The grand Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood is a strange off-limits landmark: everyone on the Westside can see it, but you can only explore as a member of the church. The temple opened in 1956; it's 190,614 square feet on 13 acres and is topped quite noticeably with a 16 and a half foot tall gold statue of the angel Moroni. It's all off-limits, except ... T magazine noticed that the temple opened a visitors' center a little over a year ago and decided to take a look. Here's what they found:
-- "Unlike that of the temple, the architecture of the visitors' center itself is strangely curved and best described as Long Beach aquarium-like."
-- At the front of the center, there's a landscaped entryway with three "black naturalistic sculptures that edge the garden"; all the sculptures have plaques inscribed with quotations. The sculptures are "Woman Learning" (a woman in a long skirt with a book), "Playful Moments" (a woman with three kids holding hands in a circle), and "Joseph and Emma Smith" (the church's founder and his wife).
-- "Even the long drive to the parking lot behind the temple, up a big hill into an oasis of calm and serenity, was a little awe inspiring."
-- The interior is covered in flat screens and "interactive, hands-on, museumlike, elaborately produced photographs and films." One TV during the visit shows "images of the interior rooms of the temple, the sealing room, the baptismal bath, which is called a 'font,' surprisingly primitive art-like, in the American sense of the word, as it rests on 12 carved oxen, which represent the 12 tribes of Israel."
-- There's also "an extremely impressive (maybe 22 feet high) statue of Jesus as you enter, palms up, replete with visible holes from the cross and, behind it, a modern scrim version of the heavens."
-- Through "a catacomb-like hallway," there's "an elaborately domed room" that contains bookshelves holding fake Dead Sea scrolls and "across a huge wall, an interactive screen entitled 'Where Jesus Walked,' which in its screen-saver mode is a panoramic view stretching from the site of The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to what Elder Grover tells me is a reproduction of King Herod's Temple, explaining that it was originally King Solomon's Temple but was rebuilt by King Herod after being destroyed."
-- The panorama, however, "starts to change from day to night, replete with an extraordinary moment: as the bright red sun sets behind Jerusalem, fires appear in two of the doorways (or windows?) of the temple and the sky fades out and goes to night time."
-- It shows a total of four films that are "extraordinarily well produced and expensive, with some of the images in 'Reenactment of Jesus' Death' so graphic, I had to turn away."
· Inside the Los Angeles Mormon Temple Visitors' Center [T]