History of the Oakland Temple
Nestled in the beautiful Oakland Hills, the Oakland Temple is considered by many to be the Beacon of the Bay. Others refer to it as the Crown Jewel of the East Bay. Its beauty can be seen from miles away. The temple stands as a beacon of hope, a standard of truth, and a source of strength for residents in the area.
The Oakland Temple was dedicated on November 17, 1964 by President David O. McKay. The temple was the second in California (following the Los Angeles California Temple), and the 13th in the world. The temple currently serves Latter-day Saints in the Bay Area of Northern California. There are currently over 200 temples operating, announced or under construction throughout the world.
The history of the Oakland Temple traces back to the early Mormon settlers who came to California in the 1840’s. The first group of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived by sailing ship in Yerba Buena (San Francisco) in July 1846. 238 women, men and children disembarked from the Ship Brooklyn following a six month journey from New York City, around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America, to Hawaii, then landing at Yerba Buena on a typical foggy summer day.
Soon after arriving in California, the settlers established the first newspaper, the first school, the first library and the first bank in California. The settlers laid the foundation for an economy based upon farming, industry and commerce in Northern California. Starting in 1848 they became an essential source of goods, supplies and services for gold miners who came to California following the discovery of gold at Coloma in January 1848.
The quiet village of Yerba Buena was quickly transformed into the vibrant city of San Francisco. Many of the early settlers came across the Bay to establish residences and farms in the East Bay, including Oakland, Fremont and Union City, as well as areas in the Central Valley.
Prophecy & Vision
In a letter written in 1847 by Brigham Young, the prophet who had just recently led an exodus of Church members from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah to establish the headquarters of the Church there, foresaw that: “In the process of time, the shores of the Pacific may yet be overlooked from the Temple of the Lord”. This was a bold statement as they had just begun construction of the Salt Lake City Temple in Utah, which took 40 years to complete.
In 1924, Elder George Albert Smith, then an Apostle of the Church, was visiting with a local church leader on the roof terrace of a hotel overlooking San Francisco Bay.
According to Chad S. Hawkins’ book, “The First 100 Temples,” Elder Smith “ceased talking and for several minutes gazed intently toward the hills above Oakland” before again speaking to his friend W. Aird MacDonald, Hawkins wrote.
“Brother MacDonald, I can almost see in vision a white temple of the Lord high upon those hills, an ensign to all the world travelers as they sail through the Golden Gate into this wonderful harbor,” said the future president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “A great white temple of the Lord will grace those hills, a glorious ensign to the nations, to welcome our Father’s children as they visit this great city.”
In the 1930s, a committee of local Church leaders chaired by Eugene Hilton sought to identify a suitable plot of land upon which to construct a temple. The committee looked at various places in the Oakland area, but focused on an initial 14.5 acre site where the Oakland Temple is now located.
The President of the Church, David O. McKay, visited the site in 1942 and confirmed that the temple should be built there. He authorized local leaders to purchase the land. Over the next many years, the initial 14.5 acre plot was purchased, and additional adjacent parcels were acquired, making a total of 18.3 acres.
The first buildings on the newly acquired land were a chapel, an auditorium and a large cultural hall, called the Inter-Stake Center (ISC). Groundbreaking for the ISC occurred in July 1957. It was completed in 1959.
Building the Temple
Soon after that, in December 1960, David O. McKay announced plans to construct the Oakland Temple. It would be a large temple: 95,000 square feet. O. Leslie Stone was picked to chair a committee to oversee construction of the Temple. Groundbreaking for the temple took place on May 26, 1962. The Oakland Temple was designed by architect Harold W. Burton. Local members of the Church helped supply funds and goods for the construction.
Local church members were called on to raise funding for the building project and contributed 40 percent of the costs. Quarried in Raymond, California (a three hour drive from Oakland), Sierra white granite was used to face reinforced concrete.
Large panels that weigh two tons depict Christ’s ministry in the Holy Land and America, decoratively adorn the temple’s North and South faces. These 35-foot sculpted panels were a challenge to attach because the artist requested that no metal drilled holes penetrate the friezes.
Making the obstacle a matter of prayer, the architect sat in the back of his daughter’s primary class and envisioned a sling pulley system that would solve the friezes’ attachment problem. Grateful for God’s tender mercy in providing the answer, the architect committed not to use the process for his financial gain in future projects.
