Discovering Great Mormon Buildings

Oakland Tabernacle Original Chapel Interior

(Photo Courtesy Oakland California Stake) For additional photos posted of this building, see here. As you can see, the only remaining portion of the rostrum are the decorative elements above the original opening. Also remaining are portions of the ceiling including the decorative ventilation grilles. While the trim, glass and mullions have changed, the small round windows above each window also remain. Finally, the windows on the left side of the photo still remain, but have been covered by additions to the building and no longer fully open to the exterior.

408 W MacArthur Blvd
Oakland, CA
Built 1923 and Sold 1959
Architect: Clay N Burrell
Now Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church
Click for Map Location of Building

3 responses

  1. seshat

    I left a comment on this entry a few days ago but it appears to have disappeared into a spam filter black hole–I guess because it had a couple of links in it–so I’m reposting it sans links.

    this parade of lovely and lovingly created buildings the church has shed becomes nauseating after a while. I don’t think anyone would say that the church has to hang on to every building it ever constructed, but.when you see how often the church sells or razes meeting houses and tabernacles that are a) truly exceptional and b) in urban settings, you start to get the feeling that Mormons will only attend church in nondescript, cheap suburban buildings with huge parking lots. This summer I spent some time in Mesa and saw the most hideous stake center, tucked away in some affluent suburb–it looked like a barn mating with the hugest cargo plane imaginable. But the building’s most prominent feature was its parking lot, an enormous sea of shiny black asphalt bigger than the lots attached to some Costcos. The heat radiating off that asphalt was just what you didn’t need around a building in a town where temperatures regularly reach 110F.

    Speaking of which, a year or so ago I came across some information on the design of Costcos, which is managed by Seattle architecture firm Mulvanny G2. It had never occurred to me that actual design might be involved in Costcos, but check out this statement (which you can google to find in its original context): “each store must reflect the community it which it’s built while still respecting the Costco philosophy of simple elegance.” It’s a really hideous reflection of LDS values that freaking Costco warehouses are more individualized and imaginative than current LDS meeting houses.

    September 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    • Sorry about the link problem and thank you for the thought-provoking comment. I think one of the reasons for the sell-off of historic buildings is the desire of the church to have the wards building close to where the ward members live. Or at least centrally located. With Americans in general moving to the suburbs since WWII, most LDS members have also moved away from city centers as well. Unfortunately this has translated into losing a large part of our historical heritage. The other option, I guess, would have been for people to travel further from where they live to get to church.

      To be fair about our current buildings, they are definitely suburban buildings, but they are not cheap. They are well-built with industrial-type finishes to withstand wear and tear. That’s why so many of our buildings have brick and block interior walls. The transition to wood-framed buildings was a tough one to make. There are much cheaper buildings being built. And the parking situation could be much worse. A typical suburban shopping or office complex has the parking in front and the building behind. LDS standard buildings are not this way, but put the building in front at the street with parking to the sides and rear.

      Regarding the Costco quote, I have heard a very similar quote regarding LDS standard plans, so their goals in this regard are similar. Here is one example: “It’s important that buildings are designed to be a reflection of the community in which they are constructed.” They also share the same goals of efficiency and low cost. In fact, I have often thought of our buildings as warehouses for worshipping in. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. Not that Costco’s are particularly beautiful, but warehouses definitely can be beautiful. While not being a fan of the current standard meetinghouse designs, from my biased viewpoint I would say that they do a better job of being individualized and imaginative than Costco’s. There is a great regionalized landscaping program the Church uses and the exterior changes to the buildings, while cosmetic, do provide some variety. Costco takes a similar approach with superficial variations to the standard. This type of approach is a hallmark of postmodern building.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

      • seshat

        The other option, I guess, would have been for people to travel further from where they live to get to church.

        Or, the church could do what almost all other religions do, and allow people to choose what congregation they want to worship in.

        It would be fascinating to see if Latter-day Saints might actually use aesthetics as a reason for what congregation they choose to belong to–if they had any choice in the matter.

        To be fair about our current buildings, they are definitely suburban buildings, but they are not cheap.

        Well, OK: they’re expensive to build compared to other featureless institutional buildings. Building something that will, over the long term, have low maintenance costs, can involve large initial expense. So I will admit that in those ways, the buildings perhaps don’t deserve to be called cheap. They’re just cheap compared to investment of labor, love, material and thought involved in creating and maintaining a beautiful building.

        And given how often I’ve heard that it’s cheaper to raze an old LDS building and build a new meeting house than it is to do whatever work is necessary to renovate or restore the older building, I still believe that comparative if not absolute cheapness is a factor in their proliferation.

        And the parking situation could be much worse.

        sure, I won’t deny that. It’s definitely possible for contemporary LDS churches to be even uglier than they already are and to imitate more of the worst elements of corporate America more than they already do.

        “It’s important that [LDS] buildings are designed to be a reflection of the community in which they are constructed.”

        Sure, it’s important for that to happen–but how often does it? You posted photos of a New Orleans meeting house built in the 1980s precisely because it was built to meet local historic district codes. And there are no doubt other communities where meeting houses have to adapt to the location in some real way.

        There is a great regionalized landscaping program the Church uses

        If there weren’t a fairly earnest blog, I would think you are teasing. I have been to LDS churches where there is no landscaping whatsoever–there is only asphalt and concrete surrounding the building. I’m very big on landscaping and gardening, and hate lawns. And the landscaping around LDS buildings just breaks my heart: a few nondescript bushes, a few evergreen trees (no leaves to rake up), a few expanses of easily mowed lawn. Hardly anything that flowers, or anything that reflects the seasons.

        I mean, if you want to say that LDS churches, like Costcos, are nicer than the average Wal-Mart, I’ll agree with you. I just think it says a lot about LDS culture that an organization that claims to be focused on eternity builds ugly buildings that are, ultimately, disposable, like almost everything else in American culture.

        Mormonism is no better than the worst of American culture because Mormonism is a reflection of the worst of American culture.

        and it just makes me sad that I devoted so much of my life and my time and my energy to something that I was supposed to cherish forever even though it was, I eventually realized, created to be disposable. And it bums me out that the buildings reflect that so obviously and explicitly, and that so many of the buildings that express higher ideals than easy maintenance are sold or razed.

        September 20, 2011 at 6:42 pm

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