoo in 1843 and lived with Joseph Smith and his family where he assisted the Prophet. It was to John Bernhisel that the Prophet Joseph said shortly before his martyrdom, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter.”
During the time he remained in Nauvoo, John Bernhisel delivered Emma Smith’s last-child, David Hyrum, born a few months after Joseph Smith had been killed. After the Prophet’s death, John Bernhisel crossed the plains to Salt Lake City. He served as Utah’s first congressional delegate, an office he held for ten years.
On the south side of the Conference Center, from the center of the block extending east to the corner, was the former property and homesite of Orson Hyde (1805–78). Orson served in the Quorum of the Twelve for over forty years (1835–78), presiding over the Quorum from 1847 to 1875. It was during his service in the Twelve that Brigham Young reordered the seniority of members of the Twelve based on temporary disaffections that occurred many years earlier. Orson Hyde was called on a missionary journey to dedicate the Holy Land for the return of the Jewish remnant, which he did on October 24, 1841. Today a beautiful park and stone-sculptured walkway on the Mount of Olives commemorates Orson Hyde’s prayer.