A Look Back … A Granite Match is “All Miracles”
“That Thomas Ellison would pay the lease on a quarry for over 20 years, and
be of such help; that the original masons would leave extra block on the mountain
undisturbed for almost one hundred years; that the block would be an exact
match to that used in the original construction, are all miracles. I’ve learned that
there are no coincidences when it comes to the construction of the Lord’s house,
as I’ve seen His hand in the details over and over again.“
Construction specialist Jeff Wirtz was contracted to do the stonework for the remodel for the Mesa Arizona Temple. He was informed that the Historical Department of the Church, along with the architects and engineers, had hoped to keep certain historical features of the original temple and that included the stonework in the Grand Hall, stairs, and Celestial Room.
When he arrived on site in June 2019, the building had already undergone the demolition process. Jeff said:
Much of the original material was broken or damaged as it was removed but was being carefully stored in the hope that it could be pieced together. But when a prototype was made of pieces epoxied together, it was painfully clear that it would only be used as a last resort, and the search was on for over 100 linear feet of stone.
The original stone was taken from the Manti-La Sal National Forest, 7500 ft. above sea level, and was also put in the Utah State Capitol and the original Church Office Building. We understood that Thomas Ellison from Birdseye, Utah, had the leasing rights to the original quarry. We contacted Ellison, and he was eager to show us the site but warned us that access was rough and could only be reached with an all-terrain vehicle. Dan Cushing from Daltile, and I met him and drove our vehicles up the rough mountain road, avoiding deep ruts, fallen tree limbs, and large rocks.
Along the way, we met a forest ranger and, after explaining our hope to access stone from the quarry, he told us that any improvements to the road would require a permit, at least a two- or three-month delay. I’m sure he could see my disappointment. It was already late September, and winter was expected to arrive early that year. After a while the road became impassable, and we had to walk the last 100 yards to the old quarry, with a 300-foot drop on one side. At the entrance to the quarry, we could see that the early stonemasons had cleared an area, laying large stones against the mountain to stop erosion. Further up, we came to blocks of cut stone, and it was obvious where the stonemasons had squared the blocks with hammer and chisel and shoved the remnants over the edge to tumble down the mountain.
Not all of the stone was the same color, some was soft cream limestone, and other was dark brown marble. We started knocking off pieces of boulders and wetting the exposed area to reveal the true color of the stone. When we found a block that appeared to match the temple stone, we would knock off a larger piece and carry it to the side-by-side to be taken for polishing and compared with the stone at the temple site. I wondered why the early masons cut block from this treacherous and steep side of the mountain while the other side was flat and with easy access. Then it dawned on me that if they approached the quarry from the other side, so much soil had to be removed to expose the rock, and without modern excavators, the task would have been monumental, and I recognized their brilliant approach.
I called Aaron Hicken of Delta Stone for help. On October 15, 2019, Aaron successfully removed five blocks from the mountain using a 15,000-pound telescoping lift. It took just over an hour to descend the five miles down the mountain, approximately 4,000 vertical feet. The blocks were loaded on a semi and sent on their way to the factory.
Four weeks later, I got the good news from Aaron. He sent me two images of polished slabs. One of the slabs shows the polish meter at 75 and later would record a 79, which meant an exceptional polish.
He also estimated that we would have three times the yield of our original estimate which meant we could complete the base on the Grand Hall, all of the perimeter stone in the Celestial Room, set new base in the veil room and clad the stairs and new altar in Instruction Room 4.
That Thomas Ellison would pay the lease on a quarry for over 20 years, and be of such help; that the original masons would leave extra block on the mountain undisturbed for almost one hundred years; that the block would be an exact match to that used in the original construction, are all miracles. I’ve learned that there are no coincidences when it comes to the construction of the Lord’s house, as I’ve seen His hand in the details over and over again.