Brigham Young High School History

Historic Pearly Gates
Distinguish Academy Square

Thanks to the Brigham Young Academy Foundation

University Avenue and Fifth North

The Brigham Young Academy Foundation, with its mission complete, has now been dissolved. However, the miraculous way it worked to save the historic Academy building will always be remembered.

The BYA Foundation did not stop with the rescue and restoration of the building that was dedicated in 1892. It also provided funding for various art projects around Academy Square, including the restoration of the beehive fountain, and the installation of a heroic-sized bronze statue of Brigham Young. They also provided a new bell that has been installed in the restored belltower.

The Foundation's final project involved the reconstruction of the historic ornamental gate at the southwest corner of the Academy block [see photograph]. Originally designed and constructed by the BYH Class of 1912, it fell into disrepair in the early 1960s and was removed for safety reasons. It was fondly called "The Pearly Gates" by five generations of BY High School students.

Heber J. Grant & others by southwest gate.

In addition, a matching gate has been built at the northwest corner of Academy Square. This is a new addition, since no gate had been built there in the past.

The total cost of the two gate projects has been about $60,000, which was successfully raised. On May 4th, 2005, a ribbon-cutting ceremony opened both new Academy gates.

Each gate includes a plaque noting the history and honoring the donors. The following plaque is from the southwest corner:

Ribbon Cutting Held For
Academy Square Pearly Gates Project

Brigham Young Academy SW Gate - Watercolor Version
The pictured donors, dignitaries and friends helped to cut the southwest Academy Gate ribbon on May 4, 2005:

Front Row L to R: Myrth Burr*, Brent Ashworth*, Cassia Flores*, Geniel Childs*, Barbara Sandstrom*, Cindy Richards**, Shirley Paxman****, Suzie Liechty****, Marion Smoot***, Ruby Hansen***, Julie Clark, Smoot Brimhall***
Back Row L to R: Dick Blackham, Tami Harris*, Christianna Phillips, Midge Johnson**, Dave Knecht**, Monroe Paxman****, SueZann Kohler*, Doug Smoot***, Gene Nelson, Mayor Lewis Billings, Steve Turley**, Victor Hansen***, Paul Warner**, Dan Clark***
Provo City Library Municipal Board *, Provo City Council Members**,
Academy Gate Donors***, BYAF Members****

Speech by L. Douglas Smoot

L. Douglas Smoot

On May 4, 2005, several years following the rededication of the historic Education Building, a dedicated group of people gathered again on Academy Square for a brief and simple ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The main speaker at the May 2005 ceremony was L. Douglas Smoot, the never-say-die leader of the Brigham Young Academy Foundation who helped to unite and inspire people to realize it was important to save and honor the last vestiges of Provo's historic Brigham Young Academy, founded October 16, 1875. We are grateful for permission to publish his speech:

It will have been four years this September 8th, since the rededication of this magnificent historic building as the Provo City Library at Academy Square.

During the long and arduous, seven-year process of building preservation, we were aware that there had originally been an ornamental gate at the southwest corner of the square.

Artist Jacque Baker included this gate in the painting that I had commissioned to promote our preservation effort, though, with artists’ license, she included gates on both corners. [See below.]

Click here for more about Jacque Baker
Jacque Baker's Painting of BY Academy

But we were so concerned about having sufficient funds to complete the preservation process, we did not seriously consider the idea of reinstalling the gate at that time.

The historic Academy gate originally stood at the southwest corner entrance to the Academy square. The gate was a gift from the Brigham Young High School twelfth-grade graduation Class of 1912.

At that time, there wasn’t much in Provo north of the Academy Square to justify a second gate on the north corner.

The idea of building a gate reportedly came from a student named Higgins, with class leadership provided by student B.J. Stringham.

J.E. Allen, architect, donated his services to design the gate. The white oolitic limestone from the Sanpete County Quarry was a gift of Peter C. Peterson.

The same stone was used in building the Manti Temple and the Maeser Building on Temple Hill.

The total cost of the gate was about $800, including the wrought-iron fencing. The gate lasted for fifty years, but by 1962 it had deteriorated to the point where it threatened to fall, and was removed by BYU physical plant workers.

I have in my possession three historic photographs of the original gate that I obtained from the BYU Library’s Special Collections archives.

In about 1999, I received a call from an acquaintance telling me that parts of the original old gate were in an orchard near the Pleasant View Chapel, west of the Provo Temple.

I visited that location and found the parts, which included the granite foundation stones, and the deteriorated, round concrete spheres. These historic parts were given to Provo City but were not used in the reconstruction.

About two years ago, Provo's Mayor Lewis K. Billings suggested that we consider having the gates reconstructed to replicate the original gate.

In early 2003 Mayor Billings, Library Director Gene Nelson, Provo Facility Services Director Dick Blackham, MJSA architect Christiana Phillips, and I met to consider this restoration process.

The preliminary design and cost estimates were completed, and an effort to raise the funds needed was approved.

The privilege of fund raising was assigned to me, and I express appreciation to those who responded and donated toward this preservation effort.

The final architectural design was completed and all required Provo City approvals were obtained by late 2003. A bid from Child Enterprises of Springville, the firm that did the preservation brick work on the Academy building, was approved in late 2004.

The bids obtained in mid-2004 dictated that pre-cast concrete would need to be used in order to reduce the total cost. This concrete is highly durable and blends well with the concrete used in the building.

Construction was initiated in late 2004, and continued as weather permitted. Both gates were recently completed. The total cost was $61,000.

In case you are wondering, the difference between an $800 original cost and $30,500 current cost per gate represents an average increase of just 4% inflation per year for the intervening 93 years from 1912 to 2005.

When you examine the gates at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in a few minutes, you will notice plaques have been installed on each gate that capture the history that they represent.

Again, I express my appreciation to all of those who in any way donated to this effort. Donors or their honorees are acknowledged on the gate plaques.

These massive 13-foot high, ornamental gates on each corner of Academy Square as it faces University Avenue, represent a fitting capstone to this beautiful Provo City Library at Academy Square.
~~L. Douglas Smoot

Academy Gates Committee, Mission Accomplished

The committee for the historic Academy gates project included: (left to right) Dick Blackham, Provo City Facilities Manager; Doug Smoot, project fund raising; Lewis K. Billings, Provo City Mayor; Eugene Nelson, Director, Provo City Library at Academy Square; and Christiana Phillips, MJSA Architects, Salt Lake City. This photo was taken on May 4, 2005.

Brigham Young Academy Historical Marker
Historical Marker ~ Click here for larger version

Historic Members of the
Brigham Young Academy Foundation

More About Gates