Public tours of the new O.C. structure are available starting this weekend. After it’s dedicated, it will be for members only.
In hushed rooms adorned with dazzling crystal chandeliers and life-size statues of oxen, white-suited Mormons will soon begin conducting their church’s secrecy-shrouded rituals in Newport Beach.
Only card-carrying members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be admitted to the pink granite temple, an 18,000-square-foot building topped with a fiberglass angel coated in gold leaf.
The sole chance for outsiders to peek inside Orange County’s first Mormon temple begins Saturday, the kickoff of a monthlong open house.
The public tours of the temple are designed, in part, to help dispel misconceptions about the LDS church, church spokesman Mike Judson said. The structure is the latest entry in a worldwide temple-building campaign by Mormon leaders.
Since 1997, the church has more than doubled its network of temples, from 51 to 122. Nine other sites are in the works, including a Sacramento temple that will be California’s seventh.
While Orange County’s estimated 50,000 Mormons attend Sunday services and other events at meetinghouses, the Newport Beach temple is reserved for specific rituals open only to those in good standing. It sits amid gently rolling hills along Bonita Canyon Drive, not far from Fashion Island.
– by Luke P. Wilson
“To have a temple right by our house has been a huge blessing,” said Newport Beach stake President Weatherford Clayton, who has been driving to temples in Los Angeles and La Jolla for 20 years. “There’s a spirit that comes with a temple, and we feel it in the neighborhood.”
Once the new temple is dedicated Aug. 28, nobody will be admitted without showing an ID card verifying that he or she follows such precepts as tithing and avoiding alcohol, tea, coffee and tobacco.
Inside the building, members will enter dressing rooms to slip on all-white garments. From there, they can take part in baptisms for the dead, weddings, church induction ceremonies and other rituals. LDS officials rarely discuss specifics about temple ceremonies.
The baptismal room features a pale stained-glass window and a shimmering pool that hovers over life-size fiberglass statues of a dozen white oxen symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel.
Nearby are two instruction rooms. The first is decorated with a wraparound mural of a rugged coastline. In this small chamber, church members will watch an instructional video about the Garden of Eden and God’s plan for humanity. Additional lessons occur in the second instruction room.
From there, Mormons pass through a curtain into the “celestial room,” a meditative chamber meant to symbolize the beauty and serenity of the afterlife. Bright light cascades into the celestial parlor through frosted window panes. A 14-foot-tall chandelier with 6,000 crystals glitters from the domed ceiling.
Down the hall are a trio of mirror-bedecked “sealing rooms,” where marriages take place, including weddings by proxy for the dead. In Mormon doctrine, marriage and procreation continue beyond death.
The LDS church says it has 12 million members, including 760,000 in California— nearly 2% of the state’s population. In 1956, Los Angeles became home to California’s first Mormon temple, which is nine times bigger than the one in Newport Beach.
Newer LDS temples tend to be small, said church spokesman Ronald Rasband, who would not disclose the cost of building the new structure. However, when Mormon leaders unveiled plans for their Orange County site, nearby homeowners complained about blocked views, excessive lighting and traffic snarls.
LDS officials initially said the temple’s proposed 124-foot height and design were divinely decreed. Residents countered that other temples have spires under 80 feet — or no steeples at all. In the end, temple planners shaved the building’s height to 90 feet, agreed to turn off the outdoor spotlights after 10 p.m. and changed the exterior colors from white to “Salisbury pink.”
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