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PROVO -- For more than 100 years the Provo Tabernacle has served as a landmark and a gathering place. Now, many are mourning the loss of a building that has historical and personal significance after a devastating fire broke out Dec. 17.
"When I got the news this morning, I felt a little bit like I'd lost a family member," said Jenny Lund with the LDS Church History Library. "It's one of the gems of Church architecture from the 19th century."
Called an historic treasure, pioneers constructed the Provo Tabernacle from 1883 to 1898. The cost was $100,000.
It featured a Gothic-style steep roof and corner turrets. Artisans put fine craftsmanship into the beautiful stained glass windows and the deep, richly-colored woodwork, which included the sego lily.
"Beautiful hand-carved work," said John Telford, Ph.D., a professor of visual arts and photography at BYU. "The organ also with its pipes... just an incredible, beautiful structure. This represents such a loss of that beautiful craftsmanship."
Not many buildings have hosted LDS General Conference, but it took place at the Provo Tabernacle in 1886 and 1887.
The building has octagonal towers at each of its four corners. Originally it featured a 147-foot tall central tower, but the building was partly condemned in 1918 because the roof was under such great stress from the tower. The Tabernacle was renovated at this time, but the tower was allowed to stay until 1949 when the building was again condemned for the same problem.
In 1975, the tabernacle was placed on the national register of historic sites. It was rededicated in 1986 by then Church President Ezra Taft Benson.
The organ in the tabernacle was put in place in 1907 after four years of fundraising by wards in the area.
In 1909, Salt Lake businessmen welcomed Pres. William Howard Taft. The first meeting ever held here was to honor the death of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant in 1885.
"He was the first President of the United States to have visited Utah. and so they hauled benches in, made makeshift stands and essentially held a memorial service in this empty shell of a building," Lund said.
The tabernacle had seating for 3,000 people and was dear to the heart of many in the community.
Former Provo Temple President Carl Bacon said, "It's a sad day, there's a lot of emotion that most people will feel, as I do."