Just six weeks before Arizona’s sixth temple was dedicated and opened for patrons in Tucson this August, the First Presidency of the Church announced that the Mesa Temple—the state’s oldest—would be closed for extensive renovations.
The 90-year-old Mesa Arizona Temple will close in May 2018 and reopen in 2020. While there is much speculation about what changes will be made, an official statement from the Church simply states that the temple will undergo “needed repairs and upgrades”
Kenneth McKay Smith, of the Grandview 1st Ward, Mesa Arizona Central Stake, called as president of the Mesa Arizona Temple earlier this year, along with his wife, Jody, as temple matron, will succeed President J Brent Hatch and Sister Renae G. Hatch, and will begin their service November 1. The Smiths, with Kent Layton as first counselor and wife Dottie Layton as assistant to the matron, and Mike Vance as second counselor with his wife, Debbie, as assistant to the matron, will serve until the temple is closed. At that time, the counselors and assistants to the matron, as well as all ordinance workers, will be released.
However, said President Smith, “We will remain as president and matron through the closure.”
He and Sister Smith don’t know many details about what they will be doing while the temple is closed.
“I’m not very good with a hammer,” he joked. He quickly added that, until the closure, he hopes to be busy with the work he does know and love.
He says his love for temple began when he was a young man and went through the temple for the first time before his mission. Living in Provo, Utah, before a temple was built there, he was drawn to the Salt Lake Temple and the after moving to Mesa in 1978, he felt that same love and desire to serve in the temple here.
He hopes many will feel the same desire to serve in the coming months.
“We hope there will be lots of people coming to the temple in the months prior to its closing,” said President Smith.
The coming closing marks the second such closure since the Mesa Temple was originally dedicated in 1927. From the earliest beginnings the temple drew the attention and dedication the thousands of Saints in the southwest. Even before the official, Church-wide announcement that a temple would be built in Arizona, Saints in the stakes in Arizona and in Juarez, Mexico, as well as the California branches and the missions in Mexico were participating in fundraising drives.
The 20-acre tract that was then the eastern edge of Mesa was selected as the temple site in 1920. In November 1921, the site was dedicated by President Heber J. Grant and, in April 1922, a groundbreaking ceremony was held.
The original construction that began in January 1923 was overseen an Executive Building Committee appointed by the First Presidency with Maricopa Stake President, James W. LeSueur as chairman of that committee. President Grant appointed Arthur Price, an architect from Salt Lake City, as superintendent of construction.
In The Ninth Temple: A Light in the Desert, a book written to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Temple’s dedication, Price was referred to as a “demanding taskmaster. He required that all of the materials used throughout the construction should be the best of its kind obtainable and that the construction be as nearly perfect as possible.”
It took 13 months to build the concrete foundation, pillars and roof. At completion on February 1, 1924, a report stated they were “the most carefully measured, scientifically constructed, perfectly organized masses of concrete and steel every constructed into a building.”
Following a public open house, weeklong dedicatory services were held on October 23 through October 29, 1927, with President Grant presiding and voicing the dedicatory prayer. Then called the Arizona Temple, it was the first temple outside of Utah in the continental United States.
David King Udall, who had formerly been the St. Johns Arizona Stake President, had served as Stake Patriarch for a short time before being called to be the first president of the Arizona Temple, with his wife, Eliza, as matron.
One of his counselors, Frank V. Anderson, is quoted in Arizona Pioneer Mormon as having said, “In the beginning …, in a work new to all of us, Brother Udall constantly admonished us to go slowly, build conservatively, but well. … [W]hile work at the Arizona Temple forged ahead of many older Temple districts, he was never heard to make any comparison.”
Still, the growth was remarkable, and President Udall “saw the ordinances of the House of the Lord at Mesa, Arizona, increase from 12,770 in 1927 to 152,998 in 1934. The Temple, originally intended for companies of but eighty persons, soon proved entirely inadequate, and as many as two hundred and fourteen persons have been incorporated into one company, crowding the edifice to and beyond capacity.”
Upon his release, President Udall said, “Having an abiding faith in the divinity of this work I am convinced that the seven years spent as President of the Arizona Temple were the most fruitful years of my life. With my fellow laborers we blessed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom were living, but most of whom were in the spirit world waiting anxiously to receive these earthly ordinances so necessary for their salvation and exaltation in our Father’s Kingdom.”
The temple continued to bless the many Saints it served, including members from Mexico who made regular excursions to Mesa to attend the first temple to offer the ordinances in Spanish.
In 1974, the Mesa Temple was closed for more than a year for extensive renovations to adapt the interior for the film presentation of the endowment. In addition, a large annex on the south and new entryway were added. At that time, 48 years after the original construction, the temple served approximately 115,000 in Arizona alone as well as continuing to serve members in the southwestern United States, Mexico and Central and South America.
Again, the temple was opened for public tours and, on April 15 and 16, 1975, the Mesa Arizona Temple became the first to be rededicated. With President Spencer Kimball presiding, and with 4,600 in attendance in the temple and watching by closed circuit television in the Visitors’ Center and the nearby tri-stake center, the dedicatory services were repeated seven times over the course of the two days.
Recognizing that the Mesa Arizona Temple holds a spot in so many hearts and the family history of so many in Arizona and surrounding states, President Smith believes there is much to look forward to. As part of the ongoing history of the Mesa Arizona Temple, when the renovations are completed in 2020, members will participate in another rededication and youth in the temple district will likely participate in a Cultural Celebration.
Perhaps most exciting is the opportunity members will have to share the temple with friends and neighbors.
“We’re excited that it will be open again for the public. We are excited that many more people in our community will be able to see it,” says President Smith.
Story by Cecily Markland Condie