Historic Ogden Mormon church reopens after two-year restoration
Restoration • After two years of work, Fourth Ward welcomes back worshippers.
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Ogden • The smell of freshly varnished oak pews filled the chapel of Ogden's historic LDS Fourth Ward.

As light streamed through the building's Italian-made stained-glass windows, workers scrambled to wrap up a two-year remodeling and seismic upgrade at one of northern Utah's most historic churches in time for an open house Saturday and a rededication Sunday.

The Fourth Ward congregation, planted in the heart of Ogden, traces its roots to 1877. Work on this building on the corner of 21st Street and Jefferson Avenue began with construction of the gymnasium on Aug. 19, 1929. The chapel itself was dedicated Oct. 24, 1937, during the Great Depression.

"There are those among us who will gladly give all they possess for the furtherance of his work," wrote Bishop Edward T. Saunders, who presided over the Fourth Ward for nearly 20 years and supervised the ornate building's construction. "Today, as then, the leaders of his church stand by to help, encourage and bless those who are willing to labor, and today as then, there comes to those who thus give, a joy that cannot be purchased with earthly wealth, that joy which passeth all understanding. Truly, sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven."

Saunders knew about hardship and sacrifice. He gave his all to complete the construction, losing his home and business in the process.

"He lost everything except his 12 children," said Darrell Saunders, a retired Ogden dentist, about his father. "He was one of the larger builders in the area. There were a bunch of homes he was building with construction loans. Overnight, the Depression hit. People lost their jobs, and they couldn't sell their homes or pay off their bank loans. All were foreclosed upon."

During this time, Edward Saunders labored voluntarily for eight years to finish the Fourth Ward. He refused to take out bankruptcy and spent the next 15 years paying back everything he owed. He also served as an Ogden City commissioner for 12 years in the 1930s and '40s, helping to develop John Affleck Park, El Monte Golf Course and the city's first swimming pool.

"Dad built that building," said Darrell Saunders about the Fourth Ward. "He was a builder. … If it wasn't right, he made us tear it out and start over. It cost him a lot."

The price tag for the ward complex — which includes a chapel, social hall, gym, tower room, baptistry (with a mural of Jesus and John the Baptist) and even an old safe that once held tithing money — was originally $1 million.

Jeremy Peterson, a state legislator and a real-estate broker who lives in the area and is helping to restore many of its historic homes, said the building now would probably be worth $13 million.

The Fourth Ward building has been closed for about two years and its congregation of about 220 Latter-day Saints has been sharing a cramped nearby church with another Mormon ward.

The upgrade has consisted of seismic work, new carpets, improved plumbing and restrooms, the rebuilding of classrooms and the refurbishing of just about everything while keeping the look and feel of the historic building, including its pipe organ behind the pulpit. It will be home for the Ogden Fourth Ward and the Buenaventura Spanish-speaking congregation, which serves Weber County.

"We wanted to respect the work of our forefathers," said Peterson, who serves on the stake high council that oversees a number of LDS congregations. "The symbolic meaning of this building means sacrifice and honoring God. Everything that is represented in that can be found in the structure here. The idea is that when we build something, we build it to last forever so future generations can see what we've done and build upon it."

The restored Fourth Ward means much to longtime members such as Doug Saunders, who is related to Edward Saunders.

"It will be nice to get back to the ward," said Doug Saunders, who has belonged to the Fourth Ward since his birth in 1949 and met his wife there. "I used to try to sneak into the gym with my buddies. The custodian would catch us. He said if he we helped him clean the building, he would let us play for a couple of hours."

Doug Saunders remembers when a fire damaged the ward's upper level in the 1960s so all the meetings had to be held downstairs. Members cleaned the blaze-scarred exterior.

The elegant building blends with the neighborhood, which contains stately mansions and historic churches of various denominations.

"Ogden had as many churches as saloons," Peterson said. "It was a Mormon settlement that crossbred with the railroad community. It was a diverse community, more so than most of Utah, other than maybe downtown Salt Lake City. We've got this salty history with a lot of religious people living within city limits. It makes for some interesting reading."

Longtime Fourth Ward member Coralie Bolingbroke, whose husband served as a bishop, saved a program from the building's 1937 dedication.

"It is an exceptional facility, with its gymnasium, its classrooms, its amusement hall and sacred auditorium," read an excerpt from the program. "It is made to serve the generations. In it will always hover the exalted ideals of the founders and the eternal principles of the church, whose message it has partly translated into action. … We treasure every word, act and cent of assistance, from the widow's mite to the hundreds of dollars generously tendered. They are all set down in our memory and in the enduring records of the ward, a memento forever."

When the building reopens Saturday, many will no doubt remember those words — and begin making new memories.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

About the Ogden Fourth Ward

Location • 2115 Jefferson Ave., Ogden

Built • Construction began 1929 with Mormon apostle David O. McKay, who would become the faith's ninth president, laying the cornerstone on May 9, 1930. The building was completed in 1937 and restored during the past two years.

Cost • $1 million originally; $13 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Architect • M. Charles Wood

Features • 750,000 bricks were used in construction. The complex includes a chapel, baptistry, tower room, gym, social hall, classrooms, pipe organ, stained-glass windows and an old safe that used to secure tithing money. —

'Where We Worship' series

O The Salt Lake Tribune is featuring Utah's sacred spaces this year. To read previous stories in this monthly series, go to www.sltrib.com

Today • Ogden LDS Fourth Ward —

Open house

The Ogden LDS Fourth Ward at 2115 Jefferson Ave. will hold an open house Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. A rededication ceremony is scheduled for Sunday at 5:30 p.m.