In July 1847, immediately after arriving with the first group of Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young announced the site of a temple. As construction of the Salt Lake Temple stretched over the following four decades, the Endowment House located on Temple Square temporarily served as a location for all temple ceremonies in the valley.
While previous temples were built to accommodate large congregations, Truman Angell Sr. designed the rooms of the Endowment House specifically for participation in temple rituals. These include the endowment and marriage ceremonies. Angell’s idea was later adopted in all temples of the Church. Construction on the adobe building began in fall 1854 on the northwest corner of Temple Square . The structure was dedicated by Heber C. Kimball on May 5th, 1855. While initially called the “Temple Pro Tempore” or “The House of the Lord,” it soon became known by the Saints as “the Endowment House.”
A year later, an expansion to the Endowment House included a baptismal font. At one point, the font was supplied with water from City Creek via a quarter mile of pipe. The font was constructed for “the purpose of baptizing people for the remission of sins, for their health, for the renewal of covenants, and for their dead family and friends.” In an 1880 extension to the building, a greenhouse was also added to the structure.
In contrast to the mundane appearance of the structure’s façade, the interior of the building was beautifully decorated with the best the Saints could offer. Many religious symbols were included in the decoration. The facility had modern amenities such as indoor restrooms and a dining room.
On Sunday October 8th, 1876, Church President Brigham Young announced the closure of the Endowment House, emphasizing the importance of focusing on creating permanent temple structures in Utah. The Endowment House was reopened specifically for marriage ceremonies two months after his death, but only on the last Thursday of each month. Later, in October 1879, the “Temple Pro Tempore” resumed its previous regular schedule.
Largely in response to the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, a federal law against polygamy, Church leaders voted on October 18th, 1889 to demolish the Endowment House. It was torn down soon after. The area became a nursery to support Temple Square’s growing gardens. In the early 1960’s the North Visitors' Center was built on the site of the Endowment House.
Early visitors to Temple Square described the Endowment House as “not much to look at” and were disappointed to learn that this humble structure was the where the famous “Mormon polygamous marriages” were performed. To the faithful however, the rituals in which they participated gave them feelings of “joy beyond description” culminating in what some described as “the most glorious day of their lives.” While today largely forgotten, Salt Lake City’s Endowment House was once the center of national controversy as the site of thousands of plural marriages. However, the building’s legacy quietly lives on as untold numbers of Utahans are descended from couples that were married within its walls.