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Guest Post: Florence Smith Jacobsen: Saving Our Material Heritage

By: Andrew Hamilton - April 02, 2013

On Saturday, March 30th, 2013 the Church broadcast its annual General Young Women’s meeting. In her introductory remarks General Young Women’s President Elaine Dalton mentioned that there was a special guest present, Florence Smith Jacobsen, who served as president of the then-titled “Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association” from 1961 to 1972. Sister Jacobsen was in attendance at the meeting in part to recognize her upcoming 100th birthday. In honor of her 100th birthday I wanted to share some information about Sister Jacobsen and focus in particular on one rather unusual incident that occurred between her and President Henry D. Moyle, First Counselor in the First Presidency, early in her service as President of the Young Women.

Florence Smith was born on April 7, 1913 to Willard Richards Smith and his wife Florence Grant Smith. As Mormons go Sister Jacobsen has a pretty impressive pedigree: her father’s father was Joseph F. Smith and her mother’s father was Heber J. Grant. She is also the niece of Lucy Grant Cannon, who also served as General President of the Young Women from 1937 to 1948.

Florence Smith married Ted Jacobsen in 1935. From 1955 to 1959 Florence and Ted served together while he was president of the Eastern States mission. After her release as Young Women’s President Sister Jacobsen was called by President Harold B. Lee to be the “Church Curator.” She also served a term on the Utah governor’s committee for cultural and historical sites. During her service as Young Women’s President and as Church Curator Sister Jacobsen directed or helped to direct the restoration of many historic Church sites including the interior of the Manti Temple, and restorations of such buildings as the E.B. Grandin building, Brigham Young’s St. George home, Jacob Hamblin’s home in Santa Clara, Newell K. Whitney’s Kirtland, Ohio home, Joseph Smith, Sr’s. home in Palmyra, and Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff’s homes in Nauvoo, Ill. She also played a very key role in the construction of the Museum of Church History and Art, first suggesting that it be built to President Spencer W. Kimball, and then personally collecting many of the items that are in its collection.

In April of 2010 Sister Jacobsen was honored with the Junius F. Wells Award by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation for her efforts to restore and preserve historic buildings. The award was presented at a dinner in the Joseph Smith memorial building and a story was written up about the event in The Church News in May of 2010. The article noted in part:

Among her accomplishments highlighted in the program were rescuing the Lion House from demolition and spearheading the restoration of it and the adjoining Beehive House … days after receiving her call as YWMIA president, Sister Jacobsen learned the Lion House … was to be demolished to make room for access to the Church Office Building … She recoiled at the news.

To President David O. McKay, she proposed the Lion House be refurbished as part of a plan to make it financially self-sustaining. He authorized temporary use of Church funds for that purpose. The funds were returned within a few years after the building was renovated into a profitable entity.1

The restoration of the Lion and Beehive Houses were particularly important projects to Sister Jacobsen. She remembered visiting her grandfather, Joseph F. Smith, in the Beehive House when he lived there as Church president and had fond memories of her experiences there. The Lion House was important to her in part because for years it was used to house young women as they attended college in Salt Lake City. The above quote from the Church News article on Sister Jacobsen however, only tells part of the story.

The story on Sister Jacobsen from the Church News leaves out two very interesting details. To help tell the story of Sister Jacobsen and the Lion House a few details need to be provided about President Henry D. Moyle. President Moyle was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and ordained an April of 1947. In June of 1959 David O. McKay called him to be second counselor in the First Presidency, and upon the death of J. Reuben Clark in 1961, President Moyle became President McKay’s First Counselor. As an apostle Elder Moyle was involved with many of the Church’s investments and monetary issues. These responsibilities increase when he became a member of the First Presidency. At that time he was also placed in charge of the Church’s building program. In these capacities he played an important role in many of the redevelopment projects that took place in Salt Lake City in the 1950s and early 1960s. Among the projects that he helped to initialize were the expansion of the Z.C.M.I. Mall and the downtown placement of the Federal Building. Several decades before the Conference Center was built he helped propose that the Church build a large church auditorium for General Conferences to replace the too-small Tabernacle. He dropped this plan when the Salt Palace was proposed by community planners. When that project was proposed he suggested to the planners that the proposed 15,000-seat arena was too small and suggested that the capacity be increased 25,000.

