The “Hidden Jewel” and Other Free Tours on Temple Square

Contributed By Kaitlyn Bancroft, Church News contributor

  • 9 August 2018

Visitors to the Relief Society Building are welcomed into a foyer that looks into this reception room. The building—just one of the many free tours available to the public—is a “hidden jewel” on Temple Square because many people are unaware that they may visit it.  Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

“[Visitors] will say, ‘There’s something calming in this building. There’s something peaceful here.’ We let them know that’s the Spirit.” —Dennis Hadley, Conference Center tour guide

Think you know Temple Square? Whether you’re a Salt Lake City native or just visiting the Beehive State, everyone can learn something from free, formal tours of some of Utah’s most well-known—and lesser-known—sites.

Temple Square

Though perhaps the most obvious site, the free walking tour of Temple Square—which includes the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall and the North Visitors’ Center—offers plenty for guests to learn. Led by sister missionaries who serve on Temple Square, visitors will learn about pioneer history, the construction and purpose of each building, and what members of the Church believe.

Sister Mariah Moss, a missionary from New Mexico, serves on Temple Square and said both members and those of other faiths should take a tour because having a guide explain the history and purpose of each building enhances a visitor’s Temple Square experience.

She also said taking a tour is “a really noninvasive way” to ask questions about the Church that some people might otherwise be uncomfortable asking.

Sister Moss, who is nearing the end of her 18-month mission, said many people primarily come on tours to learn about the history of Temple Square, including architecture and stories of Mormon pioneers.

The view from the rooftop gardens of the Conference Center looking toward Temple Square. Visitors can tour the gardens between April and October. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

But no matter what people are looking for, “there’s always a factor of faith connected,” she said. Sister Moss said this faith factor helps people see the “why” behind everything, from the temple to pioneer history.

“I think it makes it a more valuable experience when people can experience seeing the sites and learning the facts, but [also] getting a little taste of why we do the things that we do,” she said.

Sister Laura Campaner, Sister Moss’s companion who is from France, said the best part of giving tours is how different each tour is.

“[We] just follow the Spirit to see how … we will be guided to say different things that maybe [visitors] need to hear even though we don’t really know them,” she said.

Brother Dennis Hadley, a Conference Center tour guide, leads a tour. Brother Hadley and his wife have been leading tours in the Conference Center for about seven years. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

Sister Moss added she enjoys helping people better understand who members of the Church are, because many people come on tours with misconceptions.

“It’s so satisfying to kind of bring the Church out of obscurity and to help people feel the Spirit and, just like any other missionary, to help them come closer to Christ,” she said.

Free Temple Square tours are approximately 45 minutes and begin on the hour from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., meeting at the flagpole west of the Salt Lake Temple. No appointment is necessary, though tours can be booked online.

Conference Center and rooftop gardens

Visitors stop to look at Jesus Christ Visits the Americas by John Scott, which resides in the Conference Center. Tour guides can tailor visitors’ experiences to particular interests, such as artwork. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

Another recognizable icon of Salt Lake City, the Conference Center is an architectural feat with a 21,000-seat auditorium, a 7,667-pipe organ, and a 900-seat theater, according to the Temple Square website. Announced in 1996 and completed in 2000, it is home to a number of artworks, including the original Book of Mormon gallery by Arnold Friberg.

The Conference Center tour also includes rooms like the Hall of the Prophets, which features busts of all the modern Church Presidents, and visitors can learn about the building’s architecture, like how cantilevering makes the balconies possible.

Between April and October, visitors can also tour the rooftop gardens. Aside from stunning views of the Salt Lake Valley, they’ll see a sand-blasted mural representing missionary work and learn how the gardens are designed to represent the Salt Lake Valley.

Brother Dennis Hadley and his wife, Sister Lana Hadley, have been helping give the free Conference Center tours for about seven years. Brother Hadley said tours can be tailored to fit particular interests, such as if someone wants a close look at the artwork.

Natural light floods the Conference Center and highlights its unique, open architecture. Tour guides can teach visitors about the Conference Center’s architecture, artwork, and other unique features. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

He also said people’s favorite part of the Conference Center is often the main auditorium and the roof. In particular, Church members sometimes get emotional when coming into the main auditorium for the first time because they’ve often spent years saving enough money to see where the prophets speak.

Brother Hadley said the best part of giving tours is “being able to meet people and to present [Latter-day Saints] as friendly, tolerant, patient people who love the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Though Conference Center tour guides do not proselytize, Brother Hadley said the various artworks around the Conference Center make it easy to tell people that members of the Church believe in Christ.

In addition, Brother Hadley said their job is to give visitors a sense of the Spirit of the Lord in the Conference Center, which was dedicated with the Hosanna Shout—typically reserved for temple dedications.

Visitors “will come in here and they will say, ‘There’s something calming in this building. There’s something peaceful here,’” Brother Hadley said. “We let them know that’s the Spirit, but what we’re hoping is that when they get home and missionaries come to their home, those missionaries … are going to bring that same spirit.”

Connie Pendleton, a Church Office Building tour guide, leads a tour. She has been leading tours for about a year and said visitors come from all over the world. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

“People who come in here and take the time to see the building … we would like them to feel the spirit of peace in the Conference Center,” he continued.

Free Conference Center tours are available year-round, while free rooftop garden tours are available April through October. Call 801-240-0075 to confirm tour times. Tours begin at door 15 of the Conference Center and can vary in length depending on what visitors are interested in seeing.

