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'Visible as a beacon': Oakland Temple celebrates 50th year of service

Published: Thursday, May 1 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

The Oakland Temple is commemorating its 50th year.

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In 1924, Elder George Albert Smith, then an LDS apostle, 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."

Those prophetic words were fulfilled 40 years later when President David O. McKay dedicated the Oakland California Temple in November 1964.

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 LDS Church 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."

In the coming months, more will be drawn there. Bay Area members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will commemorate the Oakland Temple's 50th anniversary with various activities. For those who participated in the Oakland Temple pageant, there is a reunion scheduled for Aug. 2. There is also a VIP reception for community, government and interfaith leaders planned for Nov. 13 at the Oakland Temple Visitors' Center (see templehillevents.com). Details for these and other events will be released as dates draw closer.

Here is a look back at the history of the Oakland California Temple and its continued impact as the temple nears its 50th anniversary.

'A splendid temple'

When Elder Smith prophesied of the temple in 1924, the San Francisco Bay Area was still years away from creating its first stake. His prophecy filled members with hope for future church growth, Hawkins wrote.

Almost 20 years later in April 1943, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant announced that a site in the lower foothills of East Oakland on a rounded hill overlooking the bay had been purchased as the site of a future temple.

"We shall in due course build there a splendid temple," President Grant said.

The first step was raising the necessary funds. Members, including Primary children, and at least one nonmember worked together to collect more than $750,000 for the temple, Hawkins wrote. Plans for the Oakland California Temple were announced in 1961 and President David O. McKay conducted a groundbreaking and site dedication on May 26, 1962.

Pimentel was one of those Primary children. They were told that if each member would contribute a little less than $20, they would reach their goal. At 10 years old, Pimentel earned the money and donated it to the temple fund. He still has the certificate recognizing his contribution.

"It was a very memorable experience," Pimentel said.

Architects Harold Burton and Arthur Price worked together to design the sacred building, which now has 95,000 square feet with a baptistry, celestial room, four ordinance rooms and seven sealing rooms. It originally contained 82,500 square feet, including two ordinance rooms connected to the celestial room. This made Oakland the first temple to manage more than one endowment session at a time, Hawkins wrote.

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