Moroni over Modernism

May 31, 2004 | 23 comments
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This may be old news to Manhattanites, but I see that the Church has recently announced that the temple there will be getting a steeple and Moroni. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. Certainly the changes will help with “branding” (for lack of a better word). But I always liked the building’s fairly pure modernist bent, which blends in well with the surrounding neighborhood (especially Lincoln Center), and has become somewhat rare in Mormondom. Moroni comes, I think, with no small aesthetic cost, but perhaps one worth paying. For more on Mormon architecture and aesthetics, see this thread.

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23 Responses to Moroni over Modernism

  1. D. Fletcher on May 31, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    I myself have never felt so spiritually alive as when I toured the Kirtland Temple, an austere building if ever there was one.

    My father and myself, and the RLDS tourguide, were the only ones in the building that day, a very rainy Tuesday in October.

    I later played a little concert of my sacred works in that space (for a CES conference which was held there).

    P.S. I actually think the steeple gives a little bit of definition to our building. For a modernist building, though, taking out those windows was a huge, huge mistake.

  2. anthony on June 1, 2004 at 5:43 am

    a couple of things

    a) is the steeple become part of the larger protestant mainstreaming
    b) the moroni is tacky, i am glad that the temple in cardston (the one of my boyhood) does not have one.
    c) why is most lds architechture so banal ?

  3. Nate Oman on June 1, 2004 at 11:16 am

    Actually, prior to the Los Angles temple, no temple other than SLC had an Angle Moroni. The Cardston Temple — along with the Laie Temple — was built from a design submitted as part of a Church contest. Most of the submitted designs had steeples. However, the Church at the time was strapped for cash, and Joseph F. Smith thought that steeples were too expensive. The architect for Cardston (can’t remember his name now) got inside information about President Smith’s steeple thinking and submitted the winning non-steeple design.

  4. justin @ RSR on June 1, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    Anything would be an improvement over this

    I mean really, modern or not… that is an ugly building.

  5. Greg Call on June 1, 2004 at 10:21 pm

    Justin,

    It’s just a matter of taste, I suppose, but I’ll take clean lines, natural (stone) materials, and no froofy ornamentation any time. Even the placement and typeface of the Church logo (normally not a strong point of Church buildings) works well in the setting — it is all on one line and, as I recall, the font is different than the font normally used.

    D.,

    I’m with you on the windows, but maybe it was necessary to adapt the building for its new use (I don’t know, I haven’t visited yet). I hope you are right about the effect of the steeple.

    Anthony,

    If I remember correctly, some of the concerns you raise were explored at some length in the thread I linked to above.

    Also, I do hope that plans for a rooftop garden come to fruition. If so, it might be a decent place to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade as it goes down Central Park West (can any NYers correct me if my memory of the sightlines are off?)

  6. Sheri Lynn on June 2, 2004 at 3:45 am

    They couldn’t fit anything much more visually striking on that lot, obviously. The San Diego temple, for example–the most beautiful temple in my opinion–requires a substantial acreage upon which to sprawl. When your landscaping is limited to scrawny city trees, traffic cones, and street lights, you just have to accept that there’s nothing you can do to really improve the situation. Does it need to be improved? The first temple was basically a tent, right?

    I believe JFS had a good point about where money ought to be spent.

  7. Sheri Lynn on June 2, 2004 at 3:49 am

    You’d go to a temple roof to watch a PARADE?

  8. Greg Call on June 2, 2004 at 4:34 am

    I would only watch the parade from the portion of the roof garden that is above the *chapel*, of course…

  9. D. Fletcher on June 2, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    You would not be able to see the Thanksgiving parade from the roof of our building. Our building is only 6 stories tall, and there are far taller buildings between us and Central Park West, which is 800 feet away, anyway.

  10. Sheri Lynn on June 2, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    Well, we only recently got a temple of our own here…before now this was always a long drive, and I can’t imagine being so blase’ about a temple that I’d just go there for casual sightseeing or recreation.

