Anti-Mormonism author, activist Sandra Tanner closes Salt Lake City bookstore

A Salt Lake City bookstore that served as a pre-Internet center for opposition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will close next year to make way for new construction.

While there’s a sense of nostalgia for the buildings that housed her life’s work, the anti-Mormonism modern age matriarch doesn’t seem so torn about moving on.

Sandra Tanner moved out of her 119-year-old home in the Ballpark neighborhood last summer after getting fed up with crime. In May, the 81-year-old sold both her home and the adjacent building that housed her Utah Lighthouse Ministry bookstore.

“It was like, ‘OK, I’m done.’ I’ve struggled with this for years,” Tanner said. “It’s only gotten worse and it didn’t look like there was going to be a solution.”

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sandra Tanner working on the Utah Lighthouse Ministry website in 1999.

The Utah Lighthouse Ministry is closing on March 1, and Tanner does not plan to reopen at any other location.

When her bookstore and old home are eventually razed—and the proposed apartments and shops built in their place—a decades-long history of caustic criticism of Utah’s predominant faith will be left in the rubble.

staunch opponents of the LDS Church

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City on Monday, November 21, 2022.

Beginning in the 1960s, Tanner and her husband, Jerald Tanner, who died in 2006, began to expose what they believed to be lies, distortions, and discrepancies in the history and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Constant clashes with the church brought the Tanners a level of fame – or infamy, depending on one’s opinion.

In a 2006 profile, now-retired Brigham Young University professor Daniel Peterson said that the Tanners “have been, pound for pound, year after year, the Church’s most successful opponents.”

It was not meant as a compliment, he added.

In 1963, the pair published what is now titled “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?” and soon began photocopying some of the faith’s hard-to-find documents and selling them from their home near 1300 South and West Temple.

“When we bought the West Temple house,” Tanner said, “it was for the specific purpose of having a little bookstore in our front room, which we’ve done for years.”

The couple—both former Latter-day Saints—operated the Utah Lighthouse Ministry from the parlor of their home until the 1990s, when they moved the business next door.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tony Higgins at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry printing facility in Salt Lake City on Monday, November 21, 2022.

Over the years, they mapped nearly 4,000 changes in the Church’s signature text, the Book of Mormon, from the 1830 version to the text as it stands today.

The bookstore became something of a magnet for former or inquiring Latter-day Saints and young historians eager to take a look at the original documents. It also attracted a revolving door of reporters and TV crews covering the thornier chapters in Church history and theology.

“We’ve had the New York Times and the LA Times, everyone came through our bookstore over the years,” Tanner said. “So it’s been quite a Grand Central Station experience living in that neighborhood.”

Security concerns are on the rise

Eventually, Tanner said, life on West Temple no longer felt safe. The last straw fell two years ago, when a thump in the night woke her up.

“I went upstairs to look and ran into the burglar who just ran out the door with my computer, my wallet, all my credit cards and my passport.”

If it wasn’t coming face to face with a burglar in her own home, it was the alley full of tents, the piles of garbage, or the drug deals and sex workers in the stairwell behind her ministry building that drove her to the suburbs. meadows of Sandy.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City on Monday, November 21, 2022.

“It was just a scary time,” she said. ‘And I’m older. I mean, at age 81 I thought it was time to retire after all, but it definitely forced me out of the neighborhood having all that criminal activity.

This year, the city opened a nearby police station in Smith’s Ballpark, and law enforcement officials say a targeted approach to crime prevention is working in the area.

Tanner considered closing the shop and moving after her husband died, but she kept the shop going because the thought of moving was too daunting.

“It finally dawned on me that it’s time to move out and retire,” she said. “It was just impossible for me, as a single elderly person, to keep up with all that.”

Intended for redevelopment

Salt Lake City has big plans for the area around Tanner’s old house and bookstore. In October, the city council approved an ambitious vision to guide development and turn the neighborhood into a nightlife destination, complete with a festival street.

David Amott, executive director of Preservation Utah, it’s not surprising that the old Tanner House and Ministry Building — given their location and not being integrated into a neighborhood of similar homes — are in need of redevelopment.

The buildings, he said, offer a glimpse into the past of a neighborhood that is rapidly disappearing.

“The fact that they’re there makes it feel like the neighborhood has its own history,” Amott said. “It’s not just parking lots and big ballparks and warehouses.”

If anyone understands Tanner’s frustration with crime, it’s Ballpark Community Council Chair Amy J. Hawkins, one of the most persistent voices urging city leaders to do more to stop it.

She said more apartments could be an advantage for residents looking to move to the area, but they are unlikely to do much to help the people who already call the neighborhood home.

“Will that housing make the people who already live here safer?” said Hawkins. “I don’t see any compelling evidence of that.”

Hawkins said the prospect of losing the Tanner house to redevelopment is unfortunate because the neighborhood doesn’t have many buildings from that era in such good condition. Tanner’s old house was built in 1903 and the bookstore in 1897.

Tanner itself has historical significance, Hawkins said, adding that those buildings might be spared if they were elsewhere.

“If that property was a mile or two east,” she said, “we might not be having this conversation.”

Tanner said she sold the properties to Sattar Tabriz this year after he had been asking to buy them for about a decade.

She continues to operate Utah Lighthouse Ministry on a lease basis, but wants out as long as she knows she is able to oversee the move. She hands over the keys in May.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Copies of the Salt Lake City Messenger newsletter at Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City on Monday, November 21, 2022.

It’s a shame to know that the houses are facing certain death, she said, but she doesn’t think they’re important enough historically to spend the money it would take to save them.

“Apart from the fact that if you think the Utah Lighthouse bookstore is so unusual,” she said, “you want to do something about it.”

Sure, Tanner believes the large mixed-use building proposed to replace the two properties is a bit much for the narrow stretch of West Temple just south of 1300 South, but she knows it’s not her choice.

She can be seen as anti-Mormon, but in this case she is not anti-development.

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