Tuesday, June 2, 2009

forest dale chapel

Forest Dale’s Fine New Assembly Hall
One of the historic places in the Salt Lake Valley was Brigham Young’s “Forest Farm.” Situated close to the foothills, which lie at the base of some of the highest of the mountains of the Wasatch range, the spot was chosen as an ideal location for a farm by President Young, and the good judgment displayed by him in making his selection was on a par with that which made him famous in his other operations in pioneer life.

President Young proceeded to improve the natural advantages of the spot by planting a variety of the choicest fruit and shade trees that could be obtained. To the north of his farm lay the property of the late President John Taylor. On the south his fields were bounded by the homestead of Parley P. Pratt, while to the northwest and along the boulevard by which Forest Dale is reached was the home of President Wilford Woodruff. A portion of each of the farms still belongs to descendants of these worthy Pioneers. Near the center of the farm and approached by a broad avenue of lofty walnut and black locust trees planted on either side in double rows was built a spacious farm house.

Plat map of Church Farm pieced together, colored, and labeled by Jonathan Kland (Plat records 1852-1888, FHL US/CAN Film 1654538)

Of late years the busy man of large cities both in our own country and in foreign lands has found that a suburban home has advantages that more than repay in restfulness to body and mind the time spent in traveling to and from his work in the city. Even in Salt Lake City with its broad and straight streets this feeling prevailed and numbers of young men began to build their homes in the districts close to Salt Lake City. Great momentum was given to this movement by the construction of the electric car line to Forest Dale in 1890. The building of this line was quickly followed by others until now Salt Lake City, particularly to the south and southeast, is surrounded by communities the bread-winners in which spend their days in the capital of our State and their leisure and nights in the cooler and quieter surroundings of their cozy homes. Forest Dale was not organized as a ward until 1896 but in less than five years its population has increased more than 100 per cent.

Forest Dale Chapel designed by Peter Mortensen (Deseret Evening News 13 Apr 1901)

At first the old Farm House which had been tendered as a place for Sunday school and religious worship was large enough to accommodate all in the ward, but recently the Sunday school alone has more than filled the building. Under the energetic management of the bishopric of the ward, headed by Bishop James Jensen, the people unanimously decided to acquire a building lot and to erect a house large enough for all their ward purposes. A lot directly north from the Farm House (on the opposite side of the street) having a south frontage of 165 feet and a depth of 175 feet, with streets also on the east and west sides, was selected and the funds for its purchase subscribed and paid last year. Now the amount necessary to build the fine structure shown with this sketch has been subscribed, practically every person in the ward (including a number who do not belong to the Church) contributing the fund. The exterior of the building speaks for itself and an examination of the interior reveals the fact that in arrangement, convenience and uniqueness the building is unsurpassed. The interests of all, of the speaker, of the choir and of the congregation have been given careful thought with the result that the main assembly hall with a seating capacity of 670, including seats for a choir of 48, and for the subsequent construction of a gallery with a capacity for 250 more, is most admirable.

The building is two stories high, the basement being designed for use as an amusement hall and with class rooms for Sunday school purposes. Each of the other ward organizations is also provided for, including a library room, prayer room and room for the Relief Society. The plans and specifications for the building were furnished by a resident of the ward, Architect Peter Mortensen, and a number of skilled artisans who also reside in the ward in sure at least part of every kind of work, both in erecting and decorating the structure, being done by members of the ward. The dimensions of the building are 50x112 feet, and the height from basement floor to top of center finial is 113 feet. The material used in the walls are red sandstone and red shale brick. The building is to be heated by steam, the boiler room being located in the rear of the building. The windows will be of “maze glass” with opalescent trimmings, and the lighting will be electric. (Deseret News 13 Apr 1901)

Forest Dale Chapel sketch by Richard W Jackson (Fig. 6.12. Richard W Jackson, Places of Worship, page 146)

The architect for the building was selected by competition, a frequent procedure at that time. His name was Peter Mortensen, and he was also a member of the ward. A rendering of a perspective view of his design for the new building was published in the Deseret News, 13 April 1901, and showed a three-spired classical building.

The three spires were all the same size, but the center one was on a higher base which made it appear higher, not unlike the spires on the Salt Lake Temple. Construction commenced, and the building was soon out of the ground. The rock foundation was well done and stood about six feet above grade.

