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Exploring the Details of 10 Head-Turning Mormon Temples

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Though an erstwhile presidential candidate and his car elevator may have ushered the Latter-day Saints into the American mainstream, Mormon temples have always been the most visible outposts of this rapidly expanding American religion, aside from the clean-cut, besuited missionaries responsible for that growth. Varied, tradition-remixing, and unfailingly flamboyant, these modern ritual centers can usually be identified by a gold-leaf statue of the trumpet-bearing Angel Moroni perched on the tallest point. Pictured above is the Neo-Gothic Salt Lake Temple, the most iconic of the 141 currently in operation. What follows is a chance to familiarize yourself with the most eye-popping of the rest.

? Though locals often refer to it as a "Disney Castle" on account of its brightly illuminated golden spires, make no mistake: the D.C. Temple, with its vast and chilly marble frontage, is more modernism on steroids than Magic Kingdom.

? Though early Mormons built their temples on hilltops, the key to visibility today is freeway proximity, and the symmetrical, multi-terraced San Diego Temple is nothing if not hard to miss when taking Interstate 5 out of the city. "No one will ever mistake this for a tilt-up building in an industrial park," said one Clyde Romney a few months before its dedication ceremony.

? Like other Mormon temples built in the early 20th century, the one in Laie, Hawaii is an attempt to put a modern spin on the architecture of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Friezes carved around the top depict the four dispensations of time, from the Old Testament–era to that of the latter days.

? For Mormon architecture at its most postmodern, look no further than the Guatemala City Temple, a deconstruction of the classic design with four free-standing spires.

? A shortage of available land required that the Hong Kong Temple be built up rather than out, and its cosmopolitan compactness was later repeated with the LDS temple in midtown Manhattan. With a facade done up in the Hong Kong Colonial style, this beaut also pre-empted the Mormon church's present-day push for temples that reflect the architectural history of their locales, a refreshing turn away from the standardized layouts popular in the late '90s.

? Weep for the unabashed weirdness of the Ogden Temple, Utah's first to be centered around a single steeple, because its squat, round, oh-so-'70s exterior is currently being redone into something more in line with modern sensibilities. Luckily, there's still the equally far-out Mayan Revival center-steeple in Mexico City.

? Originally burned down after the saints were driven out of Illinois by frontier mobs, the Greek Revival Nauvoo Temple was recreated on the same site in 2002.

? The Cardston, Alberta Temple earned a spot on this list through sheer force of its brutal Old Testament vibe. Finished in 1923, it was the first LDS temple built outside the U.S.

? The Oakland Temple owes its charm to its Oriental motif, its five pyramidal peaks, and the blasé coterie of palm trees lingering about its grounds, which receive a pretty epic Christmas light–makeover each December.

—Spencer Peterson