Church Office Building

If you’ve ever wondered why the eastern and western hemispheres are featured on either side of the Church Office Building, take a tour. Visitors will quickly find there’s much more to the building than just the observation deck on the 26th floor—although it does offer a spectacular view of the entire Salt Lake Valley, from the University of Utah and the Cathedral of the Madeleine to the Utah State Capitol Building and the McCune Mansion.

The Church Office Building was completed in 1972 and houses many of the administrative offices of the Church, according to the Temple Square website. The free tour includes pioneer history and a close look at the main floor’s artwork, such as the mural that every prophet has had their picture taken in front of or held news conferences in front of since the building was built, according to tour guide Sister Connie Pendleton.

A re-creation of Go Ye Therefore takes up a wall in the Church Office Building and can be seen in the background of many Church press conferences. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

Sister Pendleton, who has been giving tours of the Church Office Building for about a year, said many people come for the view of the 26th floor, but she wants visitors to know there’s more than that.

“We want them to have more than just a great view of the valley,” she said.

She said this is why tour guides always start with the main floor, which allows them to share the Church’s belief in Jesus Christ through various artwork. In fact, talking about the Savior is what Pendleton said makes their tours unique.

“I feel like if anybody comes to Temple Square and they leave thinking we don’t believe in Jesus Christ, I think we have all failed,” she said.

LuAnn Snow, a Relief Society Building tour guide, starts her tour at the original Christ in a Red Robe painting by Minerva Teichert. Snow has been giving tours for about four years and said the building “stands as a symbol of sacrifice, service, and love of women in the Church.” Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

And though the view might be the “biggest draw,” Sister Pendleton hopes people realize the Church Office Building is just that—an office building. From Church magazines to translation of Church materials, “there’s so much that comes out of this building,” she said.

Sister Pendleton also said people from all over the world come on tours of the Church Office Building.

“If you come to Temple Square, it’s just magic here,” she said.

Free Church Office Building tours are approximately 30 minutes and are available on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. to 4 p.m. Though drop-ins are welcome, it is recommended that groups schedule tours at least 48 hours in advance and call ahead at 801-240-1588 to make sure the building will be open.

To schedule a tour, email COBhosting@ldschurch.org with your name, phone number, the number of people in your group, where you’re from, and the date and time you would like a tour.

Relief Society Building

If you’ve never heard of the Relief Society Building, you’re not alone—this “hidden jewel” on Temple Square was only recently given a section on the Temple Square website, according to tour guide Sister LuAnn Snow.

Opened in 1956 and built from the donations of women in the Church from around the world, it is the world headquarters for the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society auxiliary organizations, according to the Temple Square website. Sister Snow said guests should particularly watch for a number of original Minerva Teichert paintings and other artworks. Visitors will also see portraits of past presidents and learn about the history, values, and unique spirits of the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations.

Sister Snow, who has been giving tours for about four years, said they start tours at the original Christ in a Red Robe painting by Minerva Teichert because “this is why we do all that we do in this building,” she said. “[It] is because Christ came to the earth and He will come again.”

The tour includes the Reception Room, which displays artifacts donated from women all over the world at the time of the building’s construction, particularly women from war-torn countries who were not allowed by their country’s laws to donate money but could donate items. Some of the items have special stories, such as a porcelain vase from Germany that came across the plains.

“Literally this building stands as a symbol of sacrifice, service, and love of women in the Church,” she said.

Sister Snow also said when many guests enter the Reception Room, they pause and ask if they should remove their shoes because they feel like they’re entering the temple.

“It’s humbling to me to see that kind of a response from our guests,” she said.

The Relief Society Building is also home to the Resource Floor: a small but extraordinarily comprehensive series of exhibits featuring the history and values of the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations. Guests can study a timeline of Relief Society presidents against a timeline of world events, learn how the Young Women organization requirements have changed over time, and delve into the unique roles and opportunities for women in the Church.

Sister Snow said they sometimes get men on tours who had no idea what kinds of opportunities there are for women in the Church.

“I think this a peculiar thing for the building,” she said. “It really brings out the importance of women in the Church and their value.”

“We want to make sure [visitors] know that women are dedicated disciples of our Savior Jesus Christ and that our purpose here in these three organizations is to help strengthen the testimonies of individuals of their Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and of the restored Church,” she continued.

Sister Snow said while many other Church buildings on Temple Square are big and busy, there’s “a different feeling” in the Relief Society Building.

“There is a special spirit of the work that resides with these organizations that are led by women,” Sister Snow said.

She also said the best part of giving tours is the people.

“The world really does come to Salt Lake, and it’s wonderful,” she said.

Free tours of the Relief Society Building are approximately 30 minutes and are available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Though drop-ins are welcome, it is recommended visitors call ahead at 801-240-4450 to make sure the building will be open. Large groups are asked to schedule a tour.

Other Temple Square tours include the Beehive House and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Visit the Temple Square website for more information.

The view from the north side of the observation deck on the 26th floor of the Church Office Building. Visitors can enjoy the view as part of the free tour. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

The view from the west side of the observation deck on the 26th floor of the Church Office Building. Visitors can enjoy the view as part of the free tour. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.

This room in the Conference Center was designed specifically to house the original Book of Mormon gallery by Arnold Friberg. Photo by Savannah Hopkinson.