The Oakland Temple was completed on September 27, 1964. The building has many Asian-inspired elements represented in the structure of the building along with the interior design.
Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differ from chapels where members meet for Sunday worship. A temple is considered a “house of the Lord,” where Christ’s teachings are reaffirmed through sacred ordinances that unite families for eternity. Inside, members learn more about the purpose of life and make covenants to serve Jesus Christ and love our neighbors.
Prior to the dedication in 1964, public open houses of the newly constructed Temple were held over a five-week period. Almost 400,000 people toured the Temple during the open house.
Dedication in 1964
In late summer 1964 David O. McKay suffered a severe stroke that impaired his ability to walk and speak. Nevertheless, he desired to attend the dedication of the Oakland Temple. Despite reservations from his family and physician, they brought the Prophet in a wheelchair to the first dedicatory service, which was held in the celestial room of the Oakland Temple on November 17, 1964. As the service was about to begin, David O. McKay, to the surprise of everyone in attendance, miraculously rose from his wheelchair, walked to the podium, and gave a forceful and inspirational dedicatory prayer:
“We dedicate it unto Thee, with all pertaining thereto, as a house of prayer, a house of praise, a house of worship, a house of inspiration and communion with Thee….
“We dedicate the grounds upon which the temple stands, and by which it is surrounded; the walks, ornamental beds, the trees, plants, flowers, and shrubbery that grow in the soil; may they bloom and blossom and become exceedingly beautiful and fragrant, and may Thy Spirit dwell in the midst thereof, that this plot of ground may be a place of rest and peace for holy meditation and inspired thought. . . .
“Cause, O Lord, that even people who pass the grounds, or view the temple from afar, may lift their eyes from groveling things of sordid life and look up to Thee and Thy providence.”
Beacon to the Bay
“A half-century after its dedication, the Oakland California Temple continues to stand as a beacon and spiritual lighthouse over the San Francisco Bay,” said Jay Pimentel, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who lives in nearby Alameda City.
“I have always cherished this temple as a great blessing,” said Pimentel, who has served as president of the San Leandro California Stake. “It is a beacon on the hill, and many are drawn there.”
“People are drawn, not just to the beauty of this place. You feel something when you come onto the grounds of the temple,” Elder Bednar said. “And so, they may not know what that is, but they certainly like it. It’s more than just a beautiful picture. There’s a spirit that accompanies this place, and those who are not of our faith are drawn to that very strongly.”
Over the years, the temple has been closed at times for smaller renovation projects.
Rededication in 2019
In February 2018 the Oakland Temple closed for substantial renovation. That work was finished in May 2019 when the Oakland Temple was again open for three weeks for public tours, the first time the public has been invited inside the Oakland Temple since 1964.
“I’m astonished at the beauty of what has been done in the restoration of the Oakland Temple,” President Oaks said. “What is here is a remarkable house of the Lord in the quality of the architecture, in the quality of all the finishing of the various rooms and in the beauty overall. It is marvelous, and it’s accentuated by extraordinarily beautiful original art that has been added during the restoration.”
The Oakland California Temple, was rededicated Sunday, June 16, 2019 in three sessions by President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Joining President Oaks, were his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks; Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar; and Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s California Area, and his wife, Sister June Pearson.
Elder Bednar was also present at the original Oakland Temple’s dedication services in November 1964 as a twelve year old boy.
The Oakland sessions were among the Church’s first dedication and rededications to feature youth speakers.
As part of the rededication celebration, almost 3,000 young men and women from across the Bay area joined together for a special devotional the night before the June 16 rededication of the Oakland California Temple. Some youth began lining up at 8:30 am in anticipation of the devotional’s 7 pm start. The devotional celebrated the rededication of the temple and learning more about Jesus Christ.
The Oakland Temple and associated buildings have become known as Temple Hill. Temple Hill includes the Oakland Temple, Inter-Stake Center (ISC), Visitors’ Center, Family History Library, and other organizations that use the building located on the temple grounds.
https://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/us/04bcintel.html (In 1962 the San Francisco Warriors practiced on the meetinghouse’s basketball court; Wilt Chamberlain wore the number 13)
Evelyn Candland, An Ensign to the Nations: History of the Oakland Stake