Peter Mortensen (Deseret Evening News 13 Aug 1903)

Mortensen was, like most of the architects of that time, a contractor as well as architect and had a number of commissions in addition to this ward building. He was also indebted to the Pacific Lumber Company for materials used on previous buildings in the amount of $3,800. James R. Hay, secretary and treasurer of the lumber company, also lived in the same ward and was constantly after Mortensen to pay his bill. On 16 December 1901 the two men rode home from town on the streetcar, and during the ride Mortensen invited Hay to come over to his house later that evening, indicating that he had the money at home and would give it to him. Hay made the visit and disappeared. The next day, when Hay could not be located, Mr. James Sharp, father-in-law to Hay, accosted Mortensen at his home and accused him of having killed Hay. Mortensen asked for proof. Sharp responded and said, "The proof to you will be that within twentyfour hours of the time we are speaking, and within a mile of the place where you put your foot, his dead body will be dug up in one of these fields."

The next morning a neighbor noticed a mound of fresh dirt in a neighboring field. Being aware of the local problem, he enlisted others, including Mortensen, to help investigate. The group borrowed a shovel from Mortensen, and exhumed the body of Hay from the field. After due process of law, Mortensen was convicted and executed for the murder, having neither admitted nor denied that he was guilty. The statement made by Sharp was admitted as evidence and, because there was no denial from Mortensen either as the body was exhumed or later, it was accepted (Pacific Reporter, 26, Utah, 312). (Richard W Jackson, Places of Worship, page 146-147)

Scene of Hay's Murder (Deseret News - 18 Dec 1901) Note that Walnut Street is now Lake Street

(From Forest Dale Historic District National Register nomination)

When Charles B. and Barnard J. Stewart were retained as defense counsel by Peter Mortensen, charged with the December 1901 homicide of Pacific Lumber Company employee James R. Hay, they could not know it would become the most celebrated murder trial since the days of John D. Lee and the Mountain Meadow massacre...It was an ordeal complicated by written death threats in July 1902 to the Stewarts if they continued to defend Mortensen: "Your house and home will be blown to atoms in case you make a motion for a new trial." Undaunted, the brothers pursued the case to its resolution. (Hal Schindler, Stewart & Stewart: A Century Of Law, Salt Lake Tribune)

Some Headlines of the Trial
17 Dec 1901 - James R. Hay and $3,800 are Missing – Secretary of the Pacific Lumber Company Drops Completely Out of Sight After Securing Sack of Gold Coin. (Deseret News)
18 Dec 1901 – Jas. R. Hay Murdered and Robbed – Peter Mortensen Placed Under Arrest for the Crime. (Deseret News)
20 Dec 1901 – Developments in Murder Case (Deseret News)
24 Dec 1901 - Confession Now Hourly Expected – Sheriff and Chief of Police Certain that Mortensen is Guilty and that He will Soon Admit it – Now in Solitary Confinement (Deseret News)
26 Dec 1901 – No Confession From Mortensen – Officers Conclude He Cannot Be “Broken Down” and Will Try No More – Arraignment This Afternoon (Deseret News)
28 Dec 1901 – Draining Pond For Missing Gun – Force of Men Set to Work Today by the County Surveyor Under the Direction of Sheriff Naylor. (Deseret News)
30 Dec 1901 – Gun Not Bought By Mortensen – Second Hand Dealer Positively Identifies Him as Not Being the Purchaser (Deseret News)
31 Dec 1901 – Gun-In-Pond Theory Exploded – Draining of Bog Completed, but No Revolver Found – Weapon Recovered by Police Belongs to Mill Creek Youth. (Deseret News)
22 Jan 1902 - Heard Shot at Time of Tragedy (Deseret News)
23 Jan 1902 - Last Witnesses for the State (Deseret News)
12 Jun 1902 - Theory of Defense (Deseret News)
13 Aug 1903 - Life for Life the Penalty. [Good summary of entire trial.] (Deseret Evening News)
20 Nov 1903 - Peter Mortensen Shot to Death for Murder of “Jimmy” Hay (Deseret News)
21 Nov 1903 - Was Buried in Prison Cemetery. Remains of Peter Mortensen Were Placed Beneath the Ground Without Any Ceremony. Those in Charge of the Ogden Graveyard Declined to Accept the Body for Burial (Deseret News)
21 Nov 1903 - Nine Executions in Utah History (Salt Lake Herald)
21 Nov 1903 - How Mortensen Killed J.R. Hay (Salt Lake Herald)
21 Nov 1903 - UTAH MURDERER IS SHOT.; Slayer of James R. Hay at Salt Lake Pays Death Penalty. (New York Times)

James R Hay (Deseret Evening News 18 Dec 1901)

This untimely event upset the progress of the erection of the meetinghouse. Half of the members of the ward "knew" Mortensen was not guilty and the other half "knew" he was. Those for Mortensen wanted the building to go ahead as he had planned. Those against would not contribute another penny toward its erection using his design. The impasse was cleared up by holding another competition to provide a new meetinghouse design to be used on the existing foundation. A design submitted by architect S. T. Whitaker was accepted, and a drawing showing the new design was printed in the Deseret News, 26 April 1902.

