OAKLAND, Calif. — Years ago as a student and a homeless single mother, Sheng Thao looked to the hills of the East Bay here and fixed her eyes on the Oakland California Temple.
Beaming with positivity, the temple “really kept me going,” said Thao, the daughter of refugees who is now an Oakland city councilwoman. “This temple, just the sight of it, has been such a positive beacon,” she said.
Speaking Monday, May 6, to media representatives in the Oakland Temple Visitors' Center before touring the temple, Thao expressed gratitude to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for opening the sacred building to the public for the first time since its original construction and dedication 55 years ago.
“I have always wanted to see what it was like inside,” said Thao, who is not a member of the Church.
Originally dedicated Nov. 17, 1964, the Oakland temple closed in February 2018 for extensive renovations. One of seven temples in California — with an eighth announced for Yuba City — the temple is numbered among 209 temples operating, announced or under construction throughout the world.
The public is invited to tour the temple May 11 through June 1, excluding Sundays.
Opening the doors to the temple is the epitome of the community, said Councilwoman Thao. “Oakland is just so welcoming.”
For the 33 years that they lived and raised their family in the Bay Area, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Sister Mary Cook found a refuge from the contentious world in the Oakland California Temple.
Returning to the site to host media representatives on the first day of the VIP open house for the renovated temple, Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was reminded of the peace he had always felt on the sacred site.
“This is an incredibly peaceful area with over 15 acres,” he said. “It is almost like coming into a different world when you get here.”
The temple, located on 4770 Lincoln Avenue in Oakland, will be rededicated June 16 in three sessions.
Referencing the "wonderful diversity" of the area — where people are accepted in all walks of life — Elder Cook said Church leaders wanted the community to see the renovated temple.
Representative of that diversity, Elder Cook said that while serving as a stake president in the San Franscico in the 1980s, he presided over Church units for those who speak Spanish, Samoan, Tongan, Mandarin and Tagalog, as well for those who speak English.
Elder Cook was joined in the media briefing and tour by Elder Gary E. Stevenson, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president; and Elder Larry Y. Wilson, Elder Kevin R. Duncan, Elder Jack N. Gerard, Elder Kevin W. Pearson, and Elder Jörg Klebingat, all General Authority Seventies.
The first Latter-day Saints arrived in Oakland in the 1840s following a six-month journey from New York City around South America aboard the ship Brooklyn. They established the first newspaper, the first school, the first bank and the first library in California before many moved on to settle the Salt Lake Valley.
While conducting business in San Francisco in 1924, Church president George Albert Smith — an apostle at the time — looked to the East Bay Hills and commented that he could envision a temple there, said Emily Utt, a historic sites curator for the Church.
Utt said the Church purchased property in those hills in 1942.
Some 120 years after the first Church members settled in the area, President David O. McKay announced a 95,000-square-foot temple for Oakland, the second for the state following the 1956 dedication of the Los Angeles California Temple.
Since the temple’s 1964 dedication, the site has become a refuge for Latter-day Saints in Northern California and a beacon of light for the surrounding community.
For the Bay Area
Elder Stevenson said many in the community have had an interest in seeing the inside of the iconic temple.
The Oakland temple is a temple “for the people of the Bay Area,” he said, noting the art of local landscapes of Northern California and the architecture are a “draw for local hearts.”
The five spire design of the temple, for example, hints at buildings of far-eastern origins, such as Taj Mahal in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and reflects the diversity of the residents in the area and a global Church, he said.
Also unique to the temple are relief sculptures depicting Christ and His teachings found in the New Testament in Matthew 5-6 and in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 11.
After it is dedicated, the temple will serve Latter-day Saints from 31 stakes.
Elder Wilson, executive director of the Temple Department, and his family attended the Oakland temple for 37 years. Not until this weekend, however, did he enter the temple’s front doors. “Not long after the temple was dedicated in 1964, the front doors were closed, and we began using a side entrance,” he explained.
As part of the renovation project, the Church restored use of the temple’s front doors, as well as a waterfall feature streaming from the front of the temple into a reflecting pool — both of which were removed after the temple’s original dedication.
“There isn’t one thing in the Oakland temple I would change,” he said. “It has been so remarkably renovated, so beautified and restored in important ways.”
“It was amazing to see how many media representatives were here,” said Sister Cordon. They represented “the face of the Bay Area.”
“I am grateful we could open the front doors of the Oakland temple and have them walk in and come and see,” she said. “The sweet thing is they came and felt the spirit of the Lord. What a sweet blessing for us to share what we treasure.”