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On April 6, 1996, Gordon B. Hinckley, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans to construct, "another dedicated house of worship on a much larger scale that would accommodate three or four times the number who can be seated in the Tabernacle" (Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Glorious Easter Morn,” Ensign, May 1996, 65). This building would replace the old Tabernacle on Temple Square and would come to be known as the Conference Center.Planning for the building was begun immediately following the announcement. The architectural firm Zimmer Gunsal Frasca, based in Portland, Oregon, was picked to develop the building. The Church’s own architect, Lee Gray, also helped in the design.
On July 24, 1997 (the 150th anniversary of the pioneers coming into the Salt Lake Valley) a groundbreaking ceremony was held to begin the construction of the Conference Center. During construction nearly 750,000 cubic yards of dirt were excavated. Roughly 15,000 tons of concrete steel, and 10,000 tons of structural steel were used in the building. Church leaders wanted the outside of the building to be made of granite similar to that on the Salt Lake Temple. Granite was quarried from Little Cottonwood quarry and used to make the exterior of the building.
A 92-foot glass spire was placed on the top of the building to make its religious purposes visible. The spire has a 67-foot waterfall that descends from it and flows into a creek that winds its way through the 4-acre wildflower meadow that is on the roof of the conference center.
In terms of size, the Conference Center is enormous. It has 1.4 million square feet of floor space, and covers 10 acres, or an entire city block. This is same amount of space that all of Temple Square sits on. The Center can seat 21,000 people, more than any other religious auditorium in the world, and there are 13,000 parking spaces. It also houses an 850 seat theatre.
The pulpit is made of a walnut tree that President Hinckley planted in his backyard in the 1960’s. He told Church members that he was “speaking to them from the wood of the same tree his children had played under” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “To All the World in Testimony,” Ensign, May 2000, 4). At the request of President Hinckley a beehive symbol was carved into the pulpit.
There are no visible pillars inside, meaning there are no bad seats. The organ in the Conference Center has 7,667 pipes. 50,000 miles of electrical wire were required to wire the building—enough to wrap around the world twice.
The building was completed in Spring of 2000, just in time to hold April General Conference in the building. About 370,000 people inquired about tickets for this first conference in the Conference Center. The Conference Center was formally dedicated on October 8, 2000. It is mostly used for General Conference meetings which are held twice each year on the first weekends in April and October. However it is also used for concerts and other large meetings. For example, President Hinckley’s 90th and 95th birthday celebrations were held there in 2000 and 2005.
Free tours are given through the Conference Center daily.
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