  11. Greg Call on June 2, 2004 at 8:05 pm

    Sheri Lynn,

    My remark about the parade was just a lighthearted (and unrealistic, as D. points out) aside about the possible garden; I certainly did not mean to be flippant about the temple.

    But your remark raises an interesting issue about how the scarcity or abundance or temples might contribute to how we think about them. Having lived in New York for five years, where the temple was at least a four hour drive (DC or Boston), and now attending church at a building that is less than a stone’s throw from the Oakland Temple, I’ll have to think about how such things might, or might not, affect one’s feelings toward temples. Will the fact that my toddler son splashes around in the temple fountains every week after church affect how he values the temple as he grows up? For better or worse?

  12. Kingsley on June 2, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    Inaccessibility to temples, while it may help to preserve feelings of awe etc., is probably worse than accessibility + (a possible) lessening of such feelings. During my mission, when I had no access to temples, they certainly loomed grander in my mind than they do now, when they’re a stone’s throw away in every direction; but my fundamental respect, appreciation, etc., for them hasn’t changed.

  13. Dan Richards on June 2, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    I wonder if the steeple thing is related to the Boston Temple lawsuit, in which it actually became highly relevant what percentage of temples had steeples and Moronis. My memory is that the Conference Center, which originally was planned without a steeple, suddenly got one, and that several temples which originally had steeples without Moroni suddenly got an angel just as the church was arguing that the Boston Temple *had* to have a steeple and Moroni to fulfill its religious function. Which is not to say that the church argument was disingenuous, but rather that a whole new motivation for uniformity opened up.

  14. Yeechang Lee on June 3, 2004 at 5:30 am

    My family and I have attended church in the Lincoln Center stake center for more than a quarter century (!), and although I have been exiled to the Bay area for the past four years I’ll always regard the building as “home.” (In a quite literal sense now, actually; as a counselor in the Temple Presidency, my parents will be living in the attached apartment building for the next three years.)

    That said, there’s no question the stake center was and is pretty hideous-looking, and to me the redone exterior is a big improvement and quite welcome.

  15. JWL on June 3, 2004 at 11:04 am

    First, some quick historical background. The original basic white marble boxy modernist design of the building was legally mandated because of its proximity to Lincoln Center. Those who have seen them may note that Lincoln Center’s buildings are also basically modernist white marble boxes. So the Church architects of the early 1970s deserve relatively little credit or blame (depending on your perspective) for that particular exterior design.

    Considering that the heights of those architects’ inspiration were the goofy-looking Ogden and Provo temples maybe it’s just as well that they had little choice over the exterior look of the building. However, they did make plenty of decisions about the interior design that made it inadequate and inconvenient from the beginning.

    Whatever else you may think of it, the Angel Moroni steeple does solve one fundamental problem that the design had from the beginning, which was that no one knew from the architecture that it was a church building. Parking and street vending are prohibited in front of church buildings in NYC, but we were never able to get the police to enforce those rules because they didn’t recognize the building as a church. Another problem was that there were stores on the street level, which are now gone (the baptistry is now where one of the restaurants had its kitchen).

    In addition to putting Angel Moronis on almost all temples (including those that originally didn’t have them), I notice that little colonial style steeples are being put on most chapels. It would appear that the Church is trying to “brand identify” all LDS church buildings.

    The original concept in blocking up the windows was that there was going to be lighted stained glass in those spaces going up the side of the building, which could have looked really cool. But the lighting was dropped so now there will just be empty dark indents running up and down the building and a windowless chapel besides. However, the building has such a long history of architecturally stupid decisions that I am inclined to look on it as simply continuing a now long-established tradition.

  16. cooper on June 3, 2004 at 11:38 am

    Okay esthetics aside, why Moroni? I have a spanish speaking friend who asked me what the significance was of Moroni. I didn’t really have a good answer other than that he was “trumpeting the good news of the gospel”. Lame.

