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Scholars, senior missionaries and community members gather for the Mormon Pacific Historical Society Conference

Audience listens to speaker talking to them with photos projected on a screen behind the speaker

For its 2019 conference, the Mormon Pacific Historical Society held “LDS Temples In The Pacific: A Centennial Celebration” in various rooms of the HGB on Nov. 16. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Laie Hawaii Temple’s construction and dedication, the attendees selected seminars to attend about the temple and the Laie community.

University Archivist Brooks Haderlie said he and Dr. Tevita O. Ka’ili, Culture and History Department Chair, conducted many interviews about the two heiaus, or sacred Hawaiian temples in Laie, and the sanctity of the land, which he said existed before outsiders arrived.

According to two community members he interviewed, Joseph Ahua and Gladys Pualoa, “The land did not become sacred because the temple was placed there. The temple was put there because the land was sacred.”

As part of the seminar, “Ancient Hawaiian Temples in the Ahupua’a of La’ie,” these stories were presented by Ka’ili, Cy Bridges of the Laie Temple Presidency, and Haderlie. Focusing on the deep historical and cultural context for sacred structures in the Laie community, the seminar looked into historical accounts of Laie’s two ancient heiaus.

Traditionally, a heiau is a place of worship, as well as a stratification of society. Many of the heiau’s rectangular structures were, according to Ka’ili, said by some to be replicas of the body of the constellation Orion. In the heiau, there were several hales, storage, places for cooking, drumming and a tower with three tiers, the highest one being the most sacred.

He began by talking about Laie as a pu’uhonua, or a place of refuge and sanctuary. Pu’u, meaning a hill or mound, and honua, which goes back 5,000 years to a very pan-oceanic concept. Honua can mean land, earth or placenta, which ties to the idea that land, in the pan-oceanic view, is something which surrounds, protects and gives life.

Haderlie then took to the microphone and explained about the history of Laie being an ancient place of refuge. “The earliest information about Laie is it was a small, sparsely populated village, but it had a distinction, being a place of refuge, and there were at least two heiaus.”

Historically, if oppressed people or fugitives came into the pu’uhonua, like Laie, they could claim sanctuary.

At the conference’s opening, Richard Cowan, a retired BYU professor, spoke about the development of temples through the years. Cowan is a veteran of nearly 53 years of teaching, many of them at BYU.

The first temple in Kirtland was used mainly for instruction and assembly, more of a multi-purpose building. The Church’s second temple, at Nauvoo, was, according to Cowan, where the second function of temples was restored. In the third temple built by the Church, in St. George, endowments for the dead were inaugurated. “Finally, after 40 years of struggle, the Salt Lake Temple was built. Up to this time, temples reflected the basic pattern of Church history, that a gathering to Zion was needed during the 19th century.”

At the time of the Salt Lake Temple’s completion, six temples had been built, and they were all in the same state as the Church’s headquarters at the time of construction. “As we move into the 20th century, we come to a different era in Church History where counsel was given to build up Zion abroad.” President Joseph F. Smith had, according to Cowan, “a much broader vision, and it was under his leadership the first temple outside of the continental United States was dedicated, here in Laie.”

As well as the Laie Temple, the Alberta Temple was also constructed under the direction of Joseph F. Smith.

“President Smith was aware in the Pacific there were faithful saints who yearned for a temple and its blessings.” When Joseph F. Smith visited Laie in 1915, he went on a walk with several brethren. He told the others how he felt impressed to dedicate the land as a temple site. Not having permission from the Twelve or his counselors, Smith dedicated the site, and Elder Reed Smoot said he had never heard a more spiritual prayer, according to Cowan.

President David O. McKay presided over what Cowan described as an “intense internationalization” of temples. After World War II, church leaders were particularly concerned about the saints in Europe, whose move to America due to the atrocities suffered might depopulate the European branches. But it was decided the saints in Europe also needed temple blessings. The first temple of the Church built in Europe became the Bern Switzerland Temple. According to Cowan, the brethren faced a challenge of how to make the temples smaller but still keep their effectiveness.

Harold W. Burton, the veteran architect behind both the Laie and Alberta temples, had had a career in the motion picture industry in Southern California. Burton suggested having films used during the endowment, omitting the need for separate rooms to be used during the endowment. With films, Cowan said the temples were able to be made closer to the common people.

After the Laie Temple was announced in 1915, Elder Samuel E. Woolley, gave an address in which he said the city was a city of refuge in ancient times, and how Laie would become an eternal city of refuge for a portion of the House of Israel.

The mystery of the heiaus

One of the two heiaus located in Laie was Ni’oi, which was located, according to some of the literature and interviews, on a small ridge on the mountainside of the temple. Most heiaus were placed in an area of significance, such as upon a hill. Ka’ili and Haderlie interviewed Harold Pukahi, who said there was a tradition saying the heiau was behind the temple.