When it came to preserving old buildings of historical interest, President Moyle’s opinion was exactly the opposite of President Jacobsen’s. According to his biography President Moyle, “had little empathy” for the cause of historians and preservationists. When it came to historical preservation President Moyle’s attitude seemed to be one of, “progress must progress.” He felt that the current and future needs and concerns of the Church were far more important than saving old buildings. Happily nothing came from President Moyle’s off-hand remark that if Beehive House and Lion House were taken down, a “good building” could be put up on the site. At one point, speaking of the Lion and Beehive Houses, President Moyle is reported to have made a comment that they should be, “taken down, a ‘good building’ could be put up on the site”2

The differing opinions of these two strong willed leaders on the importance of the preserving of these historical buildings lead to a confrontation, the story of which thankfully has been preserved by the interviewing efforts of David O. McKay biographer Greg Prince. While working on his biography “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” Prince interviewed Florence and Ted Jacobsen. This interview gives us the extra detail of why President Moyle and perhaps other Church leaders felt some motivation to demolish the Lion House in particular, and it preserves for us an unusual story of general Church auxiliary leader standing up to and even defying a member of the First Presidency. After becoming the Young Women president Sister Jacobsen put together a proposal for the restoration of the Lion House. She was told to give her proposal to President Moyle. Speaking of this meeting Sister Jacobsen told Prince that:

I was appointed to go and see, not President McKay, but Henry D. Moyle who was a counselor. And Brother Moyle just said, “No way. We’re going to tear that house down for a driveway from the parking lot underneath”—for the high-rise parking lot. He said, “That’s all planned, Florence. That house is going to go down.” I said, “President Moyle, you just can’t do that.” And he said, “Florence, all it does is remind people of polygamy.” I said, “Well, I’m not ashamed of it. Are you?” And he said, “That’s not a fair question.” I said, “It’s fair in my book.” But he was just adamant that house was going to go down. Well, about five months later he was gone. He died.3

After President Moyle’s death President Jacobsen tried again, this time going straight to President McKay. She proposed to President McKay that they preserve and convert the Lion House into its present form as restaurant and a banquet hall, she told him that, “We’ll maintain the standards of the Church. There will be no smoking or drinking. We won’t serve coffee. We’ll just do what we should do, and it will be a beautiful center. And it will be wonderful for the weddings.” She reported that “President McKay looked up at his counselors and he said, ‘Brethren, I’m all for it. Will you sustain me in this?’ President Tanner was a little reluctant. He said, “I just think we’re preserving too many old buildings’”4 But despite some concerns from President Tanner President Jacobsen had the most important supporter necessary this time, President David O. Mckay. The project was approved, the Lion house was preserved, and within a few years the Church’s monetary investment in the building had been returned.

While I am not recommending or suggesting that it is okay to defy a member of the First Presidency, I find this to be an interesting story about how the pluck and determination of a historically minded woman paid off. In honor of Sister Jacobsen’s 100th birthday, her role as a historical preservationist, and perhaps in honor of her pluck, may I suggest that those who have the chance to do so visit the Lion House in the near future and eat on of their famous “Lion House Rolls” smothered in honey butter? My mouth is watering all ready.