The two designs were quite different. The new one had a circular dome over the center of an essentially square chapel. The dome was open to the chapel inside and a row of clerestory windows was placed immediately under the dome. Its singular appearance, because it is one-of-a-kind, has made it a landmark in that part of the city, and the construction of an elevated section of Interstate 15 only a short distance south of it has brought it to the attention of everybody who passes that way. The three exposed elevations are decorated with columned entrances.

New design of Forest Dale Chapel by Samuel T Whitaker (Deseret News 26 Apr 1902)

The interior was Classical in feeling with columns on either side of the rostrum to the north. The grand interior columns were removed in an extensive remodeling and addition on the rear of the building which was done in 1929. Cannon and Fetzer were the architects for the remodeling and the addition, which provided a connecting hallway and additional classrooms between the chapel and the 1913 amusement hall to the north. Some time in the early 1970s the dome was closed over with a ceiling, but the circular trim was retained. The dome was once more opened with a refurbishing of the interior in 1986.

As a boy who spent the first ten years of his life attending church in this building, I remember well the columned rostrum, the fun of lying on one of the front pews during boring parts of the services and watching the passing clouds, and the occasional bird that entered through a broken pane in the clerestory dome. The dome was painted a very soft blue color on the inside. (Richard W Jackson, Places of Worship, page 146-147)

Forest Dale’s New Meeting House
“The above is the beautiful Forest Dale house of worship as it will appear when completed. The design is by Mr. S. T. Whitaker and was adopted out of a number of competitive drawings submitted by the leading architects of the city. The idea is somewhat new for church edifices, but being of the classical order the structure will ever be pleasing to look upon. The site is a magnificent one, commanding a view of the whole valley and surrounded by large boxelders which were planted by President Young near his famous old farm house. The cost will be near the $15,000 mark. The foundation, which is of red cut sandstone, was completed last season and it is the intention of the good people of Forest Dale ward to so far complete the main structure the coming summer as to have the benefit of the fine basement, which will be used for general ward purposes.” (Deseret News 26 Apr 1902)

New Houses of Worship Erected by the Latter-Day Saints
Forest Dale Meetinghouse
Located on the corner of Seventh East street and Ashton avenue, beyond the city limits is the Forest Dale meetinghouse, which was formally opened with special services on Sunday, Dec. 6, 1903. The house, which is built of white brick with white stone trimmings, has a main assembly hall and a basement for amusements, each with a capacity of about 600. Its cost is $20,000. (Deseret News 19 Dec 1903)

New Forest Dale Chapel sketch by Richard W Jackson (Fig. 6.13. Richard W Jackson, Places of Worship, page 147)

Dedicate Their New Meetinghouse
Saints of Forest Dale Now Have Up-to-date Chapel in Which to Worship
Very Impressive Exercises
President Smith Offered the Dedicatory Prayer and Then Delivered an Interesting Discourse

A new meetinghouse in Salt Lake valley was yesterday evening dedicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is as handsome a ward chapel as exists in this section, and dedicated on the eve of Pioneer day, it held over five times as many worshipers as were numbered in the little band of pioneers who entered the valley through Emigration canyon 58 years ago. Many of those present were descendants of that little band, and among the speakers were those who could tell the story of the half century of growth in Utah, which only those who have lived through it can know.

The meetinghouse is situated at the Cannon corner in Forest Dale, and was completed Friday last, after four years of building. It is in gray brick and stone, with cement approaches, and splendid lawns, already well established. The main auditorium will seat about 550, while the choir seats accommodate about 50 more. This number is about the same as the census shows population for Forest Dale, and last night the house was packed to its capacity, the aisles being filled with chairs and many standing at the rear. Besides the main auditorium the building contains a large basement calculated to afford a home for all ward amusements, and a beautifully furnished vestry on the second floor. The main auditorium is practically built in the simple style that prevails at present. The seats are placed on an inclined floor, with sufficient slope for those seated in the rear to see the stand comfortably. The walls are of cement to a height of six feet, and artistically finished roughened plaster above. A large dome rising from the center of the ceiling affords ample light and ventilation. The only decorations are pictures of prominent members of the ward and the Church which hang on the side and rear walls, the pictures of the First Presidency filling in the wall behind the choir seats.

The Bishops Welcome
Bishop James Jensen presided, and welcomed the people in to their new church. He congratulated them upon the fact that every dollar of the expense had been paid, and that a surplus was on hand with the building committee. He told of incidents in raising the money that indicated the loyalty and faith of the people of the ward and had high praise for those who had given towards the erection of the structure.

The speakers, who were introduced by Bishop Jensen, were President Jos. F. Smith, President John R. Winder, Elders Rudger Clawson and Geo. A. Smith of the council of Apostles, Supt. of Building Theodore Toblason, Treasurer M. C. Morris, Geo. M. Cannon, chairman of the finance committee, B. W. Ashton, Stake President Frank Y. Taylor, and his counselor, Edwin Bennion.

