History of the Washington D.C. Temple

History of the Washington D.C. Temple

On a serene 57.4-acre hilltop in Kensington, Maryland, the Washington D.C. Temple creates an impressive sight for travelers along the Capital Beltway. The 16th operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commonly serves Church members in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, New Jersey.

The Washington D.C. Temple was the first Latter-day Saint temple to be built on the East Coast of the United States. When the temple was completed in 1974, it served all Latter-day Saints living east of the Mississippi and some Latter-day Saints in South America and Canada. At 160,000 square feet, it is the third-largest temple in the world. It contains instruction rooms and sealing rooms, where marriages are performed.

Building the Temple

Latter-day Saint architects Harold K. Beecher, Henry P. Fetzer, Fred L. Markham, and Keith W. Wilcox designed the Washington D.C. Temple in a collaborative process. Each offered designs for review and critique, which were approved by the Church’s First Presidency. Through this process, the final design emerged representing the best ideas of each architect. This temple, which the architects described as a building of “beauty, significance, and distinction,” took shape as an elongated diamond with towers on the corners.
On the east side of the temple, the central tower reaches a height of 288 feet, making it the tallest spire on a Latter-day Saint temple anywhere in the world. The three spires on the east and the three on the west represent two branches of Church leadership, the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. The six-spire design echoes the design of the Salt Lake Temple. An 18-foot-tall sculpture of angel Moroni created by Avard Fairbanks graces the tallest spire. The statue, cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf, was the third to be placed on a temple. Fairbanks portrayed the angel Moroni lifting a trumpet to his lips and holding golden plates in his left arm. Latter-day Saint sculptor Franz Johansen created 16 bronze medallions — eight of which decorate the temple gates and eight of which decorate the temple doors — illustrating the sun, moon, and stars, among other designs.
The temple is finished with 173,000 square feet of Alabama white marble, which is cut to a thickness of ⅝” in some places, allowing sunlight to filter softly through the walls. Faceted windows of colored glass ascend the east and west ends of the temple. These seven-foot-wide panels rise in red and orange hues, softening to blue, violet, and eventually white as they reach the top. One of the architects noted the symbolism of the change in colors — purity comes with aspiring toward heavenly things. A similar progression from color to white and gold can be seen in the interior furnishings of the temple.

Open House

Prior to its dedication in November of 1974, the Washington D.C. Temple opened its doors to public tours for the first time. More than 750,000 guests toured the temple during the open house.

Dedication in 1974

Nearly six years after the temple was announced on November 15, 1968, the temple was ready to be dedicated. The temple opened to the public from September 17 to October 19, 1974, and more than 750,000 visitors toured the building. High-profile visitors, including Betty Ford, the wife of then-U.S. President Gerald Ford, were among those who viewed the temple interior. The temple was dedicated in 10 sessions held from November 19 to 22, 1974.

Church President Spencer W. Kimball offered the dedicatory prayer, in which he gave thanks for those who paved the way for the founding of the United States: “We are grateful that thou didst cause this land to be rediscovered and settled by people who founded a great nation with an inspired constitution guaranteeing freedom in which there could come the glorious restoration of the gospel and the Church of thy Beloved Son.”2

A City Set on a Hill

The Washington DC Temple has inspired onlookers and visitors alike for decades with its six pillars and Alabama marble exterior.

“Its spires leap nearly 300 feet into the sky,” said Ed O’Keefe from C.B.S. News. “At their pinnacle a 2-ton gold-covered angel issues a clarion call to the heavens. It’s clad in white Alabama marble, matching other monuments around the nation’s capital.”3

The temple will continue to inspire and testify the truth that the Savior Jesus Christ lives–not just to those from within their vehicles viewing the temple from the Beltway, but to all those from around the world who get a glimpse of this sacred structure.

Rededication in 2022

On March 3, 2018, the Washington D.C. Temple closed for an extensive renovation. The building received considerable upgrades to its mechanical system and the finishes and furnishings were refreshed. There were also changes made to the landscaping and a small addition to the exterior to enclose a new elevator system and stairs. The project was completed in 2020, and because of COVID-19, the open house was delayed until 2022.
Adjacent to the temple, the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center provides the opportunity for visitors to learn more about temples and the Church’s teachings. Select here to learn more about the visitors’ center.

The Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center

While only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a temple recommend can enter the Washington D.C. Temple, members of all faiths are invited and encouraged to enter the visitors’ center and learn more about temples and the Savior Jesus Christ. A marble replica of Thorvaldsen’s Christus is featured in the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center.  
Free events are held at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center throughout the year, including concerts, devotionals, and more. The Festival of Lights, a celebration where hundreds of thousands of lights are laced around the temple grounds, takes place each year around Christmas. The visitors’ center showcases nativities from around the world and hosts many holiday performances that are free and open to the public.
To book an in-person or virtual tour of the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center, please select the button below.

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