  1. R. Scott Lloyd. “Life of Building,” LDS Church News, 1 May 2010. []
  2. Richard D. Poll, Working the Divine Miracle, Signature Books, 1999 []
  3. Interview of Florence and Ted Jacobsen by Gregory A. Prince, September 24, 1997, copy in my possession []
  4. Interview of Florence and Ted Jacobsen by Gregory A. Prince, September 24, 1997. []


30 Comments »

  1. Hooray for Sister Jacobsen!

    Comment by Marjorie Conder — April 2, 2013 @ 7:18 am

  2. Indeed!

    I like this picture of the Lion House because it shows how closely situated it was next to the Church Administration Building to the left (west) and the Church Office Building in back (north). You can understand, totally apart from any consideration of history or heritage or polygamy or anything else, why it was “logical” to take down the Lion House to make modern parking more convenient … but … but … Hooray for Sister Jacobsen!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2013 @ 7:28 am

  3. Great story! Thanks, Andrew.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — April 2, 2013 @ 8:56 am

  4. Awesome! This was the story that should have been told at the Young Women’s broadcast.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 2, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  5. I think Andrew may not be able to respond during the day (he usually comments in the evening), so until he can respond himself, I’ll thank you on his behalf for your appreciation of his work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  6. Went to a dinner at the Lion House one time. Pretty good food.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — April 2, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  7. Thank you for sharing this on my favorite Mormon History blog Ardis! It was fun to research and write, I hope it brings a few smiles to your readers. Thanks for the kind comments everyone. It works out that today is my day off so I will keep an eye on the comments. Please be kind ;)

    Comment by andrew h — April 2, 2013 @ 10:22 am

  8. I’m casually told by my relatives that a similar story is what preserved the beautiful original interior of the Cardston temple, when others such as Logan went in for (imo) less aesthetically pleasing remodeling and retrofitting. The Temple Matron (my grandfather’s sister-in-law) objected as forcefully as she could, all the way up the chain. I wonder if it’s documented anywhere, or if family lore has exaggerated a bit. It wasn’t that long ago, historically speaking.

    Comment by Ben S — April 2, 2013 @ 11:51 am

  9. Sister Jacobsen reportedly saved Manti’s interior from Logan’s fate. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in Cardston found an ally in her if your family story is right.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

  10. It’s a difficult tension, and it makes me think on the various preservation advocates who lose. It would be an unsupportable burden if they all won, and even worse if they all lost.

    Comment by John Mansfield — April 2, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

  11. Hmm. Trying to think if there’s any possible controversy that would increase the number of comments and draw more attention to the story of this amazing woman.

    Nope. I agree with pretty much everything said here, particularly Bruce’s comment.

    And on one hand, like John M says, not everything has to be preserved. I can think of one dangerous historical eyesore in my area that for some reason keeps getting patched up but should really be bulldozed.

    But on the other hand, having just gone to Mount Vernon over the weekend, historical places can be a vital part of our communities. We need connections to the sacrifices and cultures of the past. It was heartening (although tiring) to stand in the long line of people waiting to see the home of our first president.

    Bravo for Sister Jacobsen!

    Comment by Amy T — April 2, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

  12. Cool story Ben, I hope that it is true. I realize fully that it is the work that goes on in the Temple that is important, but I think it is sad that the Church replaced and tried to replace beautiful pioneer craftsmanship with generic 1970’s efficiency.

    Comment by andrew h — April 2, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

  13. I love this…thanks for sharing Andrew. I love hearing about women who do what they feel is right- and bless us all as a result. What a great example!

    Comment by amanda — April 2, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

  14. My grandmother, Annie Call Carr was responsible for keeping the original meeting house in Bountiful, Utah from being torn down. Now it shows up in books as the oldest continual church building in use.

    Comment by Maurine — April 2, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

  15. Ben–I also heard about Grams telling President Hinckley that she would not stand for a white velvet interior replacing the murals etc. of the Cardston Temple when she was temple matron. When I asked her about it, she laughed and said she wouldn’t have dared *reprimand* him, but she did let him know how precious the original furnishings were. I love going through the Cardston Temple with her and hearing the stories about the gold drapes and the paintings’ trips to restorers and the dark wood.

