In January 1841, as the Saints established the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, the Lord counseled his servants to “build a house unto my name. … And let the name of that house be called Nauvoo House.” The building was to be “a delightful habitation,” a place where the weary traveler “may contemplate the glory of Zion” and “receive also the counsel from those whom … I have set to be … watchmen upon her walls” (D&C 124:22, 60–61).
In response to the revelation, a house of brick and mortar was begun, only to be abandoned unfinished when persecution focused the efforts of the Saints on finishing the Nauvoo Temple. But the idea of the Nauvoo House was not forgotten.
Today, almost one hundred years later, that idea is housed in a sparkling white building at the heart of Salt Lake City. Formerly the Hotel Utah, the seventy-six-year-old building has been adapted for Church use as a place of hospitality and education, where visitors and Saints alike may “contemplate the glory of Zion” and “receive … counsel from those whom I have set … as watchmen upon her walls.”
Out of respect and love for the Prophet Joseph Smith, the building has been renamed and dedicated the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
The name came in a moment of inspiration to President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency. One night he could not sleep, and as he gazed out a window overlooking the temple, it occurred to him that no buildings existed in Salt Lake City in remembrance of Joseph Smith.
President Hinckley says, “It came into my mind, ‘Joseph Smith Memorial Building.’” He presented the name to the First Presidency, and then to the Quorum of the Twelve. They all endorsed the idea. (See Church News, 3 July 1993, page 3.)
Visitors to the ten-story building enter a magnificent reception lobby, where much of the grandeur of the original building has been maintained. Near the entrance to a room now called the Nauvoo Room stands a marble statue of the Prophet Joseph. At more than nine feet tall, the statue could be overwhelming, but a gentle smile on the Prophet’s face offers a warm greeting.
A mezzanine level offers visitors a view of the lobby. Rooms on the mezzanine have been converted into a chapel and a Relief Society room, with additional classrooms, offices, library, and a small kitchen. These facilities will serve downtown Salt Lake City wards.
Below the ground level, a large family history center features more than 130 computer stations to accommodate visitors interested in researching their genealogy. Sixty additional computer workstations are located on the fourth floor.
In a comfortable theater just a few steps above the lobby, visitors can view Legacy, a powerful new film depicting the early Latter-day Saint pioneer story.
The tenth floor provides breathtaking views of the Salt Lake Valley from two rooftop restaurants. The building also houses general Church offices, a distribution center, and a Beehive Clothing outlet.
“This building,” said President Hinckley, “will preserve and enhance and brighten the memory of the Prophet of God who was the instrument in His hands in bringing to pass this mighty work, which is spreading over the earth. Of this I bear witness” (Church News, 3 July 1993, page 4).
In a tribute to Joseph Smith, President Thomas S. Monson said, “I’m pleased to think that thousands … will have an opportunity to mingle in this building. … That number will go … into the hundreds of thousands and possibly into the millions of people who will honor the name of the Prophet Joseph” (Ensign, September 1993, page 34).