Dedicatory Prayer
The dedicatory prayer was offered by President Jos. F. Smith. The opening prayer was offered by Patriarch Jos. E. Taylor, and benediction was pronounced by Bishop Iverson of the Second ward.

The musical numbers, which were freely interspersed in the program, consisted of an opening anthem, “Rouse Ye Mortals,” by the choir, under the leadership of J. T. Dunbar, a quartet, “Utah, We Love Thee,” by Geo. M. Cannon, Jr., J. T. Dunbar, J. J. Summerhays and Karl Beuhner…

Many of the speakers spoke in praise of the work of the choir which was excellent, and one quoted a special tribute paid to it by Prof. Evan Stephens of the Tabernacle choir. Prof. Stephens was present as a guest of the choir by invitation.
B. W. Summerhays, who had taken an active part in building the house, but who was unavoidably absent in Canada, sent his best wishes in a sentiment which was read by Geo. M. Cannon.

The speeches of the evening dwelt mostly on the history of the struggle for a meetinghouse in Forest Dale from the days they met in a brush covered bowry, to the present, and especially of the plans and finances of the present structure.

President Smith Talks
President Smith recalled the days of his youth spent in the vicinity of the new church, when Forest Dale was known as the Church farm, and when President Young kept the Church cattle there. He told of the growth of Utah since those days, and how it had been participated in both by “Mormon” and Gentile, both classes adding greatly to the state’s upbuilding. The speaking and other features of the program lasted until after 9 o’clock, but the cool evening breeze from the mountains which does not come north to the city, prevented any discomfort, despite the fact that the building was packed. (Deseret News 24 Jul 1905)

Token of Appreciation
Forest Dale Folk Present Elegant Loving Cup to Architect Whitaker
At the Commercial club Saturday afternoon the Forest Dale building committee gave a luncheon in honor of Architect S. T. Whitaker, who made the plans for the ward’s recently erected church edifice. A feature of the luncheon was the presentation to Mr. Whitaker, in behalf of the people of the Dale, of an elegant loving cup as a token of their appreciation of his services. On one side of the cup is an etching of the building itself, very cleverly done, while on the other is the inscription, “Token of appreciation presented to Architect Whitaker by the people of Forest Dale, Aug. 10, 1905.” Mr. Whitaker was taken completely by surprise, but in a few well chosen words thanked the people of the ward for the beautiful gift. The members of the committee present were Bishop James Jenson, M. C. Morris, George M. Cannon and Senator S. L. Love. (Deseret News 21 Aug 1905)

These homes and chapel were recently accepted into the National Register of Historic Places as part of the newly created "Forest Dale Historic District"

Mortensen/Stewart House at 2228 South Lake Street
(From Forest Dale Historic District National Register nomination)

James R. Hay House at 2245 South Lake Street
(From Forest Dale Historic District National Register nomination)

Forest Dale Chapel
(From Forest Dale Historic District National Register nomination)

Additional Details:
-The most notable and socially important building constructed in the district during this period was the Forest Dale LDS Ward and meetinghouse at 739 East Ashton Avenue.
-Mortensen designed the Forest Dale Ward chapel as an ornate, three-spired Victorian Gothic edifice, but was purportedly persuaded by fellow construction foreman Theodore Tobiason to alter the design to have a single, centrally located steeple on the principal façade.
-In 1913, a large ell containing classrooms and offices was added to the north elevation of the building. (From Forest Dale Historic District National Register nomination)

For More on Trial
-'Celebrated Criminal Cases of America' by Thomas Samuel Duke, page 327-332.
-From 'Utah's Lawless Fringe: Stories of True Crime,' The Sensational Murder of James R. Hay and Trial of Peter Mortensen, by Craig L. Foster. See also Utah Historical Quarterly Volume 65, Number 1 (Winter 1997).

View salt lake architecture in a larger map


  1. I used to attend here in a student ward but had no idea of its sordid past.

    It's a great building.


  2. I've heard bits and pieces of this story, but your telling is the first I've heard them all pulled together, and without doubt the best description of the architecture, ever.

  3. I was in town today (SLC) and happened to drive by and see the Forest Dale chapel for the first time in my life. So, it was a fun coincidence to see your article tonight (linked at Keepapitchinin.org). Thanks - a wonderful read.


  4. Thanks David, Ardis, and Anon for your comments. It was a lot of fun learning about this building. It's amazing how the stories and events that go into each building help to bring it alive and end up being as (or more) important as the actual design in many cases. The stories help give meaning to the place, the materials used, and the spaces created.

  5. I love hearing about this kind of history! So fascinating. Sounds like a novel.