    Comment by Amy — April 2, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

  16. What’s that “well behaved women seldom make history” quote? Seems to apply here. Really interesting post Andrew, thank you. What a star this lady is.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 2, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

  17. Within 5 months? The heavenly historical preservation dept. doesn’t mess around.

    Comment by Adam G. — April 2, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

  18. Adam, the friend of mine that helped me to get the research from Greg Prince said the same thing. When he read the transcript of the interview over the phone to me he exclaimed, “It almost sounds like she thinks that Molye died so that she could save the Lion House!”

    Comment by andrew h — April 2, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

  19. Absolutely wonderful story. My wife and I had our wedding reception at the Lion House, as have countless other couples. The restaurant and reception center have established a continual living link with our past. Thank heavens for women like Flo Jacobsen!

    Comment by Old Man — April 2, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

  20. Great Story! -Although Henry D. Moyle was my half second cousin twice removed, so he can’t be all bad.

    Comment by Grant — April 2, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

  21. My grandmother was Florence Jacobsen’s counselor in the YW general presidency. Pres. Monson (who was their advisor from the Twelve) told us at my grandmother’s funeral that that presidency was one of the most powerful that the church has had.

    Comment by JT — April 3, 2013 @ 9:56 am

  22. Grant,

    President Moyle was a fascinating man. He had strong faith in the Church and a very strong personality which allowed him to accomplish a lot of work for the Church. He was also at the center of some controversies related in part due to his strong personality (as is somewhat demonstrated by his run in with President Jacobsen).

    President Moyle was a major force behind an aggressive chapel building program for the Church that led to some budget challenges and his strong belief in missionary work led in part to the “Baseball Baptism” program in Europe that later caused some headaches for the Church. If you can find a copy of his biography “Working the Divine Miracle” by Richard Poll I highly recommend it.

    Comment by andrew h — April 3, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  23. In 1963 when Henry Moyle died, he was 74, Sister Jacobsen was 50, Salt Lake City was 116, and the Lion House was 107. He came of age in a city that was all-new and ever-changing, mostly for the better. Someone of the following generation may have been better able to perceive the city as an established place with a history pre-dating her and pieces that should be held on to.

    Comment by John Mansfield — April 3, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

  24. Sounds like Sister Jacobsen was not deterred by not holding the priesthood from pursuing righteous goals. The Church Museum of History and Art is a constant reminder that the preservation of our art is part of our history and heritage as Latter-day Saints, whether we had pioneer ancestors or not.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — April 3, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

  25. Working the Divine Miracle is up on the Signature Books website.

    http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=13505

    Comment by John Mansfield — April 3, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

  26. From the above link, regarding Henry Moyle’s father James, as a nineteen-year-old stonecutter from Cornwall: “He arrived in September 1854. According to his reminiscence, he found work immediately on the new home with the lions on the front that President Young was building for some of his families.”

    Comment by John Mansfield — April 3, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

  27. Correction: the stonecutter working on Lion House construction was Elder Moyle’s grandfather, not father.

    Comment by John Mansfield — April 3, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

  28. John,

    Thank you for the added perspective and the extra detail with President Moyle’s grandfather. It would make a difference if you were a contemporary with the building. It might not seem quite as historic or important or interesting if you were about the same age as the building was.

    And for the part with his grandfather, I wish that I had caught that and put it in the original story. It does give an extra interesting dimension that President Moyle had a family connection to the building. I would think that it would give me more of an attachment to something like the Lion House if I knew that an ancestor had labored on it. But again, for President Moyle, where his grandfather was not all that far back for him, it may have been a normalizing factor that made the building more ordinary instead of extra ordinary.

    Thank you sir!

    Comment by andrew h — April 3, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

  29. Wow!

    Comment by David Y. — April 4, 2013 @ 1:30 am

  30. One detail about President Moyle.
    My father knew his family and had a unique position to see the family’s finances.
    HENRY D. Moyle, he said, was by far the richest of the General Authorities at that time. No one else even came close to his personal wealth.

    Comment by Swansea — April 9, 2013 @ 11:00 am

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