History of the Former President's Home
President’s Residence – 1927 - 2008
In 1909, a beautiful building lot was purchased by Henry Petersen, a faculty member of the University (History of Brigham Young University, p. 119, Archives). This half acre lot was located on Temple Hill a short distance north of the Maeser Building. He built his home on a choice spot on the brow of the hill overlooking the fertile valley to the west. The snow-capped peaks of Mt. Timpanogos were included in his view to the north. The hillside west of the house was terraced for irrigation of trees, grapes, small fruits, asparagus and the like.
Henry Petersen remained with the University for only one year. After he left, his property was sold to William H. Chamberlin who came to the University in 1911 and remained until 1916. Dr. Martin P. Henderson, a biologist, came to the University in 1915 (BYU Catalog, 1911-12). He realized the value and scenic beauty of the property on Temple Hill and purchased the home from Mr. Chamberlin.
After the death of Dr. Martin P. Henderson, November 1923, then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the property was sold to the University. It was decided by the Executive Committee November 5, 1927, that the dwelling on Temple Hill was an ideal location for the President of the University to live; and at the same time, his presence would provide protection and supervision for school property (History of Brigham Young University, BYU Archives, p. 119). This same reason was given to faculty members who were asked to live in University homes spotted around the campus, such as the Miller and the Reimschussel House (Karl A. Miller, Buildings and Grounds).
A complete renovation of this home was made in 1928 with Joseph E. Nelson as architect and William H. Snell with some outstanding students doing the construction work. A sleeping porch, two bathrooms, a front sun porch, a library, a fireplace in the front room, and a double garage were constructed. After this work was done, it in no way resembled the old house. President Harris and family moved from President Brimhall’s residence in Provo to this new home on Temple Hill after all the remodeling work was completed.
A pergola, designed by LaVal Morris, was also built by William H. Snell in 1936. The landscaping and gardens designed by LaVal Morris were installed and cared for by Earnest Reimschussel, a student at the time and later a faculty member.
The President’s family grew up and departed one by one, but the house remained the Harris home for 17 years, 1928 to June 30, 1945. President and Sister Howard S. McDonald and daughter arrived from Salt Lake City and moved in to the home July 1, 1945. Dr. and Sister Christen Jensen moved into this home in 1949.
When President Wilkinson arrived in February of 1951, the house changed again, adding another bathroom to accommodate the President’s father who stayed with them (Karl A. Miller, Buildings and Grounds). The entire kitchen was enlarged and remodeled in 1960, new automatic equipment was installed and the kitchen assumed a “modern” look, which greatly improved the efficiency of this facility (Tracing #346, May 1960, Physical Plant Planning Office, BYU).
Renovations were again made with the appointment of President Dallin H. Oaks in 1971. The old ear marks remained, and yet it assumed a new look for a new President and his young family. President Jeffrey R. Holland and his family were the last to use the home as a residence. In 1990, the home was converted to accommodate the University’s Visitor’s Center and Hosting functions.
In 2008, the home was re-carpeted, painted, and received some new cabinetry and lighting to become the current location of Graduate Studies.