Nearly eight years after plans were announced for its construction, Philadelphia's first Mormon temple will open to the public next week — though only for a limited time.
From Wednesday through Sept. 9, the newly finished and ornately decorated temple will offer tours until its dedication ceremony on Sept. 18, when it officially closes its doors, except to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are in good standing.
The palatial place of worship, at 1739 Vine St., rose at four stories over Logan Square during the five years it took to build. Ascending to higher floors, each becomes more opulent in its decor and architecture than the last.
What remains a constant is the temple's homage to 18th-century Pennsylvania, a period of time Elder Larry Wilson says was pivotal to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Guiding members of the media Friday through the temple's myriad rooms, Wilson said the church sought to use the best materials and highest quality craftsmanship in its construction, much like Solomon's Temple.
But many of its influences came from some of Philly's most famous buildings: The Franklin Institute, Independence Hall and the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. Others come from Pennsylvania's natural flora and fauna.
Throughout, visitors will see Pennsylvania's state flower, the mountain laurel, depicted in wrought iron and carpet patterns. Colonial color schemes — French blue and daffodil — dominate, and refined Federal-style furniture with flared arms and dark-stained wood fill each room. Windowsills slope downward, much like they do in Independence Hall. Tiles are laid at a 45-degree angle, as was the Colonial style. And they have even recreated a massive crystal chandelier from Independence Hall, which now hangs in the Temple's holiest area: the Celestial Room.
Wilson said these details, though seemingly subtle, were put in place to honor the founding of the country. Other scenes honor the establishment of their faith.
Northeastern Pennsylvania is an area steeped in history for Latter-day Saints. Prophet Joseph Smith translated the church's Book of Mormon in Oakland Township. That's also where John the Baptist appeared as an angel to bestow priesthood on Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829, according to church doctrine.
The very first baptism for the church was performed in the Susquehanna River, a scene depicted in a floor-to-ceiling mural in the temple's baptismal font, where baptisms take place in a pool perched on the backs of 12 brass-coated oxen statues.
The 61,466-square-foot place of worship is the first Mormon temple in Pennsylvania, and the 152nd operating temple worldwide. Previously, members had to travel to New York City or Washington, D.C., for the special sacraments performed in the holy building.
Wilson said there are about 1,500 Mormons living in the Philadelphia region, but the temple will serve nearly three times as many from the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland regions.
Until then, tours are available Monday through Saturday for free, though reservations are recommended. Reservations can be made at philadelphiamormontemple.org or by calling 1-855-537-2000.