UPDATE: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints releases depictions of Philadelphia temple

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a ground-breaking ceremony for its Vine Street temple Saturday. On Sunday, a long-awaited architectural rendering of Pennsylvania’s first Mormon temple and a site plan showing the public garden and other public and members-only spaces was released.

The 10 a.m. religious service, included congregational and choir singing, speakers from the church leadership, and a prayer of dedication.

Officials turned shovels of dirt after the service. Construction is expected to be completed sometime in 2014, said Corinne Dougherty, director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Philadelphia region. 

The service was led by President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor of the First Presidency of the Church. Among those receiving invitations: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilman Darrell Clark, and neighbors of the temple’s site at 1739 Vine Street.

There are both churches and temples in the Latter-day Saints faith, which is also known as the Mormon faith. Temples are more sacred, and there are only about 130 of them in the nation. The Philadelphia Temple District, which includes Pennsylvania from Williamsport to Harrisburg, Philadelphia and its suburbs, Delaware, Southern New Jersey, and part of Maryland, has about 32,000 members. While Pennsylvania has been the site of much church history, the Philadelphia temple will be the first in the state. The two closest are currently in New York and Washington. (Learn more about Pennsylvania’s role in Mormon history from this 2008 church announcement about building in Philadelphia.)

Ahmad S. Corbitt, director of the New York Office of the Church of Latter-day Saints, spoke of the temple project at a Center City District symposium last summer. He talked of gardens and a genealogy research center that would be open to the public. Corbitt’s presentation, which can be viewed starting 14:53 in the first video posted in this story, included images of the proposed Vine Street site with a temple in place, but that was just an example.

The temple will be just under 70,000 square feet. Its spires will reach no higher than 209 feet – a height which required a change in zoning.  Architect Perkins + Will, which has offices in Philadelphia and New York, created the design, which the church has kept under wraps.

Dougherty said that the church will release renderings and a site plan after Saturday’s event, and PlanPhilly will post those as soon as we receive them.

This spring, the church acquired a 90,000-square-foot parcel at 16th and Vine, across the street from the  temple property at 17th and Vine. It plans to build a mixed-use commercial development on what is now an open-air parking lot. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission heard about the project at an information-only briefing earlier this year. The project will have to go back before the Commission for approval. The church received an OK from planning staff to continue to operate the parking lot in the meantime.

Both the temple property and the parcel across the street were under the purview of the city Redevelopment Authority, and the temple parcel was long the subject of a legal dispute. The church bought the property from developer Stephen Klein, who had acquired it in the late 1980s through a deal the RDA had oversight on. Part of that agreement called for the land to be developed within five years, and the dispute centered around the property remaining undeveloped for longer. The dispute was resolved last summer.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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