    So anyone have a good reason to explain our perceived “worship” of Moroni?

  17. Sheri Lynn on June 3, 2004 at 9:33 pm

    Oh, Brother Call, I’m sorry if my tone of online voice wasn’t kind or seemed judgemental. I didn’t really understand your “tone of voice” in your initial remark about the garden perhaps being a good potential vantage point for a parade–I see I misunderstood you. Going to the temple leaves me shaken, and is so profound an experience for me that I cannot imagine it ever becoming an everyday, just-another-place kind of place. Maybe your son will see it that way…I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. It is Our Lord’s House, and if we were a holy enough people, we could probably enjoy it somewhat more casually. Feet on the coffee table? Basketball hoop in the driveway? Umm…no, I think not. Watching secular parades from its roof?

    I think it may be a matter of trying to keep outside things out of the temple. But perhaps putting steeples on temples so the Church can win a lawsuit is letting outside things change the temple….?

  18. Ben S. on June 3, 2004 at 9:44 pm

    I believe Moroni was read into Revelation 14:6- “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every enation, and kindred, and tongue, and people”

    IIRC, the early accounts don’t label the spire angel as Moroni, just as the angel of Rev. 14:6. But, since it was Moroni who showed JS the plates, another tradition was born, just like Oliver Cowdrey and “Cumorah” in New York.

  19. Nate Oman on June 3, 2004 at 10:34 pm

    Cooper: My father gave a “paper” at MHA on the history of the Angel Moroni on temples last year. He needs to get the paper revised and ready for publication. If you are interested, you ought to encourage him to do so: OmanRG@ldschurch.org

  20. cooper on June 3, 2004 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks guys for the response. And yes Nate, I wrote your Dad to encourage him.

  21. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 9:28 am

    The bigger question, which Dan Richards broaches is thus:

    Why isn’t the steeple in the center & about 100 feet taller? Frankly, I’m just a lil sick & tired of the Church having to get a national law passed (twice!!!) in order to get our sacred buildings built.

    The fact that the NYC temple will have such a _circumscribed_ steeple is…um…a tragedy. I’d love to see a soaring steeple & Angel Moroni atop. Too many temples today are designed by _democracy_ i.e. the nimby-pamby Not in my back yard syndrome of the surrounding _neighboors_ who care more about their property values & “unobstructed views” than anything else.

    (who is at least a historical figure to our Latino sisters & brothers…not relevant? Really? The resurrected man/angel who actually lived in the ruins that are being explored today? I don’t think that one would cut it with any of the _multi-cultural_ PC types who like to raise a cry & hue about the need for different cultural groups to look to their history for a source of non-imperialistic imposed pride.)

  22. D. Fletcher on June 4, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    Lyle,

    The New York Temple was an existing building, built in 1973-75. The zoning laws at the time allowed a taller attached apartment building, but limited the height of the Church building itself. When they decided 2 years ago to make a temple out of the space, the Church was indeed hampered by legal restraints in place for almost 30 years. Truthfully, we should be grateful for a steeple/statue at all.

    I’m not going to complain about the outside of the building. But the inside is another matter — basically a renovation of the spaces and decoration meant that the Church had free rein. They blocked off the existing windows in our Chapel, ostensibly for aesthetic reasons, but in reality probably to prevent sound leakage. The temple must be quiet.

  23. lyle on June 4, 2004 at 12:14 pm

    D.

    Wow. Good thing for grandfathering clauses.
    My point is that zoning laws, in general, suck.
    More government regulation, more privileges for the rich/well connected…and more problems for everyone else.

    btw, you can thank a utahn, george alexander sutherland, for authoring the 1st Supreme Court opinion (ambler realty) that declared zoning legal.

    I’m just a reactionary, but I still think zoning is an unconstitutional “taking” of property. :)

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