Tens of thousands of Conference-goers will pass through the gates into and out of Temple Square this weekend, adding to the tally of millions who have preceded them. Most will not even notice the gates (they’re just openings in the wall, aren’t they?). Like everything else, those gates have a history that isn’t apparent to the uninitiated.
From the beginning – the beginning in this case being the 1850s, when Brigham Young put Zion’s newcomers to work building the adobe wall around the temple block, as a public works project that allowed the otherwise unemployed to earn their daily bread – it was intended that the block be entirely closed off from the surrounding city. “The foundation of the wall around the Temple Block is nearly completed which when done will enable us to speedily finish the wall, with the exception of the gates & iron railing,” Brigham Young wrote to a colleague in 1854; I don’t know offhand just when those gates were hung.
Those first gates were wood, not metal. The earliest were probably plain wooden panels, but sometime before the turn of the century, as you can see if you squint closely at this photograph, the gates had been gussied up a bit, their tops cut down in a graceful dip.
In 1925, the Church decided to replace the old wooden gates with modern iron ones, on all four sides of the square. The gates themselves, and the side panels into which they were set, were constructed by Crager Iron Works in Salt Lake City, according to a design drawn by Don Carlos Young, a prominent Utah architect and a grandson of Brigham Young. The new gates cost the Church $15,000. Although they are usually described as “wrought iron,” and there is in fact some decorative wrought iron along the tops, the gates and side panels are not chiefly wrought iron, but are constructed of hollow iron tubes with squared corners. Both the uprights and the crossbars in each 56-foot opening are built of those tubes.
The gates were also fitted with electrical lamps during the 1925 construction; you can see those lamps, and the decorative wrought iron topping the gates, in this modern photograph. One of the workmen responsible for wiring the lanterns in 1925 was a young electrician named Robert K. Tschaggeny.
Those gates were – and still are – functional, being closed each evening and unlocked each morning to admit the tourists and missionaries and temple-goers and grounds crews and staff members who crowd the square each day, and those who, like me, merely cross the square getting from here to there because we find it so congenial to walk where the traffic noise seems distant and where the gardens are always so beautiful. Most of us, I’m sure, don’t give a second thought to the gates.
Although they had regular maintenance – cleaning and painting – unseen forces went to work on the gates and panels, too. Rainwater and snowmelt found its way into the hollow iron tubing. Water drained from the upright tubes, but it sat in the crossbars, silently eating away the iron from the inside out. By 1959, a careful examination of the 34-year-old gates found that many of the crossbars, especially those near the bottom, had rusted through. Most would have to be repaired; some needed to be replaced altogether.
The company hired to make the repairs in 1959 was Metals Manufacturing Co. of Salt Lake City. The iron company’s owner felt a special obligation to the project – he was Robert K. Tschaggeny, the electrician who had wired the new lanterns in 1925.
One side at a time – first the north gates, followed in turn by the east, west, and finally the south – the gates and panels were lifted out of place by cranes and taken to Metals Manufacturing’s work site. Each was repaired and rehung before the next set was removed for restoration. Each set required about a week’s work, as the corroded tubes were replaced and other damage repaired. Inspecting the gates in this 1959 photo (right) is John Miller, shop foreman for Metals Manufacturing; the ironworker removing corrosion in the second photo (left) is workman Hans Saeuger. About 1,000 feet of iron tubing was replaced, the lamps atop the gate posts were repaired and brought up to modern electrical standards, and drain holes were drilled in all the crossbars so that moisture would no longer accumulate inside. All that work was done for the sum of about $3,000.
With careful maintenance over the following decades, the gates are in good condition today, serving the dual function of guarding the temple precincts and welcoming visitors within the grounds. When next you visit Temple Square in person or via camera from the Conference Center across the street to the north, really see those gates, perhaps for the first time. You’ll see more than most who pass through.