Improvement Era Ads

One way to keep good relations with important customers is to support their “cultural enterprises,” such as paying for ads in their magazines.

While the building of churches was during the 1960s directed by “local” leadership, the Church Architect’s office had to approve.  This meant that wise salesmen had to reach widely distributed consumers (e.g., magazine ads), and keep their product message before the eyes of the persons who had to approve the consumers’ purchases (e.g., ad buys).  Synergy!  So long as income could be found outside “The Church,” moreover, these magazines had a measure of independence (even though their subscribers were Mormons, the headquarters didn’t fund the entire operation).  But when Correlation under Lee purified the magazines, and eliminated advertisements, the devil’s bargain that came from advertising, and the independence it granted, was lost.  Yet we inherited many traditions — some bound up entirely with mass produced kitsch — that shape our sense of being “Mormon” today.

So, you’re wondering why churches are built as they are, why that sort of door, that carpet, organ, and lighting?  Would it be a church without Splen-door Folding Doors, a Baldwin Organ, a copper-clad steeple, and Bigelow Carpets?  Is the architecture really designed to serve us as we serve God, or is it because the manufacture of church interiors on an industrial scale happened to immediately precede Correlation?  Are churches, no matter how conservatively built, a necessary expense?  How many Mormon chapels from the 1830s have you visited?

We’ve inherited a design aesthetic, which like nearly everything else now called “Mormon,” derives from the huge capital investments made in the 1950s and 60s, when Americanism became Consumerism, with promises of standardized material and the economies that would make possible a global market growth strategy.  What really is “Mormon,” after we strip out the trademarks, copyrighted material, Sunday scripts, Reader’s Digest Furniture, dress codes and all the other cultural kitsch and superstitious religious paraphernelia introduced over the last 50 years, often with the intent of serving God and Mammon? You have people reading the Book of Mormon.

What else should we add?   Why does standardized curriculum follow standardized building and purchasing?  Do efficiencies in one generate efficiencies in the others?  Are ideas really the same thing as furniture?  Have they become the same thing, in effect, because it is convenient for administrators?

The ads:


  1. rockwaterman says:

    Thanks, Daymon, for highlighting a long forgotten piece of Mormon cultural history. While I was still in my youth when the Improvement Era still had ads, I do remember them.

    Kudos to you for reminding us that the familiar details of our buildings did not sprout complete from the hand of God, but by the energies of ambitious advertisers and corporate sales people who won the proper bids.

  2. A Misplaced Biloxian says:

    This brings recollections to my mind of growing up, a convert, not in Utah, but “in the mission field,” where in my case I actually had quite a bit of contact in my home ward with those from Utah, the chapel being right outside the gate of a military base and our ward being comprised of many members transferred there from their home wards in Utah (some of them real complainers, too…geeze you would have thought some of them had been transferred to outer darkness). Some would encourage us locals to take a trip out there to see what “Zion” was really like…it would change our lives…after all, how can you have Mormonism without mountains, for heck’s sake?!?

    I wouldn’t say there was tension or animosity, but occasionally Mormons of the busy-body-inter-mountain-west stripe would try to bring us lesser Mormons into line. It’s fun to remember as one misplaced Utah elder tried to rally us all for some strange celebration in the middle of July. He seemed to make a big deal about it, too; about how it wouldn’t “feel like the 24th” if we didn’t do this little thing. I failed to understand why it was important for me to recognize when some guy (Young, I think his name was) decided to make a home out in Utah. I had my testimony; how could this possibly make me any more “Mormon?” Our reception at the idea of putting together something he called a “pioneer day” celebration was one of general lack of interest, though, bless him, he did try to play to our sense of local customs by suggesting a fish fry. Now that caught our collective attentions, right up until he suggested we fillet our own fish (pronounced by him “fill-it”), which strange use of language almost lost him his backing. It’s fun to step back all these years later and see how he was pitying us (for our lack of gratitude and sense of heritage at never having celebrated before), and some of us pitying him (for his strange sense of what he identified with “real” Mormonism), each not seeing our own lack of charity for the other’s backgrounds and notions.

    I recently went back for a visit with my family (I now live in Utah). I drove them all to that same chapel of my youth; the not-so-modern cinder block chapel, with accordion dividers and dark stained oak veneered panels and industrial carpeting, built who-knows-when or who-knows-why, in which I was taught and baptized. To my surprise, the building was no longer owned by COPS, but by some other denomination entirely. As we drove past the building that used to house two local wards, I had to ask myself, “what was wrong with this building that they needed to sell it off? Not enough 24th celebrations to justify keeping it open?”

  3. Clark Goble says:

    Often there are silly little bits of sniping between Mormons from deseret and what get called mission field Mormons. (Which for us was a term of pride but I know others found it offensive – points that bug people vary from place to place) While growing up I remember a lot of people looking down on Utahn Mormons simply because things were easy for them and they didn’t have to get a testimony because everyone around them were Mormon. Once I moved to Utah in my 20’s I came to realize it really wasn’t that simple. Things are different. Some Utahns make assumption that what works there works everywhere and some mission field Mormons assume people trying to be helpful are cultural fascists sometimes.

    Fortunately I’m not sure these tensions amount to much beyond annoyance by both groups. And those sorts of tensions are in most wards well beyond this type of divide.

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