The other heiau in Laie, Mo’ ohekili, was theorized to be located more on the seaside of Laie. After researching and interviewing, Ka’ili said he and Haderlie had three possible locations for the Mo’ ohekili heiau. The first was behind the temple, the second placed it on the seaside, and the third option put it on an intersection of Moana St.

“We don’t see any remnants of this heiau in location 2 or 3, but location 1, behind the temple, still has some structure there.” He pulled up a photograph on the slideshow which had been taken by Haderlie of the Vernal Equinox. Because some of the heiaus were built to align with the rising of the sun, and the equinox or solstice, the alignment of the structure with the sunrise could indicate it was once a heiau.

Haderlie added, “I enjoyed that there was a diversity of opinions and stories. There are many legends, but they all refer to the sacredness of this land and this area. This land has been sacred before the Church ever purchased this land.”

Jewel of the Pacific

Following lunch, a seminar was offered, which delved deeper into the artistic side of the Laie Temple — presented by Sister Sharon Gray, a Church Service Missionary working with the BYU-Hawaii art collection. Additionally, Gray is a former professor from the BYU Art Department.

Gray began by sharing a story of her friend and former curator of the BYU Museum of Art, who passed away in 2018. She quoted what he had written about the temple. According to the late Anderson, “For 100 years, the Laie Temple has stood like a timeless vision of paradise, white and gleaming between emerald mountains and sapphire sea. Some visitors have seen, in its noble form, lush green gardens, a resemblance to the Taj Mahal, or some other wonder of the ancient world.”

Though the primary designers for the temple were Hyrum Pope and Harold W. Burton, it would take many artists and craftsmen to produce the beautiful and intricate designs and artwork found inside and outside the temple.

The top of the temple, where the four friezes, 24-feet-long each, are located was an idea borrowed by Burton from the Mayan temples as well. The friezes, each one depicting a different dispensation, were designed and built by sculptors and brothers J. Leo Fairbanks and his younger brother Avard.

J. Leo Fairbanks had studied sculpture at Columbia, the University of Chicago and in Paris, and eventually became the head of the Art Department at Oregon State University. Avard, only 18 at the time, became engaged in designing the friezes.

In 1921, J. Leo Fairbanks wrote about his experience making the temple friezes. He proposed having different friezes on the temple to represent the different dispensations of the Gospel. According to Gray, the friezes on the top gave the temple its “crown.”

“As you can see, there is the Hebrew dispensation, which is the Old Testament, the Christian dispensation or the New Testament, the Nephite dispensation on the north side, which is the Book Of Mormon, and the Latter-day dispensation.”

The only frieze out of the four, which does not feature the Savior, is the Hebrew dispensation, located on the west side. However, it does include Adam in the middle, as well as a woman, meant to represent Israel looking forward to the New Testament frieze, towards the coming of the Messiah.

Builders and pioneers

Another seminar was presented by Hannah Fullerton, a senior from Arizona majoring in Pacific Island studies, about her great-great-grandfather and co-architect of the temple, Hyrum Pope. Fullerton, descended from Pope through her matrilineal line, said she was proud of her legacy.

While studying in Chicago, Pope was influenced by the architectural styles of Frank Lloyd Wright and moved back to Utah in 1910. In Utah, he met Harold W. Burton, who became his partner at their architectural office “Pope & Burton.” During this same time, the Church was holding a competition to see who would design the Alberta Temple.

Pope and Burton ended up winning the competition, which, according to Fullerton, was unexpected. “This design eliminated all the previous characteristics of the temples, including the towers and the Gothic cathedral style.”

Besides having inspiration from the Unity Church, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Laie Temple’s design also took hints from a Mayan temple located in Tulum, Mexico, taking elements of pre-Columbian American architecture, which Burton had studied.

Around the time the Alberta Temple was being constructed was also the time Joseph F. Smith announced the Laie Temple. Pope and Burton were called to build a smaller version of the Alberta Temple in Hawaii.

Pope faced many challenges building the temple in Hawaii. There were problems with laying the foundation and finding building material. Another issue being the temple was made during a period of world war. Fullerton calculated the total cost of the temple and found the total cost spent accounts for 3.1 million dollars today, money which was raised between Hawaii and Salt Lake City.

In addition to the temples mentioned above, Pope also oversaw the design and construction of the Idaho Falls and Los Angeles temples, and also served as the Chairman of the Board of Temple Architects for the Church.

Fullerton spoke of the legacy she carried with her. With slight tears in her eyes, Fullerton said, “It’s been a hundred years, and my family’s been in the Pacific nearly the whole time. I just want to say this is a very powerful place, and I’m here because the temple is here. Millions of people all over the Pacific have been affected by this building.

“Not only just the members who can go to the temple but the students at BYUH. We’re certainly not perfect, but students from over 70 nations can receive and education which they otherwise could not afford. This is a beautiful legacy, and I’m proud to be at the tail end of the centennial.”