As visiting Church leaders arrived for an afternoon walk-through of the Oakland California Temple the day before its June 16 rededication, the Temple Hill grounds were filled with more than just early arriving youth for the evening devotional in the adjacent stake center.
People in formal wear and flowing gowns in a myriad of colors surrounded the two massive fountains and stood on the several footbridges spanning the waterway between the fountains. Several groups were taking bridal photos, while several others were snapping shots of Catholic quinceaneras — the Spanish word for both 15-year-old young women and their coming-of-age celebrations.
Word has been out for years in Oakland and throughout the San Francisco Bay area — the Oakland temple and its grounds provide a stunning backdrop for all sorts of photoshoots, whether it be for bridals, quinceaneras, marriage proposals, birthdays, communion celebrations, proms, graduations and the like.
Weekends tend to be the busiest time for such groups on the grounds.
Referred to by some locals as “the castle,” the Oakland temple has become a destination of choice, no matter the race or ethnic group, no matter the religion and no matter the medium capturing the moment — digital photography or videography.
The visitors are in addition to the Latter-day Saints who attend the temple or participate in meetings or activities at the nearby Interstake Center.
The scene of so many community visitors reminded me of visiting the Freiberg Germany Temple in 2010 — then commemorating its 25th year — for a series of reports throughout Eastern Europe for the Deseret News on the Church’s growth there the first two decades after the fall of communism.
I learned Germans from throughout the area visit the Freiberg temple, strolling the walkways in solitude, sitting on outside benches to ponder and pray, and — similar to Oakland — gathering on the lawns for bridal photos and wedding-party snapshots.
Locals had dubbed the grounds “Temple Square,” and a previous Freiberg mayor proclaimed the temple afforded the city worldwide fame.
So it is in Oakland, with the fountains, the walkways, the bridges and the garden terrace atop the temple’s main-floor.
The draw of the community to the temple and its grounds was not lost on President Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency who rededicated the temple, nor his ecclesiastical companion, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“It is so beautiful and so accessible to the public, with the roof garden and the water features,” President Oaks said. “It reminds us all to reach within for what makes us better people.”
He added: “To be in the presence of a House of the Lord in such beauty, situated so visibly in this great center of population and influence, it is a great contribution not only to the faithful, determined members of the Church but to those who wonder about the Church and wonder about this building.”
Elder Bednar underscored the light and spirit of all temples.
“The light of the gospel shines in all of our temples, not just at night,” he said. “So people are drawn to the temple, and not just to the beauty of this place. You feel something when you come onto the grounds of the temple. They may not know what that is, but they certainly like it.
“There is a spirit that accompanies this place,” he added. “And those who are not of our faith are drawn to that very strongly.”
— Scott Taylor is managing editor of the Church News.