In the late 1800s the bluff overlooking Provo from the northeast was a simple plot with farms and orchards and an abandoned pioneer cemetery. The townsfolk called it Temple Hill, yet few imagined the great temples of learning that would eventually transform the acreage into a great university forged by spiritual and secular learning.
The first of such temples, the iconic Karl G. Maeser Building, sits like a jewel box at the sound end of campus. The white neoclassic structure turned 100 years old this year and will be celebrated during BYU Homecoming 2012.
The Homecoming theme, Of Pillars and Cornerstones, not only describes the Maeser Building, it also embodies the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and spirituality advocated by its namesake that still provide an indelible blueprint for a BYU education.
During the week of Oct. 9-13, BYU will celebrate Homecoming with dances, races, hikes to the Y, opening ceremonies, noonday activities, dances, a free pancake breakfast, parade, football game and more. Details can be found at homecoming.byu.edu. But the star for 2012 is the Maeser Building.
Originally designed for classrooms, the Maeser Building has filled many roles during its history. Its 175-seat assembly hall was once the site of college devotionals and faculty meetings. During World War I it housed a unit of the Student Army Training Corps. At various times it has hosted the office of the university president, the university press, the campus switchboard, and the Purchasing Department. Many academic colleges and departments have also occupied its three floors.
Perhaps most fitting, however, is its current use for student scholars. When the Maeser Building was restored to its original classic dignity in the mid-1980s, it became the home of the Honors Program. It also houses Undergraduate Education.
Such a legacy began at the behest of President Brigham Young, who called Maeser to become principal of the struggling year-old Brigham Young Academy in 1876. President Young armed Maeser with the now-famous charge, “I want you to remember that you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God. That is all. God bless you.”
Following that directive, the master teacher guided the student body through the early years that were clearly more challenging than he had anticipated. When he spoke at Brigham Young Academy’s first Founders Day on Oct. 16, 1891, Maeser explained he had had “no comprehension of the magnitude of the work” to come when President Young laid out the plans for his new mission. He added, however, that he never wavered from his conviction that the academy was a divinely inspired school of destiny.
It appears that colleagues, students, and alumni never wavered from their devotion to Karl G. Maeser either. Soon after his death in 1901, they rallied to create a fitting memorial for their treasured teacher and decided to construct a building in his honor; President Joseph F. Smith presided at the groundbreaking.
Yet for a struggling pioneer town, the task of completing the building was formidable. Then BYU president George H. Brimhall predicted, “We shall need a long pull and a strong pull, an ‘all-put-together pull’ to build that building.” He was right.
Jesse Knight provided a substantial portion of the needed funds and was joined by members of the BYU Alumni Association, local ecclesiastical leaders, other schools, and the Church. Additionally, many generous faculty members sacrificed up to half a year’s salary to see the building completed.
But the treasure known as the Karl G. Maeser Building was worth it. For 100 years, the structure has not only memorialized Karl G. Maeser and his contributions to the university, it has also served as a beacon for the university’s eventual growth and development.